Cardboard Children: Banditos
Not every game needs to be perfect. Flaws are a good thing. Some of my favourite films, albums, video games and people are those ones with major flaws. Indeed, with board games, there is a danger that we all slide down the one safety chute, and all end up playing the same things. This is bad and harmful and will not advance board game design at all. Can I rant on this? Let me rant a bit on this.
In all likelihood, a person new to board gaming will find their way to the BoardGameGeek website. When I returned to board gaming some years ago, I found Boardgamegeek an essential resource. But more than that, it was this cool thing. This cool place. “Wow, a giant site full of board gamers, all cataloguing every board game that's available!” I would pore over the rankings and base many of my purchases on the BGG Top 100. I'm pretty sure that in the early days of my work on this column I recommended BGG to all of you – I sent you all there.
But now? Now I'm hoping you've all done the same thing as I've done. I'm hoping you've turned your back on BGG. Because that ranking they do over there? That Top 100? That thing is ugly. That's true for starters. Let me talk about that first of all, before I get onto what I actually want to say.
Foolishly, it took me some time to realise it. See, I know that Lists are bad. Rankings and scores and lists are always bad. And yet it took me a while to see the problem with BGG. Let me just fling out a few reasons why alarms started to go off for me.
The general trend to down-rate games involving “luck”. Yep, in those BGG rankings, luck and dice are often seen as negative elements of games, regardless of how they are integrated into the game mechanics. There is a snobbery at BGG. And I think it's a snobbery they're quite proud of.
The Space Hulk Incident. This was a bad one. Soon after the release of the newest edition of Space Hulk, when the game was rocketing up the rankings, Games Workshop told BGG to pull down any files that breached their copyright. And that was a dick move, sure. But the campaign to give low user scores to Space Hulk as some sort of punishment for Games Workshop, sending the game crashing back down the rankings, was obscene. It was then that I realised without a shadow of a doubt that the rankings and Top 100 were a joke.
It is a SEXIST COMMUNITY. Okay. Duck and cover. There are a lot of lovely things over at BGG. There are threads about recently passed loved ones, and the games they loved to play. There are charity drives, and places of compassion. But my goodness...BGG is a sexist website. And I don't know why ANY women visit it. Having used the website for a long time, and read a lot of it, the constant casual sexism is like suffering a death by a thousand cuts. A running joke on BGG is the constant posting of a game called Busen Memo in threads. It's a game where you have to match the left and right breasts of women. And I'm sure this game constantly popping up is just hilarious for female users of the site. And then there's the “WHAT GAME WOULD EVEN MY LITTLE LADY LIKE?” style threads.
And then there's the comments and “thumbs” (just an upvoting system) for any board gamer photos that feature women. Here's a photo of a girl playing Magic: The Gathering at a convention – now, there used to be comments under this photo. They removed them, thankfully. And then there's the vile, honestly vile, exploiting of that thumbs system that sees men posting photos of their female partners with plenty of cleavage showing – something that just makes everyone involved look fucking awful. (Here's the current “Hottest” board gamer photo on BGG. Bear in mind that “Hottest” just means “most up-voted photo” and not anything sexual)
Now, on this sexism thing... Why am I still using bullet points?
Now, on this sexism thing... I won't be told that BGG isn't “like that” because it IS “like that”. I see it almost every time I visit. And it's so important to keep stating this every time these topics come up - the small stuff, the casual little comments, the boorishness, the boys will be boys bullshit? That's the stuff that allows sexism to take root and thrive. That's the solid bedrock for a continuation of the ostracism of women from gaming.
So yeah. I only use BGG sparingly these days. I don't really trust the ratings, and I hate a lot of the discussion there. There are good people there too, of course, but the community isn't policed well enough. It feels like a boys club, and I hate anything that feels like that.
But wow. Yeah. Where was I? Games with flaws.
Banditos is flawed. It's a game set in the 1980s, where the players have to drive into Mexico and pull off bank heists. It's a game from a small company, so there are some terrible printing errors. The cards in the game have different coloured backs that barely look like they're different colours. The money cards are misprinted. There's an expansion for the game that doesn't have any expansion rules inside.
The rules are horribly written. The game itself is very simple, but the rules make it seem like a slog. Having said that the game is simple, there are also a lot of places where you won't be sure what you're supposed to do. At those places you'll have to house rule it and wing it.
Here's how it works. You have a character. The board is a map of the Mexican border. You have to drive from your home town into Mexico, hit some cities, pull off heists, and then get home safely with the money. Only when you're home can you stash your cash. First player to hit the target total of cash wins. The cool thing is that you can commit crimes to get ahead in the game. Heists are criminal acts, sure. Stealing gas for your car is a criminal act too. And then there is STEALING CARDS FROM THE DISCARD PILE.
This little mechanic is what makes the game for me. At the start of your turn you can choose to take a card from the discard pile, making a roll to see if the theft is successful. Every attempt accumulates HEAT on your character, making committing further crimes more difficult. The further down the discard pile you want to dig for a card, the harder the roll. The more heat you have, the harder the roll. It's a beautiful little mechanic.
The whole game is really about managing HEAT. When you pull off a heist, you need to total up all HEAT accumulated on your character, your vehicle and the town you're currently in. Then you need to roll above it with a D12. If you're successful, you need to speed away from the town. You might get caught speeding on an unlucky roll. Again, lots of HEAT might cause your car to be searched, losing you all your money and weapons.
There are Fortunate and Unfortunate Event cards that add a “take that!” element to the game. Just last night, when my girlfriend was driving back from Mexico with 20,000 pesos in her truck, I played a card that made some Judas Priest come on her truck radio – it caused her to speed. She had to make a roll and hope no cop spotted her. There are a lot of fun cards in the game. It's just a fun game.
The theme works well for me. There's a little bit of push-your-luck, a little bit of card play, some scary dice rolling, and it all helps deliver that feeling of criminality. The art style is lovely. When you're pulling off a heist, and being hit with Unfortunate Events from other players, and you STILL manage to get away with the cash, it feels fantastic. Real “FUCK Y'ALL!” stuff. The characters are fun too. There's a wrestler who never needs to carry weapons, such is his power. There's a brothel madame who can take a girl with her to use as a “distraction” as she pulls off a heist. Just a cool little game. An old-school, slightly fucked up, fun board game.
I dunno. When you look on BGG, this game has a 5.7 rating. And that's why BGG isn't for me. It's a cold site.
Flawed things matter. We can't only champion design perfection, because other stories need told too.
I've chosen my NEW GAMERS, the ones I'll be introducing to board games. I'll be documenting the whole process. I haven't asked them if they're up for it yet. Imagine if they said no! We'll find out next week.