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Score: 82%
ESRB: 12+
Publisher: Palzoun Entertainment
Developer: Spinvector
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Card Games/ Family/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Bringing a card or board game to any digital platform has its risks. Sure, digital media is much more flexible, but it gives up the touchy-feely parts that traditionally made family gaming so much fun. We (gamers) recognized at the very beginning that the iPad had great potential for tabletop gaming, but we're just now beginning to see this in practice. BANG! is a great example of how a card game can find a much larger audience, and revitalize its past user-base, by making the jump to a mobile game format. Considering the rich history of releases and expansions tied to BANG!, having everything contained in one place is a boon. Fans will recognize this set of cards as the "Dodge City" pack, including the characters and items from that expansion. Whether you are playing with the minimum of three or max of eight players, the virtual table is presented in such a way that you can always keep track of the action. The flow of play is illustrated nicely by moving cards and simple actions; everything happens on the board with the exception of special actions like drawing and matching for Dynamite or Jail cards. The soundtrack is pure Spaghetti Western, complete with a whistling cowboy in the background of certain songs. The only aspect of BANG! we really found problematic was the helper-text for cards held by you or set out by others in plain sight. You can touch and hold your own cards during your turn, to see more about their effects. Problem is, the text scrolls in a super-slow ticker when you do this, making it a worthless feature for all but very short messages. We understand the designers' desire to keep the interface from being cluttered, but why not just pop up a quick overlay window or dialogue showing the entire text from my card? Or better still, a small version of the full card, so we can read the text? This is especially problematic for new players.


Understanding BANG! is easy enough, but the longer-term implications for a group of four or more players are deep. BANG! is billed as a "bluffing game," but what does that really mean? It's a bit like poker, in the sense that it pays to convince other players you're holding certain cards, but there's also a role-playing element here. Each game of four includes a Sheriff, a Deputy, a Renegade, and an Outlaw. The numbered variations feature more of each role, right up to the eight-player variant with three Outlaws, two Renegades, two deputies, and one Sheriff. At the beginning of a typical Single Player game, you can select the total number of players, pick your role, and pick a character. You may choose for role and character to be randomly assigned, but some characters have special abilities that may better suit your playing style. Item or action cards are played on characters during the actual game, with the ultimate goal being to take out the other players. If you're an Outlaw, you really only need to take out the Sheriff to win the game, where the Sheriff and Deputy have their hands full with up to three Outlaws and two Renegades. The Renegade role acts like a Deputy until all the Outlaws are gone, and then turns against the lawful players.

One of the "big ideas" behind BANG! is that it supports multiple players online, regardless of what platform they choose. This is a trend we hope to see more, since it removes the barriers for friends on different consoles or between Mac/PC platforms. If you're not set up to connect to 3G or Wi-Fi with your iPad, BANG! offers a Pass Play Mode where you can take turns and then pass the iPad along to a friend or family member for their turn. There's even a neat "shade" feature that hides your cards once you are done with your turn, to simulate playing across the table in a live setting. Online Mode is just as you would expect, although there isn't the equivalent of an online pass-play, which is a shame. If you've experimented with the board games on Facebook or downloaded Words With Friends for any platform, you know what we mean. Connecting for a live gaming session is great, but there's also merit in playing across-the-wire with live players asynchronously. Yes, we just said "asynchronously." Where live online sessions become problematic is when you're itching to play and can't find a match. Even playing on the "Quick" setting, we had trouble finding matches; as BANG! becomes more popular you would expect this issue to go away, but at this time it's a major limitation.


A Tutorial Mode helps explain how the game works, though it's fairly intuitive. The turns are almost self-explanatory, thanks to messages that appear letting you know it's time to draw or discard, and highlighting cards you can play. The initial learning curve is highest for understanding each card's effect, which makes the wonky ticker-text feature mentioned earlier especially frustrating. You can browse an included glossary that explains in detail every card, if you're willing to spend some time before a game reading. You can also research the abilities of each player, although these only take effect when you are not playing on the Easy setting. Special abilities can really change the dynamic of a game. Depending on the role you are assigned, a particular ability may be a hindrance more than a help. For example, Elana Fuente's ability to use any card to defend against attacks makes her hard to kill, but with only three life points she's a pretty frail creature. Playing her in a Sheriff role can be challenging, compared to one of the hardier characters. Other characters have abilities that influence how they use cards, or how many cards they can draw and hold. The series of Dodge City cards provided as special items can be turned on or off, mainly to limit the number of variables during a game while you're learning. Once you know your way around the game, you'll definitely want them turned on. Playing against the CPU in a bluffing game is a bit odd. The CPU can't bluff, and it appears to use fairly simple A.I. to determine how to play. When you're playing Single Player as an Outlaw, if you don't attack the Sheriff, the Sheriff will leave you alone. The same can't be said for the Deputy or Renegade, who target you mercilessly whether you've attacked them or not. Winning in Single Player tends to be a function of chance more than strategy, although you have to be smart about managing cards and targeting the right roles. When you start playing with human opponents, either in Pass Play or Online, you'll notice that any role can be hard or easy. Unlike the CPU, a human-controlled Renegade may attack a Sheriff occasionally to keep things interesting, and Outlaws may kill each other to score cards and put a Sheriff or Deputy off their trail. You won't know the difference until you play a few games in Online Mode or Pass Play, but it's hard to go back to Single Player once you've squared off against human opponents.

Game Mechanics:

Card games, depending on your perspective, are the original form of "mobile gaming." Extremely portable by nature, cards have the downside of being easy to lose and in some cases rather fragile. Secured in your iPad, BANG! cards never fall behind the radiator or get sticky jelly on them, and they won't take up more room in your living-room game drawer. In addition to these benefits, the iPad makes for an extremely intuitive card-game host. Motions like sliding to play and tapping to draw are a natural for this device, and can be used interchangeably. There were a few instances where selecting just the right card - as in the cases where you are "stealing" a card from another player - seemed more difficult than necessary, because of some imprecise controls. Mostly, the controls feed adequate, if not highly tuned. How much tuning do you really need to simulate tapping actions on cards or characters? Aside from the helper-text controls, we liked every aspect of the game. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, with tabbed organization that clearly shows options as you are setting up a game. Once in the game, there's never a question as to what you do next, so each round of play moves smoothly. The whole package is a nice accomplishment, and we see some hints for expansion in the sense that a few characters can be unlocked by earning achievements. Considering the rich offline history of BANG!, we're really hoping to see its player-base grow. Until then, you'll find us haunting the streets of Dodge, itching for a duel.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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