Over a week ago, I noted the release of Gold Rush, the new official expansion to BANG!. I compared the expansion as incorporating elements of my Death Mesa, BANG! Tactics, and the accessory cards in Robbers' Roost beta. Today, I wanted to share some of the exciting details of the expansion.
The Equipment Cards. All of the new playing cards in Gold Rush are equipment cards. These equipment cards have a variety of border colors (the borders look like the event card borders at a glance); some being played once and then used (like brown-bordered cards), others played in front of you for future use (green/blue-bordered cards). For instance, "Pardner" is one of the brown colored equipment cards that he can be purchased. Upon playing it, a player can copy the effect of another brown-bordered card. Then it is discarded. Reminds you of Lee Van Kliff's ability, doesn't it? The "Horseshoe" card, on the other hand, is black-bordered, and so is played in front of you and used during "draws!". Equipment cards are not drawn from the normal playing deck. They instead constitute there own separate deck, much like in BANG! Tactics. 3 cards from this equipment deck are revealed at all times. During a player's playing phase (typically phase 2), the equipment cards that are revealed may be purchased. The moment one of them is purchased, a new equipment card is revealed.
Equipment cards must be purchased by spending golden nuggets. 30 of these nuggets are included in the game, but if you need more than 30, you are instructed to provide an equivalent (use pennies). They are earned 2 different ways. First, a golden nugget can be gained for each Beer card you play. Second, golden nuggets are earned by making other players take hits. Thus, if I hit a player with a BANG!, I immediately gain a golden nugget. If I hit 3 players with an Indians!, I immediately gain 3 golden nuggets. The accrued golden nuggets are placed in front of the players who earned them for all others to see.
Equipment cards cost a certain number of golden nuggets. This is displayed in the bottom right corner of the equipment card. To purchase an equipment card during a playing phase, a player only needs to expend the amount of golden nuggets described in the bottom right corner of the card. He then gains the card. If the equipment card is brown-bordered, it cannot be saved in one's hand. Rather, it is played immediately and then discarded. If it is black-bordered it is immediately put into play for its purchaser. As with other cards in play, a player cannot buy a duplicate black-bordered card. Any number of equipment cards may be purchased during his turn, and any number of types of black-bordered cards may be had in play.
Besides purchasing equipment cards during your playing phase, you may also discard equipment cards during your playing phase. This cannot be done through the typical use of a steal/discard card. Rather, you can only do so by expending 1 more than the number of golden nuggets that an equipment card costs. The owner of the equipment card cannot prevent its discard. Obviously, only black-bordered equipment cards can be discarded since the brown-bordered ones are played immediately during the purchaser's turn. It isn't clear at the moment whether or not one can discard their own equipment cards this way. For instance, I might want to discard a black-bordered card in front of me, and then purchase a duplicate of that card revealed in the equipment pile to prevent someone else from getting it.
When an equipment card is used or discarded, place it face up at the bottom of the equipment deck. When a face up card is revealed this signals that the equipment deck needs to be reshuffled. Interestingly, upon player elimination the equipment cards are discarded, but Vulture Sam does not get to pick them up (bummer for him; I can easily see a house rule made to change this).
Character Cards. Gold Rush adds 8 new characters to BANG!: Don Bell, Dutch Will, Jacky Murieta, Josh McCloud, Madam Yto, Pretty Luzena, Raddie Snake, and Simeon Picos. Some of these abilities are pretty neat, such as the ability to "draw!" for an additional turn, to pay golden nuggets to fire a BANG!, to gain golden nuggets when any player plays a Beer, and to have all the costs of equipment cards lowered by 1. Most of the abilities look like they depend on using equipment cards or golden nuggets, so they do have the disadvantage of being less modular. In other words, they wouldn't work well with incorporating them with just the base game. The Dodge City and Wild West Show characters, on the other hand, worked quite will with this incorporation. However, these 8 characters in Gold Rush were designed with the Shadow Gunslinger variant in mind.
Shadow Gunslinger Variant. In this variant, eliminated players can still affect the game. When a player is eliminated, he discards all of his cards like usual, but keeps his golden nuggets. On all of his future turns, he temporarily re-enters play as a shadow version of his previous role (shadow-renegade, shadow-outlaw, shadow-deputy). He draws 2 cards, uses them if he can, and then disappears from the game again at the end of his turn. Since he cannot gain/lose life points, he is not really eliminated at the end of his turn, and so player elimination abilities (Herb Hunter, Vulture Sam, Greg Digger) do not get any benefits from this. As someone has already pointed out, this variant is basically like a permanent Ghost Town. The only difference is that the shadow players can gain gold nuggets from turn to turn. This allows them to save up to purchase equipment cards, which I imagine only the brown-bordered ones would be of any use to buy. However, you could discard others' black-bordered equipment cards. One other specification is made for shadow gameplay: Dynamite skips the shadow players for "draws!".
There are also special rules for Shadow Renegade. Death Mesa tried to keep the Renegade aspect of the Renegade through the Zombie Renegade. Gold Rush throws in the towel in trying to balance him and just appropriates him into the Sheriff or Outlaw team. While his allegiance to these teams changes, it is never his choice. On his turn, he sides with the weakest team (the team with the least amount of living players). The calculation for his allegiance is simple: Whatever team has the most face up roles cards, he joins. The "face up roles card" specification is so that it includes all shadow players, plus the Sheriff, whose role card is always revealed. If there is a tie between the two teams, he sides with the Outlaws. The Renegade has a 2-sided shadow role card to indicate which team he is currently aligned with.
Initial Thoughts. There is a lot about the Gold Rush expansion that looks good. I think accruing the golden nuggets will be a lot of fun, and the shop mechanic with it looks pretty smooth and great. I hope this will create a lot of what I envisioned in BANG! Tactics. How useful the equipment cards will be depends a lot upon their specific effects, which have not been fully disclosed at the moment. I hope they will allow for a lot more strategic gameplay. It will be interesting to see how they balance out between the more defensive versus offensive characters. Big Spencer looks like a living gold mine for accruing golden nuggets. I really enjoy the idea of accruing golden nuggets by playing Beer too.
As for concerns, I am a little disappointed that the characters are so gold nugget focused, but it may really help with the Shadow Gunslinger variant, so I will try to give it some slack. I prefer expansions that are more modular. The Shadow Gunslinger variant I am not completely sold on. It seems to give the Outlaws a better advantage as shadow gunmen, but perhaps the Renegade's switching allegiance will help? From face value, it doesn't look sufficient. Also, it seems to favor certain characters as shadow players. What good are defensive characters, life point sacrificing/regaining characters (Chuck Wengam, Bill Noface, Sid Ketchum), and card limit characters (Sean Mallory, Big Sepncer) as shadow players? Offensive characters (Slab the Killer) and card drawing/transmuting characters (Jose Delgado, Pixie Pete, Black Jack) have a huge advantage over them. While this is why the Gold Rush characters have been more specifically designed with the variant in mind, who wants to play with only the 8 Gold Rush characters? It would seem to make more sense to simply eliminate all character abilities for shadow players.
But this the designers do not want to do, because while the Shadow Gunslinger saves BANG! from many of the problems of player elimination, it sacrifices a lot of hand building continuity and planning. Some of this is made up by the accrual and usage of the golden nuggets, and the Gold Rush characters' abilities especially interact with the golden nuggets to help with that. Unfortunately, this brings us back to the favoring of certain characters problem. I think some house rules will have to be invented to sort this out. And even with these fixes, I don't know if the golden nuggets will deliver enough continuity and strategy for the shadow players.
The next problem, which really bugs me, is how much the gunslingers break up character ability gameplay since they draw from the normal deck. Kit Carlson can no longer stack up dynamite "draws!" to explode, since the shadow player in between the living player will pick it up. Similarly, an ally of Pedro Ramirez cannot stack a card on the discard pile for him to pick up if a shadow player is in the way. His jail gauntlet ability will also be completely destroyed. I tried to avoid many of these problems in Death Mesa by incorporating the Dead Men's Deck instead.
Fortunately, I think Death Mesa and Gold Rush are easily compatible. Gold nuggets will remain with ghosts upon death, and they will be able to accrue/use them just like the shadow players. Equipment cards can be purchased and discarded, but as with the shadow players, they will not be able to keep black-bordered cards at the ends of their turns. This, I hope, may provide a more satisfying solution to the player elimination problem while also incorporating the benefits of Gold Rush.
As for the Shadow Renegade solution, I do not know what to think of it. It sure makes the Renegade's life easier, and maybe that is best, instead of trying to find a way to revamp him as I do with the Zombie Renegade. On the other hand, I think the Renegade is a fun player in the game, and it is sort of sad to throw in the towel on his "last man standing" victory conditions. The verdict is out on this one.
Anyway, on the whole I am quite excited about Gold Rush, and expect it to be at least as good an addition to BANG! as Dodge City. You can check out the Gold Rush rulebook that was put online here. If you are interested in Gold Rush, check out my post on the Board Game Geek interview with Roberto Corbelli about Gold Rush. I have posted all of the characters and their abilities there.