Platforms: PC (reviewed) | iOS
Back in the era before screens dominated our homes, families and friends used to rely on antiquated contrivances known as board games for entertainment. From the research I've collated after tirelessly rifling through ancient parchments, these games were apparently prototypes for the turn-based videogames we know today; with a high degree of luck and chance being offset by skilful strategy and their physical medium providing a latency-free multiplayer experience.
Joking aside, there's nothing like a boardgame to bring people together... and Bang! has been around for a while. Not just as a popular Western-themed card game, though, since the PC and iOS conversions have been on the market for a few months. Sadly, their much-vaunted cross platform multiplayer was nowhere to be found at launch and new deck content was locked off to an insane degree. Spinvector has finally added these features via a new update, and as such, we're now ready to pass judgement.
Bang! is a classic Mexican standoff that has been adapted into a card game for five to seven players. A randomly-assigned sheriff and his deputy have to kill off a pair of bandits to win, whereas the dastardly villains need to return the favour. The last player, a Clint Eastwood-style renegade, needs to gun down everyone while saving the Sheriff until the very end. As the turn progresses around the table, players can field 'Bang!' cards to inflict damage on an adjacent adversary, play 'miss' cards to nullify their effects or deploy a variety of imaginative alternatives with varied effects.
Straightforward stuff, then, but Bang! has a nifty snake in its boot. Only the Sheriff is clearly highlighted at the beginning of each round, with the roles of the other players hidden from view. Working out who's a lawman, who's a varmint and who's the renegade becomes a tricky top priority, which requires players to closely scrutinise each other's actions while carefully considering their own. Gunning straight for the Sheriff marks you out as an outlaw and makes you a target for the deputy, but hiding your intentions for too long means that other players might get the wrong impression and open fire; scuppering your team's chances of winning in the process. The renegade has the most fun of all; tactically deciding whether to back the winning team, support the underdog or masquerade as a loyal deputy right up until the final devastating betrayal. It's tense, fun, and most importantly of all, absolutely resembles a Mexican stand-off.
The aforementioned special cards are worthy of note, and add yet more strategy to the proceedings. Depending on their effects, these nifty game-changers can add health, increase the range of your weapons, summon a horde of indians or even temporarily imprison other players in jail. Bang! offers a surprising amount of strategy and depth to compliment the ever-present machinations of lady luck.
All of these features make Bang! a fantastic card game... but unfortunately, it doesn't translate perfectly to the PC. Bluffing and social interaction is the key for any great card game, but on the PC, it's a dry and sterile experience. It's a picture-perfect conversion, and features a few extra flourishes like achievements and character-specific special abilities... all well and good, but it just won't be much fun for all but dedicated lovers of the genre. Repetition is bound to set in after staring at the same screen layout for several incredibly long turns, and most of the time, you'll be sitting back, twiddling your thumbs and trying to discern the other players' identities as boredom slowly creeps in. The iPad version fares a lot better thanks to the extra pass-around multiplayer mode and tactile controls (it feels much more like a traditional card game, to its credit), and I'll take a closer look at it over at Mobot.net in the near future.
What ultimately saves Bang! from mediocrity is the multiplayer netcode, which works well despite a few launch hiccups. You can saddle up with iPhone and iPad players alike, providing a ready-made audience of fellow desperados.
- Innovative concept, well executed
- Tense and exciting
- Competent true cross-platform netcode
- Repetitious, clinical, long turns can get very tedious
- Niche to the extreme
- Better and cheaper on iOS
The Short Version: Bang! manages to translate an intriguing and tense card game onto the PC... where it doesn't quite manage to engage players anywhere near as much as it should. Genre fans should definitely consider getting involved, but otherwise, you might be better suited picking it up on iOS for the fraction of the price.