Banditos – If Quentin Tarantino Made A Board Game, This Would Be It

Michael Barnes called this game “fun first”, which I took to mean that the game is essentially a mess, but somehow manages to force players overlook the rudimentary design because they are enjoying themselves so much. I was intrigued, so I hit up Baksha Games for a review copy, and amazingly, they not only were courteous enough to comply, but sent me a couple others too! Now, like I said, Mike seems to have said that it’s a mess of a design, while I, on the other hand, don’t think the design is messy at all, but I also don’t really think that it’s universally as much fun as he does, to be honest, although I think it’s fun with the right mind set and the right people. I think we agree on the fact that you have to have the right kind of people to really get the most out of it. The game does suffer from one substantial flaw, but that flaw is overridden by the rest of the game, which is a very engaging design for people who like pushing their luck and screwing over their friends, framed by a pick up and deliver system.
Banditos is a light complexity game that has you crossing the border from the United States of America to Los Estados Unidos De Mexico and back again circa 1982, solely for the purpose of robbing banks of freshly minted Nuevo Pesos. The rules have a blurb that tells the back story of the game and proclaims “this much is true”, although Nuevo Peso didn’t come into use until 1993. Either way, the theme totally rocks my taco, because I have a lifelong love affair with Mexico, while I abhor their national bank. I once tried to get money from an ATM in Ciudad Juarez and they not only screwed me on the exchange rate, they screwed me harder on the ATM fees. Back then I smoked, so I figure I made it all back on 18$ cartons of Rojos Marlboros, so both Banco de Mexico and RJR can suck it!

Drop the chips, bitch! This is about stealing Pesos, not Pitas!
As far as the game product, it’s really quite good, especially for under thirty bones. At the price point, though, they clearly couldn’t afford the nice plastic miniatures that I know they’d have preferred, so your bank robber is represented by a colored, wooden cube. It’s a little bit of a let down because the game has such colorful characters as a luchadore named Mucho Carne,  Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, straight out of Pulp Fiction, and a pirate named Redbeard who made me ask,  “What the hell is a pirate doing in Texas?” There’s a lot of characters, and they’re all unique in their special abilities that change the game, as well as in their weaknesses, and no one character seemed all that much stronger than others aside from a pair of hooligans who are immune to being messed with by other players. The character deck, which also has some special items and some fuel gauges, is one set of cards, and there’s another, larger deck that is made up entirely of Nuevo Pesos, which as I noted are the target of your robbery attempts.
The last deck, and this deck has got to have around 250 cards, is an all-purpose deck that contains seed money to buy stuff, cards to screw with other people, cars, motorcycles, weapons, “Get out of jail free” cards, and cards that give you an edge in robbing places. It is in this deck that the vast majority of the game is played, literally, and they did a spectacular job of having so many unique cards, although the sheer volume of them may be overkill. One thing I really want to mention is that I love the art. It’s grimy in an “A Scanner Darkly” sort of rotoscoped way, and it screams “1980’s Southwest” in a very real way. Just a truly wicked looking game, I guess, is how I’d characterize it.

Not for the color blind!
The only real complaint to be had is that the card backs are very similar looking, with only a slight degree of color contrast between them. Other reviews have made a bigger deal out of it that it is, though, because I accidentally shuffled them all together when doing the initial shuffle which consisted of me putting them all on the table and smooshing them around for a few minutes, but we were able to very easily segregate them again. It’s more a matter that you need to know what to look for, and when you do, it’s no biggie, unless you’re color blind, in which case you will need a Sharpie.
On top of that are cubes, as noted, a bunch of red bingo chips, and rulebook, which while very easy to read and only 4 pages long, under explains or omits a couple of concepts that may cause you to play the game wrong the first time you play, or house rule, which is what we did. Luckily, our house rules actually were the right way, for once, so we did actually play right. Anyhow, the board itself is comprised of the border between the first and third wealthiest nations in North America, complete with actual cities and borders to cross. It has a little quick reference guide that is printed on the board, but that omitted one thing that you can do on your turn, which we noticed quickly and wasn’t an issue. In a post-Risk Legacy world, I am not afraid of the Sharpie. The biggest complaint was that it really didn’t adequately explain quite a few specifics, like what “speeding away” from a robbery meant, in practice. Luckily, Baksha Games put a great set of three tutorial videos up. I’m serious, EVERY GAME COMPANY SHOULD DO THIS.
So anyhow, as I alluded to, the game system is, on the surface, a fairly simple pick up and deliver game. You go to towns, you rob their banks, and then you try to get to your home base to stash the goods. In and of itself, that would probably be boring as hell, and really, is boring as hell if that’s all that you do. But the real core of the game, that which makes it deliciously evil, is that the game is really a tremendous “take that” game, to paraphrase the great Frank Branham. For every action someone takes, you can screw with them in one way or another. My only complaint with this is that there are a few cards which are so outlandishly devastating that once played, you effectively set back the target player by at least a few turns, or at most, five to seven. These cards destroy a player’s car, which is the most valuable asset that they have.
Now, I originally thought that it was a balance issue, but there are other cards in the game that act as a sort of insurance against that, such as having a panel van which can hold a motorcycle, so if they blow up your van, you can ride off on your Suzuki, both middle fingers extended at the offending player. Still, getting nailed like that really sucks, and sets you back unless you have that insurance or have a car card and some seed money handy. But, since seed money is openly played, people know you are loaded and will likely wait until you’re broke to crush your hopes and dreams with the really nasty cards.
But even more than the pick up and deliver and “take that” mechanics, the whole game is bound together with “push your luck” mechanic going on. Every time you do anything illegal, be it steal gas, steal cards from the discard pile, or rob a bank, you get the local constabulary riled up. They know your face, your ride, and the Federales are keeping an eye out at the city you robbed. This means that you, your car, and the city get a heat token, represented by the little heat markers, which make doing anything harder as they act as a dice modifier for every roll you take. Luckily, you can get rid of them over time, or quickly if you have the money and a car available to buy, or a paint shop card that takes all the heat off of your ride. As the endgame nears, you will have some heat on you unless you were pretty careful, and the endgame really becomes a mad dash to the finish. We’ve had very close games, thus far, which tells me that the game balance is far better than I’d have imagined at first glance.
Another aspect of the game worth mentioning is that there are negotiations involved between players. If you want to get a card but don’t want to wait to draw it, or have an extra card that you think someone would want, you can ask around, then buy or sell the cards for seed money. You can even buy and sell items that are in play, but you have to actually be in the same space as the tradee to do that. There’s all kinds of negotiation opportunity, and we found this to be one of the more fun things going on in the game because if you’re clever, you wait until someone has gotten all kinds of heat from robbing the discard pile for money, and then you tempt them with your card, essentially saving yourself the hassle of getting too much heat on you. Unfortunately, there weren’t any rules to help with, even in the video, so we weren’t initially sure whether the heat stays with a traded car or not, but it kind-of made sense that it would stay with the car. I asked Sean, the designer, and he told me that the heat does, indeed, stay with the car, if you care to know.
Now, all this said, it’s not all melocotones y crema, because there is a huge problem spot in the game.  The fact that you start with nothing, essentially, means that the beginning of the game can be really dry. You get some cards, but what you need to really get going is a weapon and a car, and the money to put them into play, so unless you drew amazingly well, you’re not doing anything for a while. Sadly, money is not easy to come by at first, and the largest denomination is $100, thus there is a lag between when you begin the game and when you can actually do anything. There’s a lot of drawing and discarding going on until you get what you need, since there’s a a hand limit of five cards, not counting cards already played to the table. I like that there’s a hand limit, in fact, but with so many cards of various kinds, you may end up with five cars in hand and not a dollar to play them to the table with.
Luckily, once someone buys anything, the money goes into the discard pile, and the following player will generally steal that money right back out of the pile, spend it again, and then the following player will follow suit. Thus, at the “real” beginning of the game, when people are funded, most players will have between three and five heat, and a car, weapon, or both, while the first to buy will be sitting pretty with no heat. So, it’s not really the fact that there’s a lag on the front end that is a problem, it’s more that the first player to have enough seed money to do anything can really have an advantage early if the other players don’t hold back some screwage cards to hobble that player until they can dissipate some heat.
The group rated the game in a bit of a polarized way, from “mediocre” to “awesome”, and that describes how I felt about it. One time I played, there were not many more painful experiences that I could endure short of a “Marathon Man” style interrogation, but that was because we were playing with our resident “non-interaction” player who would get irate when you played a card of any kind against her. The other times, she wasn’t playing, and the people involved were all about hosing one another over, without mercy, which made the game truly exceptional, especially since we were all the proper age to appreciate the theme. It was clear to us that Ms. Whinyass D. Funmurderer should’ve never even been invited to play the game, since she never could’ve liked it to begin with, and really, we “shoulda betta known betta” than to invite her to play it.
If you get a little buzz on, or not, and just take the game at face value and just roll with the fact that it’s a game about stealing shit, drinking beer, and eating burritos, you’re going to love it. The art is really great both thematically and technically, and if you let it and the flavor text slap you in the ass and ride you to Mexico, you’re in the right frame of mind. If you’re a fun murdering whiner who can’t accept that people might have the audacity to play a card that causes you to speed, and ultimately, get all of your loot taken on account of a shitty die roll, well, go play something else. If you don’t like pressing your luck and having the entire game hinge on a die roll, then this is not your huckleberry.
Now, personally, my only real beef is that the rules had a couple of sketchy spots, but only a few, and the early part of the game can be a real pisser if your luck is on the fritz or in a six-player game where seed money can be buried by discards pretty damn quick, making it a long wait until you actually get to rob something. While this never happened in the one six-player marathon game we played, I could totally see it happening to one unlucky bastard because, as I noted, there are just so many cards in the deck. I really think three through five players is the sweet spot, and this is actually a game that plays really nicely with three, which is a pleasant surprise as there are so few confrontational games where three players don’t end up having a third wheel troublemaker spoiling the game. I think everyone who likes games like this should give it a whirl, because the theme is simply outstanding and integral to game play, and for people who like to pick on others, this will be a good game for you.
Why I Want To Be A Bandito:
– The art is wonderful for the theme, and the theme is refreshing and compelling
– Banditos’ theme and mechanics dovetail perfectly
– Don’t underestimate the decision points; this is not a “simple” game
– A great “Beer & Pretzels Plus” caper game for clever lads and lasses
– There’s a lot of game here for the 26$ that CoolStuffInc is asking for it
Why You Should NOT Drink The Water:
– While it’s a funny game, the humor will wear fairly thin after the third play
– The rules could’ve been clearer on some of “finer points”
– There are simply way, way too many cards in the item deck
– If you can’t take the heat of getting hosed unexpectedly, well, go play something else
This game is either very awesome or very mediocre, depending on who you ask. If you ask me, I’m saying it’s somewhere in the middle, but far closer to the awesome side. The game has deceiving depth, since there are so many choices to make, and there’s an emphasis on mitigating bad luck by making smart decisions. There’s also so much interaction, and by interaction I mean bastinado, that you’re always a little afraid of what’s coming next. Don’t underestimate the fact that it’s an Ameritrash game about bank robbers, beer, and burritos, because it’s really a lot more clever than you might first think.
3.5/5 Stars
Check out Baksha’s site here:
And check out the tutorial videos here:
(1/3) (Setup/Overview)
(2/3) (Breakin’ the LAW!!!)
(3/3) (Slow Ride….Take it EE-Zay)
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