Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bang! Armed and Dangerous review

Hello all and welcome back!

It has been quite some time since I have added some content to my little blog, mainly due to lack of time to play games, let alone write something at least somewhat informative/funny about them. Fortunately, some time ago DVGiochi has released yet another Bang! expansion. It is a miracle we still get new stuff into this game which was initially released at the start of the century and a testament to it's popularity (a cynic would call it more brand milking tho). I haven't seen any reviews on this yet and I figured I would look at the expansion, because I have bought it anyways. 
So grab your explosives and let us start our dangerous journey, ehm, review. :)

Contents
-28 cards, 13 of which are new orange-bordered cards, 9 are new brown-bordered cards and 6 are reprinted brown cards with the newer art and symbols.
-32 brown wooden load tokens
-8 new characters
-the rules

All that comes packed in the paper box depicted above. Bought the set for about 12 euro, actually like 10 after FLGS discount. Given the amount of cards and wooden tokens, I must say I would have liked slightly more, but I cannot say I it is an unreasonable price. All the cards came in protective plastic package and there is a basic but good quality plastic bag for the tokens. Compared to the tokens from Gold Rush, this time it isn't really clear from the first moment that these represent ammunition or something, but again just a minor concern. All cards have expansion-specific symbol in the right upper corner, this time a dynamite pack, so that all cards are easily sorted from the basic game and other expansions, as usual. Overall, they are just fine and serve the purpose, being neutral in regards to the theme.

Gold versus ammo

Gameplay
As with the Dodge city expansion, the playing cards (28 total) are added to the deck. I recommend shuffling them in thoroughly, as you do not want to have 10 orange cards in 15 cards drawn and nothing from the expansion in the rest of the deck. If you own every expansion released so far, the deck is going to contain 165 cards, which is twice as many as the original deck's size. With that size of the deck, there is roughly 1 in 8 chance that any given card is new and therefore interacts with load tokens. There are few issues with that which I will get to in a second, but first let me explain the cards and the tokens. Orange cards work just as a blue card would. You put them in play in front of you (or another player in one case). Player puts 3 load tokens on any orange card just played by default. The card depicts a number of load tokens necessary to activate certain effect. To activate an effect of a card, simply discard the required number of tokens. You cannot activate an effect if there isn't a sufficient amount of tokens on a card. Once there are no tokens on a card, it is immediately discarded, but otherwise those effects are reusable, as long as you can pay for it and the card itself doesn't limit that. Specific orange cards are weapons. They work just as any other weapon would, but also come with three tokens. In addition to getting you in range, they allow you to enhance your Bang! cards (and no other card such as Springfield etc.) if you pay a single token while shooting and before the targeted player reacts. The other type of new cards is an upgradeable brown-bordered card. Those have known effects, but also have several tokens depicted on them with additional effect. You can pay for the upgrade any number of times by removing tokens from your orange cards or your character card in any combination while you play the card. 

There are two ways to get tokens outside of special abilities or cards. Whenever you play any blue card, you may put a load token on any orange card you own or your character card. 
Whenever you discard a card in your phase 3 (remember, cannot discard cards unless you are above your limit at the end of your turn), you again get a token for every card discarded in the same manner. Now important catch is that there can NEVER be more than 4 tokens on any card or character at any given time. And if you run out of tokens during the game, you cannot play any card which requires you to put tokens on it from the reserve.

What is my opinion on all that? Well it certainly brings some new mechanics, some cool decision making while determining the order of playing your cards, and unfortunately also moderate amount of text on the cards, in a similar manner as The Valley of Shadows expansion. The problem I mentioned earlier is that if you play with all you have, the game gets complicated and people collect wooden tokens useful for improving or using cards that rarely show up. If player selects his character from a pool of like 60 then there is a decent chance of not getting a character from this expansion. If that is the case and that player is stuck with say Calamity Janet, he will likely end up putting tokens on his character card the whole game, occasionally drawing an orange card which is probably going to end up used as a one-time-use brown card as there is no good way for said player to move his hoarded tokens to his orange card in time. Yes, there is a couple of brown bordered cards which can be upgraded furiously and any tokens can be used to pay for that, but again the odds of drawing such card AND using it meaningfully aren't exactly huge. I really recommend playing with basic game, dodge city and maybe one or two other expansions, or perhaps taking dodge city out and then mixing it as much as you like with other expansions. And having played a couple of games with just this and the basic box, I can tell you it makes for solid and fresh yet not too complicated game with even playing field for most characters and playstyles. Plus the basic game only includes 80 cards, so every fifth/sixth card would be new, meaning players get their hands on those just enough.

With that general summary out of the way, I will now delve into particular cards included in the expansion. There will be spoilers so if you haven't bough the expansion yet and want to get surprised, close your eyes and scroll down to the end :)

Playing cards
-Reprints are 4 Bang! cards, single Cat Balou and a single Missed! card

Ace up the Sleeve-An orange card, allows the player to draw a card for 2 load tokens. Very interesting given the fact that this starts with 3 tokens. I feel like once you play this, you either have a full hand and or are playing against Frankie Canton (a new character, steal one token a turn) or you immediately trigger the effect once and wait for a convenient blue card to give you another token to turn into another card, as you already had one left on this card anyways. If you have a full hand, this can be a good way to "store" your cards without taking too much of a risk. Do note that tokens do not carry over if stolen, but instead are discarded and upon playing the card by the new owner, new 3 tokens are placed on the card as usual. Interesting card.

A little sip-Brown card. The rules found online call this card "A little nip" which has to be a mistake, right? Dunno. Probably. Either way this card allows you to regain 1 hitpoint. You can upgrade the effect by paying 3 tokens any number of times for an additional life. If you play this and pay 6 tokens, you regain 3 life. Only need 1? Simply play the card, pay nothing. Easy. Very versatile and strictly better than a Beer, unless you lost your last life outside of your turn, because it cannot be played then, it isn't a Beer card. On the other hand, this could give you massive advantage in the duel of the remaining 2 players as this can be played even then. Cool concept. 

Arrow-Brown card. Makes one player regardless of distance discard a Bang! (an actual Bang! card) or lose 1 life. Can be upgraded for 1 to repeat the effect when you play it and before anyone reacts to it, but this time you must target a different player. And it is suited in diamonds, meaning Apache Kid doesn't get hit by this, which is kinda cool. Selective Indians', very good card and has a great bluffing potential. Plus they receive extra points for making Apache immune to this.

Bandolier-Orange card which allows you to spend 1 token once a turn to be able to shoot one more Bang! card. This can be useful but you must have 2 or more Bang!s to make use of this. Not unlikely, but some characters already do this and do it better (Willy the Kid and Evelyn the Bang being the most notable exceptions). Still comes in handy from time to time and greatly helps to increase offensive capabilities of some characters who otherwise struggle to actually kill someone.

Beer Keg-Not a Beer card, orange card that allows you to regain a hitpoint for three tokens. Never managed to regain more than 2 health with the card as it is extremely slow to regain 3 tokens on a single card. Unless you are discarding huge amount of cards, but then this either comes as a consolation prize or something useless. Typically this is simply a beer which cannot be used to save your last life and can be played in 2 players. Probably nothing new, but might be useful in some very long games.

Bell Tower-An orange card which allows the owner to ignore all distance modifiers and distance in general for his next card played. The cost is 1 token only which is sweet. Now if you aren't in friendly environment, make sure you play your weapon cards first, otherwise your opponents will mock you for wasting your activated advantage. Can be used multiple times a turn, but each time you use it, you must pay the price. This card apparently even ignores Mustang as per the rules, so it is the ultimate "Screw you" to your opponent who has been turtling meticulously the whole game. Extremely useful in almost every situation, great comeback card.

Big Fifty-Orange weapon card, which allows you to pay a single token as all orange weapons do when you play Bang! card with this on the table. If you pay for the upgrade, the shot cancels the target players ability and effects of cards in front of him. You can only do this provided you were in range before you shot him and you were able to do so (AKA haven't played a diamond Bang! against Apache Kid). Not like you are gonna be out of range too often as this is the weapon with range of 6 (finally :D ). Doesn't state for how long is the ability canceled, but I assume it is for the purposes of that single Bang! card played, otherwise this would be hilariously overpowered. Cool thing is that you do not really want to use this against Big Spencer, because it mostly helps him rather than cripples him. On the other hand, this super destroys Teren Kill with some setup, as well as Jourdonnais, Calamity Janet, El Gringo, Bart Cassidy, Simeon Picos... well half the characters which rely on strong defensive abilities. This is to Bang! what the Elder Wand is to Harry Potter franchise.

Bomb-Orange card, can be played in front of any player, starts with 3 tokens. At the start of the players turn, he "draws". On red suit, the bomb can be given to any other player, on black suit, the bomb stays and 2 tokens are removed. Once there are no tokens left, the bomb explodes and the player currently "owning" it loses 2 life. Another dynamite-like card, this time slightly less random, somewhat tactical and again synergising well with a character, this time Frankie Canton, who can fuck up your day provided there is only one token left on the bomb and you happen to be the unfortunate person in possession of this explosive.

Buntline Special-Weapon with range of 2, orange card. As an upgrade to your Bang! for the standard single token, you force your opponent to discard a card if he successfully blocks the shot. Much better design than the Shotgun because if your opponent blocks, he is punished, which makes him do hard choices or weakens him systematically in case he/she has to block or die. Sadly, this is what makes combining Valley of Shadows and this expansion tough, because there are somewhat similar cards which aren't too distinct from each other and have similar effects. I mean, every player knows what Indians do, but what if you ask them what is the effect of random orange gun number 2?

Caravan-Brown card which is essentially draw two cards. Nothing new. Wait, for every 2 tokens paid there is an additional card? Exactly, put two useless orange disasters in front of you, play this, pay six tokens, draw 5 cards? Well effectively only 3 but still, the flexibility and win-win scenario this card represents makes it one of the most insane cards in Bang!. One could argue that house-rule might be in place for this to activate the Wild West Show deck, but nobody plays that anyways, so let us just scratch that. Oh and this is what your worthless tokens on your character card are for. Pity there it is probably only card which lets you cash them in big time.

Crate-Orange card, if you pay 2 tokens, you get a missed!, can only be used as a reaction to someone shooting you, can be activated before or after Barrel (only one reason to ever do it before, John Pain). Not bad, not too impressive. Why not tho. Plus it is technically better than a Missed! card, but your opponent knows for sure that you have this.

Double Barrel-Another weapon with possible upgrades to your Bang!s, this time at Range 1, but your Bang's of diamonds are instant damage, cannot be blocked and it apparently works with the Valley of Shadows card that makes your Bang! deal 2 damage. And yes, Apache Kid really made sure to pay the developers handsomely to make him immune to new cards.

Duck!-It is a Missed! which can be returned to your hand for 2 tokens. Simple, plain, new. Like it.

Flintlock-A Bang! equivalent (not an actual Bang! doesn't trigger dangerous weapons, Slab the Killer etc.). Can be returned to your hand for 2 tokens if it is canceled. No, cannot do it later in retrospect, you must pay the 2 tokens immediately. I like the fact that they avoided infinite chain of returns provided you have enough tokens. Simple card, yet slightly different.

Lock Pick-Pay three tokens to steal a card from player's hand. Technically reusable but really hard to pull off repeatedly. Basically a twist on Panic. Almost feels redundant because random card from hand isn't thaaat intriguing. Might win you the game here and there but so could Cat Balou in that situation.

Quick Shot-Not a shot of whiskey, unfortunately, this card is nevertheless useful. A Bang! equivalent which can be upgraded for 1 token to also affect another player which is in range for you and at the same time a legal target. A selective Gatling but distance actually matters this time (unlike with the Arrow).

Reloading-Immediately gain 3 tokens, can place them anywhere in any combination. This card is situational, often doesn't do anything, but can be used to pull off crazy chains of activations. IMHO has a place in the expansion albeit it might be bad more often than not. Depends on what sets you are using, less sets means more frequent cards with tokens which increases usefulness of this card.

Rust-Other players take 1 token from every dangerous=orange card and their characters and put them on your character card. Any extra tokens are just discarded. Same as above, situational, potentially cool.

Squaw-At first I thought it was "Squat" and expected this card to be Tom Platz parody, but it instead lets you discard a card in play=on the table. You can pay 2 tokens to keep the would-be discarded card. Yeah, this is getting less and less creative but still quite works for me, another Rag-time effect, except it is more flexible.

Thunderer-Range 3 weapon, lets you keep the Bang! if you pay 1 token. Not bad, in fact I would say this weapon is really useful, essentially draws you up to 3 Bang! cards. Or more if you can supply it with tokens but bear in mind that any blue weapon card put in play forces you to discard Thunderer.

Tumbleweed-Orange card which allows you to force a "redraw" to a player for 1 token. Kinda funny with Dynamite, Prison, Barrel or Bomb in play. Just a cool card which is certainly going to create some memorable randomness moments.

Whip-Last and least, this card lets you discard another card in play for 3 tokens, and is in theory reusable... and in fact probably not, because it takes ages to get 3 tokens back up there and you need to get 1 token on the card before you use it, otherwise it just gets discarded.

Characters
Most of those work with tokens, and probably were designed with the basic game in mind. I feel like they aren't balanced around playing with deck as large as 150+ cards. Good news is that while some of them are clearly powerful, they won't make your older characters look like they have no ability at all, which was the case with THAT EXPANSION. Yes, nowhere near Wild West Show level of insanity.

Just for the record, I will try to estimate the power level of characters compared to other characters where A+ is the most insane character (such as John Pain, Greygory Deck, Don Bell etc.) and F the most worthless one (Johny Kisch).

Al Preacher (4hp)-This dude has the ability to draw a card for two tokens whenever another player plays blue or orange card. This means he doesn't want to activate his orange cards too often. Well, honestly you want most orange cards over his ability, but this can be used as last resort draw or if you simply have nothing else to spend your tokens on. It is probably somewhat weak but doesn't get worse even with larger deck as there is a good amount of blue and orange cards anyways (41 in total for the 165-card deck). Your opponent can be smart an shoot you first, then put his barrel into play, but your teammates might give you good opportunities to use your ability right on time. Probably solid renegade as he doesn't seem to be much of a threat. Cannot trigger his ability with his own cards so he is dependant on others. (C-)

Bass Greeves (4hp)-He can reliably create tokens but the question is whether that is enough. The less cards other than orange and or upgradeable cards there are, the better for him. Which means he is at his best at games with just the base and this, where he could create slower game controlled by him and cards like Beer Keg which I mentioned are slow. I am not quite sure whether it is enough, but if this character has a chance to be good in certain scenario, here it is. Problem is that by the time you have enough tokens, you will have been killed. Twice. (D)

Bloody Mary (4hp)-Cool art and corresponding ability, anytime her Bang! is canceled, she draws a card. Only actual Bang! cards count but at least it makes for some interesting order decisions both for you and the opponent. And I think the ability triggers often enough to make it worth it and is hard to play against as you are constantly torn between losing a hitpoint or blocking which refuels your opponent. Quite versatile, except for Sheriff and even then not bad. (B or B- depending on role)

Frankie Canton (4hp)-Can take a token from any card or character in the game and put it on his character card. Once a turn. Unfortunately, most orange cards already did something by the time he gets to steal, only steals 1 token which means even a weapon gets stolen within 2 turns, sometimes slower, and he doesn't get to use tokens with his own orange cards as they go to the character card. Yes, can harvest tokens from other while there isn't anything to use them on and then explode, but there is about two cards which are worth it. Although very funny in certain situations, in my games this dude essentially had no ability and if not for the testing, wouldn't have been picked. (F, goes to D in a game with only this expansion.. I guess)

Julie Cutter (4hp)-Whenever a player makes her lose a life, she "draws", on hearths or diamonds, that player is target of Bang! effect. Solid survivability due to strong psychological factor and actual damage her ability can cause, she is a wonderful Sheriff, whom you either kill, or lose. Funny with the High noon expansion and has some nice tiny combos, for example with the Horseshoe. Can technically force herself to repeat the draw with Tumbleweed. Having both Tumbleweed and Horseshoe brings her chance of hitting up to 15/16, which is really nasty but not happening too often. Even as it is, it is a 50/50, which is fair enough. Overall not too insane, but universal and quite strong.
(B-, B as a Sheriff)

Mexicali Kid (4hp)-Once a turn, can pay 2 tokens to shoot an additional Bang! without a card. Similar to Doc Holyday, but much better currency used to pay for his extra shot, he doesn't rely on hitting the enemy like his Gold Rush equivalent nor does he rely on having too many cards. He can simply stack some tokens over time, replenish one or two here and there and then consistently shoot 2 Bang!'s a turn for several rounds. I have seen him outshoot Calamity Janet's defense in 1-to-1 duel. He sucks as a Sheriff, but is very good on the offensive side. If he gets himself into a scenario where both players have 2-3 HP left and they keep shooting one Bang! a turn, then discarding a card, he can slowly gather tokens for the cards discarded and keep shooting 2 Bang!'s a turn. Requires a bit of skill and thinking but can be done. (A- as an Outlaw/Vice, otherwise B-)

Ms. Abigail (4hp)-She may ignore brown-bordered cards which only target her of values J Q K and A. There is about 70 offensive cards in the game if full deck is played. Abigail gets to ignore 18 of them, which is roughly 27%, very similar defensive ability as Apache Kid. She has extra life and therefore card at the start, but she doesn't ignore such a specific set of cards as Apache (Indians). I believe she is going to be absolutely comparable to him, even though it is only brown-bordered single target cards. Super durable Sheriff, resistant Renegade. Gonna rate her (A-) just because Apache seems to be more focused and better version, but might very well end up being wrong.

Red Ringo (5hp)-Starts with 4 tokens, may relocate up to two tokens a turn to his cards. Again works with this expansion and nothing else. So far only one character based on tokens really was a good one in terms of competitive thinking. Red Ringo does absolutely nothing until you get a card with tokens, at which point he gets what essentially is one to two free activations of any card, then he has no real ability for the rest of the game. 5hp also gives him a slight advantage, but I do not personally think it is enough, albeit it is better than the thief. (D)

Conclusion
Wow. I admire you if you have made it to the end with me. I have described what I think about this expansion and what I find redundant, so a quick sum-up is in place. I hope you have enjoyed reading and as always feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, on the BGG forum or via PM.

Rating
+Cool new mechanics and characters
+Good feel and atmosphere, fits the theme
+More playing cards, compatible with previous expansions
-The game gets perhaps too heavy and complex for a card game
-LOT of reading needed, some rules subject to different interpretation
-Few frankly quite boring, pointless, dull cards
Overall: 6.5/10

I feel I have to comment on the score due to my review being quite positive. Bang! is a game with huge amount of expansions and as such has set up some very high standards. This one fits in size somewhere between Valley of Shadows and Dodge city. For a veteran player, this is still quite easily explained set of new rules, which can be incorporated into games. But for newer player or one with no expansions, I see no need to buy this over Dodge city+High noon expansion, which offers more characters, cards, an event deck and much smoother gameplay with the same added variety people so seek. That said, my second purchase would be either this or Valley of Shadows, which does a good job at adding few interesting cards but suffers from the same problem as this expansion, few redundant cards, lot of reading. Fistful is just an alternative/additional event deck with the characters being somewhat bland while Gold Rush and WWS are fun to play but frankly break the game more or less. Therefore my overall impression is very positive, it is just that there are other products in the line which simply bring more.



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