App of the Day: Bang! HD

Do you feel lucky?

Version tested iPad

Every film theme has its own signature sounds, those odd bits of instrumentation that become indelibly entwined with an imaginary time and a place. For me spaghetti westerns mean one thing: whistling. Whether it's Morricone's score to Once Upon a Time in The West or Allesandroni's supreme Fistful of Dollars, there it is front-and-centre. Maybe I read too much into these things, but I've always seen it as the western writ large: a solo noise, trying to get by against a moving backdrop.

Bang! HD chose its theme perfectly. This is a parlour game, really, played with simple cards and an even simpler set of emoticons. Each player is randomly assigned a 'role' at the start of the game - Sheriff, Outlaw, Deputy, Renegade - and the whole game is working out who is who.

You know what you are, and everyone knows who the Sheriff is. The Sheriff's job is to kill the Outlaws and Renegade. The Deputy's job is to help the Sheriff. The Outlaws want to take out the Sheriff, and the Renegade wants to do the same - but only after everyone else is down. So let me put it this way. If you're not the Sheriff or the Deputy, you usually try to pretend otherwise.

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The five emoticons in action - generally you want to stick the lawmaker's badge above yourself, and accuse everyone else of being everything else.

It's a confidence trick being played by all, where the Sheriff has to try and parse the mixed messages from the rest of the table, and somehow avoid blowing away the Deputy. That guy who killed an Outlaw might be the Deputy - but it could as easily be a feint. By limiting player expression to five symbols Bang! HD exploits this to its fullest, with three representing the roles other than Sheriff and two for happy and sad faces. Games typically begin with every player worth their salt spamming the Deputy badge over their own heads and smiling, while trying to accuse everyone else at the table of being lawless.

Which is great, until you're the Sheriff or Deputy. Things soon settle into less frequent barbing and more sophisticated play-acting, never more so than when the Outlaws are down and the Sheriff has to decide which of two apparent Deputies they're going to side with. You've never seem so many smiley faces.

The cards, like the communication symbols, keep things clear so as not to muddle the human side of things. 'Bang!' cards shoot an opponent once, 'Miss' cards let you dodge a shot, and a 'Beer' restores a point of health (depending on characters, players have between 3-5 points of health).

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Certain cards attack everyone at the table, which is useful offense but also forces opponents to use up cards - oh, and makes you plenty of enemies.

There are others, like weapons to let you shoot further across the table, "Indians" that deal damage to every player without a 'Bang!' card, or an expansion set (included at the standard price) that introduces delayed-effect cards like dynamite. This is a long way from card-battling: the choice is in who you're choosing to attack, rather than the method.

And it all starts with some beautiful, mournful whistling over an acoustic guitar. This conversion couldn't have been done better, from the easy online matchmaking to the gorgeous character portraits. But the best decision of all was banning text boxes.

That moment when an opponent is shot for the final time and everyone waits for their identity to be revealed is a pregnant one, with all sorts of scenarios whizzing around the table before the truth comes out: and someone's exposed as a liar. As Bang! HD shows again and again, survival isn't merely about fooling other players for a while. It's about fooling them until they're dead.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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