Following up on Forbidden Island, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a couple more light cooperative games. Both are card-based hidden role style games that support a wide number of players. Originally I was going to hold off on comparisons between cooperative games until the end of the series but these three fill such a similar niche I thought it best to talk about them at the same time.
(image by samoan_jo)
Dwarves love mining for gold. It’s a pretty simple job unless there are traitors amongst them! Veins of coal and broken equipment are surely signs of dwarves gone bad. Will the loyal miners be able to out the saboteurs and find the gold in time?
Yes, Saboteur’s theme is a bit silly but it works well given the game’s mechanics. Three target cards are set out face down on the table: two show lumps of coal and the third is the gold mine. Eight spaces away from these target cards is the mine entrance. At the start of the game each player is dealt a loyalty card saying if they are a miner or saboteur. Players have a hand of cards showing various tunnel configurations, broken and repaired equipment. On your turn you play a card to either extend the tunnel system or break or repair someone’s equipment. The loyal miners win if they reach the gold mine before the deck runs out, otherwise the saboteurs walk away victorious!
That’s really all there is to to the game. It’s simple, fast and very fun. The goal cards are face down but there are some cards in the deck that let you peek at one or more of the goals to help you figure out where to go. Saboteurs want to slow progress to the gold mine while miners want to get there as fast as possible. The coal veins are dummy targets; reaching one does not end the game but it does result in wasted time and cards.
If you start your turn with broken equipment in front of you your turn is skipped until you or someone else plays a matching repair card on you. Breaking equipment is great for both sides but also have risks. The benefit is obvious for the saboteurs but can easily give your identity away. Miners want to slow the saboteurs if they can but a wrong guess means they are stopping a fellow miner from taking a turn. It’s a very simple form of hidden loyalty and you’ll be accused as being a saboteur for only having a hand full of dead end tunnels as often as you will actually be a saboteur but that’s all part of the fun.
Should the saboteurs stop the miners, they each receive gold nugget cards based on how many saboteurs were in the game. If the miners reach the gold mine a number of random gold nuggets cards (showing one to three nuggets) are randomly dealt and picked in order from the miner that played the connecting tunnel. The winner is whoever has the most gold nuggets after three rounds.
Rarely do we play exactly three rounds. In fact we usually don’t even care about the score that much as the scoring is fairly random. Saboteur’s fun is in the sheer simplicity of the game and mechanics. A single round usually doesn’t take more than ten minutes making it the perfect filler game. Play as many rounds as you want until you are ready for something else!
(image by samoan_jo)
I’m really surprised that the Wild West theme isn’t used more often in board games. Gun fights, duels, train and bank robberies, gambling, expansion of the Western frontier, cattle rustling… it seem like there’s no end of possibilities!
In Bang, players are dealt out secret identities placing them in one of three factions: the sheriff and his deputies, outlaws and the lone renegade. Only the sheriff is known from the start; everyone else will spend the game trying to figure out who their allies are while taking down their opponents. The sheriff and deputies win when all the outlaws are face down in the dirt, the outlaws win by taking down the sheriff and deputies and the renegade wins by being the last man standing. Your identity is only revealed when you are killed, though, so you need to try and figure out loyalties by where the lead is flying.
Unfortunately, for me Bang really only delivers on the theme. Here’s a rundown of what I think does and does not work:
+ Theme: Yep, the Wild West theme is great and overall it fits well mechanically. I can imagine a massive shootout in an old dusty western city where the lead is flying and you aren’t quite sure who is friend or foe. In an homage to spaghetti westerns all of the cards have both English and Italian text which is a lot of fun, too.
+ Range: One of the most clever mechanics is that your weapons have a limited range. Pistols have a range of one while rifles may have a range of three. Range is counted by player order to your left or right, so a weapon with a range of two lets you shoot at people seated up to two places away from you. I love the concept of range actually being how physically far away people are seated from you and have never really seen that used in a game before. Very fun.
(image by Nodens77)
– Loyalties, Randomness and Length: Unfortunately I don’t think the secret factions really do much for the game. Only the sheriff is known from the start so you sort of figure out who’s on your team by who fires at the sheriff and who fires at the people firing at the sheriff. Unfortunately your ability to attack and defend are entirely up to the luck of the draw. This not only makes it difficult to properly play your role but can also result in wildly varying game lengths. Sometimes the game will be over in fifteen to twenty minutes, other times it can take over an hour for people to finally draw the right cards to kill their enemies. This is especially painful since the game features player elimination and the game mechanics simply aren’t meaty enough to support a game of that length.
In the end I’ve been very disappointed with Bang. It seems like a really cool game but I’ve never had fun playing it. The confusing icons and heavy luck factor combined with potentially drawn-out game play and player elimination has not resulted in an enjoyable experience.
(image by drakecoldwinter)
Take the Western theme off of Bang and replace it with monsters, monster hunters and humans. Welcome to Shadow Hunters. There are a few differences but overall I found the experience to be extremely similar to Bang. Keep in mind my impressions are based on a single play:
+ Loyalty Guessing: Many hidden loyalty games have you guessing a player’s loyalties based on their actions over the course of the game. Shadow Hunters uses a pretty clever mechanic where you can play a card on them that will force them to reveal some information to you. Only you and your target get to see the card and their result is usually a yes/no style response or choosing between two actions based on what faction they belong to. It’s a nice mechanical way to help you narrow down friend and foe.
– Lack of Strategy: Every turn you roll dice to determine which action to take. Usually you’ll end up resolving a card which is either some sort of event, item to use or one of those loyalty guessing cards. The actions are broken up into regions on the board and after resolving your action you may attack someone else in the game region as you.
There are two problems. First, you don’t get to make many decisions as your action is determined by a die roll at the start of your turn. You also immediately resolve cards you draw so there’s no hand management. Your only real decision is who to attack and generally you’ll wait until you know who’s on your side, which is pretty easy thanks to the loyalty guessing cards. Second, the game length can be variable as your position on the board (and who you may attack) is random. If you keep missing your targets you’ll never get to smack them around.
I do think Shadow Hunters has some clever mechanics but the game really was not at all satisfying. The loyalty guessing cards are fun but you can often know someone’s loyalty after a single card play and figure out the rest by who attacks whom.
I think some groups will find a lot of fun in both Bang and Shadow Hunters. They are certainly not bad games and bring some cool mechanics to the table. Unfortunately I find both to be very unsatisfying experiences. Saboteur’s strengths are its simplicity and fast playing time. If Bang and Shadow Hunters could be played in a shorter fixed amount of time I think they’d be much better; they just don’t sustain themselves when the variable game length pushes on the long side.
Not only is Saboteur the cheapest of the three, it’s also the most enjoyable. There’s a lot of fun to be had in that little deck of cards!