I’ve never been to prison, and I hope to never go to prison, but there is a small piece of me that fantasizes about pulling the greatest prison escape, one that would make Alcatraz Island weep. Bandido, designed by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and put out by Helvetiq, is not actually about escaping, but rather preventing a prisoner from seeing blue sky and green hills ever again by blocking all passageways, forcing him back to his cell to continue counting the days.
To begin a game of Bandido, you place the Super Card. which is the one showing the prisoner in jail with multiple exit points, in the middle of the table, shuffle up the remaining cards, and deal three cards to each player. That’s all there is to begin the game, and I appreciate that, especially when things like One Deck Dungeon, Fallout: The Board Game, and even Friday take a good amount of organization to set everything up before you can begin playing.
On each player’s turn, you’ll place one card down so at least one tunnel is connected to an existing tunnel and then draw a new card. The one main rule is that you can’t block off any of the tunnels with walls when you’re placing a card; everything has to fit and connect. Only cards showing a dead end, represented by a circle and a hand holding a flashlight, can truly end a good-going tunnel. That said, there are a couple of other cards that basically form a loop that connects multiple tunnels together, and those too can block tunnels off. You win if you’re able to block all of the tunnels, and you lose if there are any open tunnels by the time you’ve gone through the deck or if you are unable to play any more cards.
In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to Bandido. The only strategic decision you ever have to make generally involves when to branch out to avoid cutting yourself off and when to tighten things up so that you can try to narrow multiple paths of exit down into just one or two manageable ones. This isn’t always easily done based on the cards in your hand and requires some table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. You can play it solo, but Bandido is better with more people, because it is more of a cooperative game that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. Sometimes you need to be aggressive and say things like, “Oh, don’t play a card there, I have a perfect one for it next turn.”
I tried playing it solo a few times, never winning a single game. Then Melanie and I played it twice the other day, winning the first game where the Super Card had only five exits, and losing horribly the second game with six exit options. Still, it is a good amount of fun, and the game is quick to set up, quick to break down, and small enough to fit in your pocket. The only real problem, much like Okey Dokey, is that is takes up a lot of table space, especially once the tunnels begin to get out of hand; a few times, we had to shift all the cards down on the table to make room for more growth, and that’s a touchy process, trying not to mess up the placement of all the cards in play.
Bandido isn’t a big game, but it doesn’t want to be. The rules are relatively simple to follow, and because the cards have no text on them, anyone can quickly learn how to play and see what to do next. For that, I really like it, and hope to stop the titular criminal from breaking free the next time we play it.