It’s been a while since I’ve talked about a dice game, so let’s try one. BANG!: The Dice Game takes a lot of cues from its predecessor, BANG!, which is not a dice game as its lack of subtitle may imply. In both, there’s a gunfight in a stereotypical western town: the Sheriff and the Deputies are locked in a battle with the Outlaws, and the Renegade helps both sides to make sure he’s the last one standing when the dust settles. You settle your differences by shooting each other until the other person is dead, like gentlemen (or women; the bullets aren’t discerning). Maybe you’ll get lucky and use beer to heal yourself (that’s a great moral, kids), but unlucky rolls could potentially blow up in your face (metaphorically literally!). However, BANG! uses cards, whereas BANG!: The Dice Game uses dice, making them approximately as distinct as Duel Monsters and Dungeon Dice Monsters. It’s an important distinction, so let’s explore it a bit more deeply.
Not a lot to go on here. There are literally only a few things in this box:
- Role cards. These say “Sheriff”, “Outlaw”, “Deputy”, and “Renegade”. Set these aside; I’ll talk about them a bit more later.
- Character cards. These say things like “Lucky Duke” and “Black Jack”. Set them aside as well, for now.
- One bullet tokens. Set them in the middle of the table.
- Three bullet tokens. Set them also in the middle of the table. I don’t usually mix them with the one bullet tokens, but do whatever you want.
- Arrow tokens. Set them in the middle of the table, but keep them separate from the bullets.
- Dice. You’ll need these for the game, as you might surmise, so set them wherever.
The setup phase is literally, shuffle the roles and deal one face-down to each player. You will get one of these roles:
You may notice the copious Italian used on the cards and in the rulebook. This is both because the game designer is Italian and because traditional Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in Italy as a cost-saving measure, hence their name. The more you know. Anyways, keep these cards hidden from other players. Like BANG!, you don’t want anyone to know your role, but unlike BANG!, they will find out super quickly. If you are the Sheriff, reveal your role.
Next, deal out the character cards. If you have enough, you can deal two to each player and let them pick (they should choose without letting other players know which one they chose), but if not just deal one to each player and if they pitch a fit they can draw a new one. Personally, I find that the deal two method is more preferable, but it just gives everyone some choice. Character cards, for reference, look like this:
Now that you have a character and a role, take a number of bullet tokens equal to your health. If you are the Sheriff, take two extra bullets! It pays to be the law. Plus, people are going to be shooting at you a lot. A lot. The middle of the table should look like this:
After that, you’re ready to play! Sheriff goes first. See how easy that was?
You just wait. If you think it’s easy to set up, it’s even easier to play. Let’s start by talking about the goals, based on your role:
- Sheriff: Kill all the outlaws and the renegade. Fairly straightforward.
- Deputy: Help the Sheriff kill all the outlaws and the renegade. My least personal favorite role, as you cannot win on your own.
- Outlaws: Kill the Sheriff. You win when the Sheriff dies, unless…
- Renegade: Be the last player alive. You win when the Sheriff dies, provided you are the only player left. This means that you basically have to swap teams to try and knock off every player except the Sheriff until it’s 1 on 1. You’re nobody’s friend. This is the most difficult role to play, and it’s made worse with eight players — there are two Renegades!
So, now we start play with the Sheriff. Each turn you can roll all the dice up to three times (kind of like Yahtzee) and can pick some, all, or no dice to re-roll each time (still, kind of like Yahtzee) before sticking with a final set. Let’s talk about what each symbol does when finalized. (Picture credit to this website.) Before we do, just remember — if your character’s ability contradicts any of these rules, go with what your character’s ability states.
- Dynamite. If you roll three of these at any point, your turn ends immediately and you lose one health. YOU CANNOT RE-ROLL THESE DICE. Sucks. You can still resolve your remaining dice effects after dynamite, you just get no more rerolls.
- Arrow. Immediately after rolling one of these, take an arrow token. If you take the last arrow token, all players discard their arrow tokens and take one point of damage per arrow token. Hilarious way to get wrecked. Turns out the natives weren’t friendly.
- Gatling. If you roll three of these, everyone else loses one health and you discard all of your arrow tokens back into the center. Awesome.
- Beer. As an important lesson on moderation in alcohol consumption, every beer lets you heal any player (including yourself) one health. You cannot heal above your max health. This does mean that you can “heal yourself” when you’re at full health if you’re trying to waste beers. This is like buying two drinks at a bar and pouring one on the ground in front of your friend. Doesn’t make you popular.
- One. A player distance 1 away from you loses one health. Cannot be blocked or negated.
- Two. A player distance 2 away from you loses one health. Cannot be blocked or negated.
What’s this about “distance”? Well, it depends. Players on either side of you are considered distance 1 away from you (as in they’re one person away), and players on either side of them (not counting you) are considered distance 2 away from you. If there are fewer than four players (2 or 3 players left), bullseyes are interchangeable. You can use 1s as 2s and vice versa. Note that when you roll a bullseye, you must target a player with it. Even if they’re on your team, you reckless gunslinger, you.
(Late edit) NOTE ALSO that the dice must be resolved in a certain order. This prevents weird interactions from occurring, apparently, but it’s also just good to be consistent. That ordering is:
So now you just play rounds until someone hits their win condition. Fairly straightforward. If you run out of health, you are eliminated and have died, due to an overdose of damage. Reveal your role and then gameplay continues without you, as you are dead. Sorry. Note that the outlaws can still win, even if they all die. If the Renegade kills the Sheriff before the Deputy dies, the Outlaws win! Why? Nobody knows. That’s just the Law of the West. Intriguingly, if the Sheriff and Renegade die simultaneously (say, via arrow overload), then the Outlaws win, since technically the rules resolve that the Sheriff dies first.
- Shoot first, ask questions later. It’s a Western game; how was this not going to be the primary strategy? If you’re not sure of someone’s loyalties, then shoot them and another person you can shoot. If you are sure of someone’s loyalties and they’re not with you, shoot them as well. You know what your goal is, and you can heal them later if they were on your team.
- Be aggressive. If you’re an outlaw, you should be shooting anyone who isn’t an outlaw, sure, but you need to kill the Sheriff. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by not coming out swinging. That being said…
- Dying doesn’t help your team. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to reroll that beer that will likely keep you alive, you might want to keep the beer. Fortune favors the bold, but Death prefers the stupid. Usually if you have less than three health, you’re not going to survive another round.
- Gatling is almost always useful. If you’ve got more members of your team alive than the other team (team Sheriff v. team Outlaws), it may not actually be useful to use Gatling because you’ll hurt your own people, too. However, it might be worth it to get rid of your arrows or depending on their abilities (one character doesn’t take Gatling damage, for instance). Case by case basis.
- Don’t try to be a sneaky outlaw, usually. This isn’t Avalon; trying to hide your role really won’t help all that much. You might be able to get by one round, but this game is too quick to let you benefit much from convincing the Sheriff to trust you, usually. Maybe you can convince them to kill their deputy, sure, but that’s going to take a lot of effort that’s better spent trying to kill them.
- Arrows aren’t always bad. Sure, they hurt you, but they’re also a great way to hurt other players when it’s not their turn. Sometimes it’s worth trying to reroll for an arrow if you’ll take out another player. Just, if you have more than four or five arrows, you’re probably gonna get wrecked.
- If you’re the Renegade, know what team you need to help. You should basically help each team wipe out non-Sheriff people until it’s just you and the Sheriff, so try to keep the teams as balanced as possible. This means killing Outlaws if there are more Team Outlaw than Team Sheriff, and likely killing the Deputies if Team Outlaw has fewer members. I’d say you really want Sheriff v. Outlaw v. You more than Sheriff + Deputy v. You. That doesn’t work out great for you, long-term.
- Figure out your team as quickly as possible, but NEVER reveal your role. You really don’t want to kill an outlaw as an outlaw, and the Sheriff killing the deputy is pretty much the worst possible decision. Knowing who your friends are will serve you well in this gunfight. Just don’t do something dumb and flip over your role card unless you die.
Pros, Mehs, Cons
- Mercifully short. With people who already know how to play, this can be done in 15 minutes. It can take longer to set up than it does to play, which given how little time setup takes, is pretty great.
- Getting eliminated doesn’t suck. Since it’s super short, it doesn’t quite suck as much if you get eliminated. Unless you get eliminated early, in which case it’s a bit irritating because you have to wait about 15 minutes. However, the more players that get eliminated, the faster the game ends.
- Better than BANG!. There. I’ll say it. I think it’s a better game for the first two pros I noted. BANG! takes an hour and you can get killed in the first turn, meaning you’re just going to sit and watch everyone else play, which is terrible. Also, BANG! plays much slower as people are more invested in hiding their roles until they’ve strengthened their position, for better or worse. Getting this has really made BANG! almost obsolete in my play group.
- Very easy to learn. As evidenced by one of my shortest posts ever, this game doesn’t take much time or effort to explain. There aren’t that many symbols, the card abilities are all fairly straightforward, and the game just makes sense. I actually think the BANG! system is very good about that in general (including its sister game, Samurai Sword), and it really shines in this short game. Limiting the number of actions available makes the symbology of the game short and memorable and really accessible to new players of all ages.
- A low-complexity 8-player game is great for parties. This is a game you can bring somewhere and teach everyone with low effort, and it’s not a stressful enough game that they’ll hate you during or after it (Avalon). It’s also thematic enough and funny enough that most people will have fun with it, so it might also appeal to people who aren’t traditionally as passionate about board/tabletop games.
- Unique and consistent theme. Now that I think about it, other than BANG! itself, I don’t have any Western-themed games, so it’s a nice theme in contrast to the overwhelming number of fantasy / Renaissance themed games I have. The theme is also well-carried throughout the game, as everything kind of makes sense within the theme (the characters are mostly Western character puns, Dynamite / Gatling / Beer are all Western-ish things, the Western Sheriff fighting Outlaws with the Deputy is kind of iconic, etc.). It’s nice.
- You CAN shoot the Sheriff without shooting the Deputy. So you’ve got that going for you, which is nice.
- Nice, big dice. The dice are really nice and the cards are good, too. The tokens aren’t amazing, but meh. Speaking of mehs…
- Hidden roles don’t make much sense in smaller games. If you’re playing with four or five people, after one round you know who everyone is, role-wise. This doesn’t seem to jive well with the idea that the roles should be secret. I think it’s just a holdover from the original BANG! and is kind of only necessary in this game so that the Sheriff doesn’t gang up on an outlaw with their deputies / renegades and kill them in the first turn. But, come turn 2, the Sheriff is gunning for whoever shot them.
- So few cards makes it hard to shuffle. Just a minor irritation. There are far fewer character cards than BANG! proper, so shuffling isn’t quite as satisfying, fun, or easy.
- Super random. Not bad for a short game, but it is not a game with a ton of heavy strategy, in case you were curious. I wouldn’t recommend this to people who want to spend a long time thinking during a game (maybe Splendor instead?)
- It’d be kind of nice if we could use BANG! cards with this game. That’s asking for a lot, but making them interchangeable in some way would have been pretty cool at the cost of adding complexity.
- Not as robust as BANG!. This is an actual problem. BANG! (specifically, the Bullet) comes with a lot of cards and expansions, and this feels very light by comparison. It’d be really nice to see an expansion come for this, especially if it adds some elements that are missing from this iteration of BANG!, like the High Noon cards or more characters. Really, the small number of characters is kind of my biggest complaint with this game.
- Can still get eliminated before getting a turn. You should probably house rule this out, but it’s possible for a particularly unlucky last player to get eliminated without getting a turn if every other player just shoots them. It’s rude and unfortunate, but what can you do? Just tell people not to do that.
- No Sheriff’s Badge. BANG!: The Bullet comes with a shiny Sheriff’s badge for the Sheriff, and it’s kind of unfortunate that there’s no similar thing for Dice Game owners. 😦
This is a pretty great filler game to decompress with. If you’ve just finished up a stressful game, break out BANG!: The Dice Game and roll dice for a bit while everyone blows off steam. Sure, someone’s gonna get shot, but it’s the Wild West! There’s not much else to do. It’s a fun game that people get a bit excited about, and I think it’s a great game for any collection. I probably wouldn’t play it a ton in one night, but I enjoy playing it multiple times in a weekend and it always finds a way back to the table when I have enough friends over since it’s so easy to teach.
If you’re looking for a similar game style but with more complexity, I’d look into Samurai Sword, as it has similar mechanics but with fewer dice, more cards, and a system that mitigates player elimination. I’d love to say try BANG!, but I think this dice game just wipes the floor with it.
Sadly, duster, bandanna, and cowboy hat not included.