Monday Night Magic at The Murderdome: Bangmander!
I play regularly with a group of friends, usually Monday evenings. We play different formats, including Commander, Modern, and various draft styles with a Cube we have that is continually evolving. Our buddy’s living room, where we generally gather, is affectionately known as The Murderdome. Sometimes, we play other games (gasp!). When our Magic games are grinding and stretching on, we like to switch to faster-paced interactive games like Dominion, or Bang! This gives us a bit of a breather and a challenge to our brains to think a little differently.
EDH Commander is a very imaginative format, less structured and restricted than most decks found in the Modern format. It emphasizes multiplayer play and social interaction. You can read more about it here. In the Commander format, you can really have fun with cards that are unplayable in a faster format like Modern or even draft. We are a creative bunch, always looking to think outside the box. We tend to have 4-6 players, and we like to be able to game all together rather than splitting off into groups of two or three. We often set up a double-headed giant, or triple-double-headed giant - that is three giants with two heads each in a free-for-all. It is as complex and convoluted as you might imagine, and we jam other versions as we can think them up. One Monday, we were bored of our regular shenanigans. How could we mix things up in the Murderdome? Whilst brainstorming (ha!), I suddenly had the thought... Bang!? But with Commander decks?
What is Bang!? If you haven’t heard of it before, Bang! is a card-based, fast-paced strategy tabletop game where you play as one of 22 characters in one of four roles to survive in a Wild West show-down. The characters you choose from have different life totals and skills, and you can acquire resources like better weapons, a horse, whiskey to refill your life points (the irony...) or a barrel to hide behind. There is a Sheriff, a Deputy, two Outlaws, and a Renegade. Each person is given and plays their role in secret, with only the Sheriff identifying at the beginning of the game. There are different win conditions for each role, for example, the Renegade has to be the last one standing, whereas the Outlaws must kill the Sheriff to win. It can be raucous fun to play, and is accessible to casual as well as seasoned gamers; you can find out more about Bang! here.
So...How did Bangmander! work out? It is evolving. Of the handful of game styles we have invented and tried out, Bangmander! is the one that has stuck around and been played regularly. At first, we gave the Sheriff some bonuses because we thought they might be out-powered in a longer game style. So we gave the Sheriff a life total of 60 to our 40 each. They also had 3 instances where they could use a randomly-generated Scheme card - a concept we had borrowed from the Archenemy play style. We thought this might work because the two games were similar in structure as there was one major power versus the rest, more or less. Alas, that proved to make him crazily overpowered time and again. Several evolutions later, we currently have a mechanic we call “Reveal”. When a character reveals their identity, then they receive a bonus associated with it. The trick is coming up with a solution that doesn’t give away the player’s role too soon in the game. Our solution was to make it so there are different circumstances where reveals are triggered.
Here is our current format:
- Sheriff: Starts the game revealed. Starts the game with 50 life and goes first. If the Sheriff kills their Deputy, they discard their hand.
- Deputy: If the Sheriff’s life total would become 0 or less than 0, the Deputy may reveal their role and pay X life. The Sheriff gains X life.
- Outlaws: When an outlaw dies, they reveal their role, and then deal 5 damage divided in any way to any player, creature, or planeswalker. When an outlaw is killed, the player that dealt lethal damage to them refills their hand to 7 cards.
- Renegade: If the Renegade’s life total would become 0 or less than 0, the Renegade may reveal their role, return to the game at 20 life, and draw up to 7 cards. Prevent all damage that would have been dealt this turn. Keep all permanents they control on the battlefield.
- Players start with a life total of 40 (except the Sheriff).
- The game ends when the Sheriff dies.
Bangmander! keeps us intrigued because it allows us to use a lot more open table-talk and political scheming than is normally appropriate. This makes the game more social and layered, and less predictable. A small part of me feels like I am back in the high school cafeteria and we are playing endless rounds of Bullshit (more euphemistically known as Cheat). It is hard to know for sure who is telling the truth. More often than you might think, the Sheriff kills his Deputy, which is often a turning point in the game! It is often more time efficient, and lets us all play together without a single game taking upwards of three hours. The hardest role is still that of the Renegade.
What it all comes down to, is that it doesn’t really matter what rules we settle on, because for all of us at the Murderdome, half of the fun is being creative and finding ways to make the style more playable and exciting. Trying out a new rule or bonus for a role is fun for us, because sometimes it backfires spectacularly, allowing one player to go wild with their combos, or killing a player in a single turn. We get to pick and choose the best of what is working and aren’t afraid to pare away a rule that makes the game imbalanced or boring. Building the game is like building a cube, there are many possibilities, and the best is yet to come!