Tabletop gaming has been a long-time hobby of mine beyond just Magic the Gathering, and it’s been exciting to see the growing recent interest in and proliferation of board games, role-playing games, and card games. Even as I’ve outgrown various games over the years, favorite mechanics and interactions stay with me for their ingenuity of design, strategic challenge, or novelty factor. From these, sometimes emerges enjoyable home-brewed hybrids and formats introduced that marries choice mechanics, concepts, and/or games together to create fun new variants.
One of the less-highlighted parts of Magic seems to be the many creative multi-player variants that are out there. I don’t often play casual Magic, but I wanted to share a version of what our gaming group affectionately calls “Bang! Magic”, that is fun but still a bit strategic, and is versatile enough to be played using any deck format or player group size between 4-7 players.
What is “Bang! Magic”?Modeled based on Bang! the card game’s concept of hidden roles and objectives, Bang! Magic is a multi-player format for 4-7 players that assigns secret roles that change each player’s winning objectives. Because the roles are hidden (except for one: the Sheriff), a part of the gameplay is the strategy in trying to deduce which roles their opponents are, in order to identify allies, choose the right players to eliminate all in the right order.
Let’s go over the concept and the rules, before digging into why the strategy behind it can be so interesting.
Roles and Objectives Each player has their own objective, depending on their Role. The available Roles are:
● Sheriff - Protect law and order: eliminate all Outlaw(s) and Renegade(s)
● Deputy(s) - Protect the Sheriff and share the Sheriff’s goal: eliminate all Outlaw(s) and Renegade(s)
● Outlaw(s) - Kill the Sheriff (and anyone along the way)
● Renegade(s) - Survivors in the chaos: each Renegade wants to be the last man standing
Note: All players win if their role objectives are fulfilled, even if any specific player is not alive at game end. For example, dead outlaws share their victory if their teammates succeed at eliminating the Sheriff.
Setup Each player is randomly dealt a face-down Role card (You can just use basic lands to proxy roles: e.g. Plains = Sheriff, Forest = Deputy, Swamp = Outlaw, Mountain = Renegade). The Roles will be adapted based on the number of players in the game:
● 4 players: 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 2 Outlaws
● 5 players: 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 2 Outlaws, 1 Deputy
● 6 players: 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 3 Outlaws, 1 Deputy
● 7 players: 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 3 Outlaws, 2 Deputies
Players should look at their face-down Role cards to ascertain their objective for the game. The player who has the Sheriff Role card should reveal his/her Role card and set his/her life total to 30. All other Roles will start at 20 life. The Sheriff always starts the game.
Gameplay This multi-player format concept can be enjoyed with any Magic format - be it EDH, Standard, Cube, and more. Gameplay is a normal multiplayer battle to eliminate opponents (either by life, by poison counters, etc).
Eliminating Players and Game End Condition While players are alive they are free to discuss Roles but should never reveal their Role card. When a player is eliminated, their Role card is revealed and possible effects happen depending on who killed each player:
● Penalty: If the Sheriff eliminatesa Deputy, the Sheriff must discard all cards in hand and permanents in play.
● Bonus: Any player who eliminates an Outlaw (even if the killer is also an Outlaw) must draw 3 cards from his/her deck
Keep track of which Roles remain, as the game ends when:
A. The Sheriff is killed. If the Renegade is the only player alive, then the Renegade wins. Otherwise, the Outlaws win. B. All Outlaws and the Renegade are killed. The Sheriff and his Deputies win.
Strategic This hidden role and objective variant introduces some game theory applications to multi-player Magic, because players need to consider what actions they take may convey to others about their hidden roles and what response it would prompt from uncertain allies and foes alike. Players have to balance how early they expose their role, and therefore objective, lest they draw too much focus fire on themselves and don’t die too quickly to fulfill their own objective. The Sheriff also needs to read everyone’s actions to determine whether someone should be eliminated or saved as well.
Since there is only one revealed role (Sheriff), a player’s role is inferred at the basic level based on whether they helped or hurt the Sheriff and/or those who harmed the Sheriff. However, roles such as the Renegade is incentivized to keep the Sheriff alive initially and weaken both sides before going for a quick kill to be last man standing (lest the Renegade draws all the fire to themselves too early). This means that early game, it becomes hard to distinguish the Renegade from the Deputy. In addition, Outlaws may also be incentivized to attack a fellow Outlaw to throw others off the scent, or even eliminate a fellow Outlaw who’s low on life in order to get the three-card advantage and finish the job for the Outlaw team, which may look like a Deputy or Renegade action.
There’s also plenty of room for further house rules or variants to stir up the excitement and strategy - some examples might include:
● Introducing the concept of “range” (like original Bang!’s gun range concept)-- perhaps players can only attack adjacent players except with Flying creatures.
● Depending on the deck formats played, to adjust for speed of turns, giving the Sheriff additional advantages -- more life, extra card, etc.
I hope people have a chance to explore new mechanics and tune their own favored variants!