As promised, here is the first and the most basic guide on how to play Bang! the card game.
Before we begin, remember these are my opinions based upon my personal experience with the gameplay. I have played numerous games, but you might have a different playstyle and you will almost certainly play against different people. Also remember that point of the game is to have fun in the first place, winning should almost always come in the second.
First of all, let's answer the most immediate question that you think of.
Why bother to come up with strategy for such a purely luck-based game?
For some people it is fun to try to find the "optimal" way to play the game. That is my case, for example. I know it is a very relaxed game with a lot of luck involved, but there are many seemingly minor decisions that separate the "bad" players from the good ones (or the ones focusing on playing the game in some cases :D ). The second possible answer to the question is that some people simply are competitive and believe it or not, there used to be actual tournaments in Bang! and I think some are still around. Anyway, here are the absolutely basic strategic tips:
When choosing a character, consider your hidden role
This one seems really obvious, but some people forget it and end up with a bad character for what they should be aiming for in the game. The most obvious example would be the Renegade. Imagine you are presented with a choice. You are dealt two characters, the first one being Sid Ketchum, the second one being Slab the Killer. The obvious pick especially for the newer players would probably be the latter, but remember your objective! Your goal is to survive until there is only you and the Sheriff left. At this point of the game, the Beer cards played have no effect, making it quite difficult to regain your lost life points. Sid Ketchum has the ability to convert 2 card from your hand into regaining a life point, making him a solid renegade and giving him more survivability, whereas Slab the Killer only offers good offensive potential.
Now imagine the same situation again, but this time your role is an Outlaw. Your ultimate goal in the game is no longer to survive (well, you still want to survive, but it is not necessary for you to win), but to kill the Sheriff. In this case, strong offensive ability might come in handy, probably making it the better choice. Ideally, you want to survive and win, but both isn't always achievable at the same time. Generally you do not need to do both if you are a Deputy or an Outlaw. You essentially must survive as a Renegade in order to win, but there are few possible tricks you can do with the expansions that let you come back and win. As a Sheriff, you have no choice but to live or lose.
No matter what your role is, always consider which of the two characters synergizes with your goal. Some characters might be powerful enough for you to choose them over a character better suited for your role, but sticking to this rule might help you decide those close calls.
Do not bluff beyond reason
Yes, it can be done. While it is a good idea to be deceptive, if you are a Deputy and make the Sheriff kill you, you are doing something wrong. There is nothing wrong with playing Gatling and making the Sheriff lose a life point, but if you shoot him with you Bang! card right after that, not only he might suspect you are an Outlaw, he might even kill you and lose his Deputy and all his cards! Talk people into making bad decisions or things that help your side, but remember that actions (or bullets) speak louder than words.
An example of this might be when you are a dying Outlaw and you have 1-2 life points left. There is a reward of 3 cards for killing an Outlaw and you clearly do not intend to give those cards to the Sheriff. Now let's presume it is the Sheriff's turn. What you might want to try if there is at least one Deputy left is talking him into not taking the risk of killing you, because you might very well be the Deputy (assuming you aren't obviously an Outlaw, who shot at him multiple times). Do not be afraid of telling him that you are fine with dying to anyone else and your goal is to prevent the Sheriff from discarding all his cards as a penalty for killing his Deputy. If he doesn't shoot you, either heal yourself or (if your chances of survival are low) unload all you have, try to damage the Sheriff, and hope for the best, which actually might be one of your teammates killing you and getting the reward. But if you keep up to your promise in the previous situation and start shooting anyone else but the Sheriff, chances are you will end up shooting your teammates and wasting your already limited resources, therefore bluffing beyond reason. It might temporarily be an acceptable strategy, but if you stick with this for too long, you are more likely decreasing your chance to win.
Pay attention to the game
Most players have already found themselves in a position similar to the one I am about to describe at some point. During the game, the General Store is played, each player chooses a card and then the player whose turn it is says "it's your turn now" towards you. You have a single Duel card in your hand, which you picked from the cards offered and you draw two pretty useless weapon cards. Your opponent you want to target with the Duel has only a single card in his hand, but you do not really want to lose a hitpoint. If you could only look at his card! But if you paid attention, you would know that the card left in his hand was a Missed! card he picked up from the General Store. Simple awareness can potentially let you "see" some cards in your opponent's hand.
Learn to know which cards seems great and which card should you really steal with you Cat Balou or Panic! cards. While taking your opponent's Barrel seems fine, even more if he has been lucky and he has drawn hearts twice in a row now, taking away his weapon might be more important, because he then perhaps won't be able to shoot you, while you can fire on him and this advantage came at the price of him keeping the approximate 25% chance to avoid your shots.
Another great example of this is when General Store comes in play. You are presented with a choice of either picking the Volcanic or one of a couple of Bang! cards. Everyone knows how powerful the Volcanic can be. But let's say you have no Bang! cards in your hand. The Volcanic is a completely worthless card to you in that situation and you should only choose it over a Bang! card if you want to deny it to the other players, because it almost always has no immediate benefit for you in that given position.
Use your ability
I have seen people forget about their character's unique ability countless times over and over again.
It is what makes every game different and also what gives you something specific only you can do.
This is not a strategic tip but rather a friendly reminder, that with the sole exception of Big Spencer (and possibly Bill Noface), no character ability in the game has a strictly negative effect for the player on its own. Never forget this and see what you can do with your ability. Sometimes, the options are almost unlimited, some characters being even capable of ending the game in the first turn (albeit just theoretically).
Keep those tips in mind during your next game of Bang!. I hope you will find them helpful, feel free to comment and share your results. The next time I will bring you some more tips and also add some not so obvious or maybe slightly more difficult things to do.