I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a bit of a tease about the first game I played this evening. See, it’s out of print, so if you want to play it, you’re going to have to find someone who owns it or, if you’re lucky enough to have obsessed gamer friends like I do, someone who got a hold of the print and play files and made their own copy. This happens a lot more often than you’d think, and very often with the full blessing of the game designers, who often use it as a way to playtest and promote their games. It’s a common reward tier for a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for board games too, as well as a way for foreign games that have yet to find an American publisher to gain a foothold and maybe make their way to a stateside release. Add this to the inherently fiddly nature of a lot of board gamers, who love to modify and upgrade their games and components, and print and play is a pretty vibrant part of the hobby. I’ve even seen some finished print and play games that rival the eventual published versions, with how much time and effort was put into the print part. Anything to get to the play part.
Manila — When this was described to me as a wagering game, it didn’t stir a lot of interest. I’m not much for gambling, primarily because I’m not very good at it; you want to earn a decent living, play some poker with me. I also can’t bluff to save my life, so much of the appeal of gambling is lost on me. But my friend Lionel was really excited about this, and had done a lot of work printing out the components, so I gave it a try. The game consists of a series of rounds in which players take turns spending money on various spaces on the board that can either earn them more money or improve their chances of doing so. There are three boats full of goods moving up a river, and the players are both investing in the goods on the boats and wagering on whether they’ll complete the journey — thereby selling the goods aboard them, making good on the investment — or end up damaged from the rapids. There’s also wagering on who gets to go first each round, and since this offers numerous advantages such as deciding which goods are being shipped and having first choice of spaces on the board to claim, this can be hotly contested. Once the value of any one good reaches the top of its track, the game ends, and the player with the most money wins.
We ended up playing this twice, so saying we liked it was a bit of an understatement. It’s not a deep game, even with there being some math involved in figuring out what move will give you the best return on your investment. But boy is there a lot of player interaction, especially when you end up taking the space someone else was about to pin their entire turn on. There are also spaces that allow you to move the boats forward or backward in addition to the die rolls that move them, and figuring out who might be doing what — and making them wonder what you might be doing — gives the game a ton of replayability. The two games we played unfolded in completely different fashions — the first with money being kept relatively close to the chest, the second more free-spending — and saw two completely different orders of finish. We could have easily played this all night had time allowed, my initial reluctance towards it gone. Hopefully there’s enough interest to get someone’s attention and get this published again. Sadly though, the designer, Franz-Benno Delonge, passed away in 2007, making a revival somewhat unlikely.
Bang! The Dice Game ($15.07 on Amazon) — This is the dice version of a card game that I have to admit is not one of my favorites. It’s the kind of game that can last sixty of the most excruciating minutes of your life or be over before you’ve even settled down to play it. In both versions, one player is revealed as the sheriff of a Wild West town, with the other players’ roles hidden. There are two outlaws who win if the sheriff is killed, a deputy who wins along with the sheriff if the outlaws are killed, and a renegade who wins if they’re the last one standing. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to go gunning for the sheriff right away, since that’ll tip everyone off as to who you are. So you try to mask your intentions until the right moment, which can lead to games dragging on and on and on, an ordeal if you’re eliminated early on. But if the bad guys get the right combos of cards, the sheriff dies almost immediately and you’ve barely gotten the chance to play.
The dice game does speed things up considerably. It uses a Yahtzee-like re-roll mechanic with specialized dice that allow you to shoot, heal, or, if you roll poorly, blow yourself up. But the two games we played again underlined my issues with the core of Bang!. The first game was an enjoyable back and forth thirty minutes or so. The second saw the dice fall just the right way and the sheriff dead after just three turns around the table. I think part of my disconnect here is how the odds seem so stacked against the sheriff. There are two players who win by killing him, and the deputy has very limited means of assisting him. If he uses his heals to take care of the sheriff, the deputy will die, leaving the sheriff on his own. If he keeps himself alive, the sheriff is in danger of being killed. And in either case, the deputy is likely not shooting the bad guys, leaving them free to do what they want. The renegade has some incentive to kill the outlaws, since he needs to be the last one alive and loses if the outlaws kill the sheriff. But he’s on his own, and can’t simply start shooting everybody or his role is a dead giveaway. Maybe I just can’t wrap my head around the strategy, but it just feels like the outlaws should just start blasting away at the sheriff with everything they’ve got, and they’ll likely kill him before the deputy and renegade can do anything about it.
The fact that I was the sheriff in the second game had absolutely nothing to do with my feelings on this matter. I swear.