Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Ca$h 'n Gun$ vs. Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition




Ca$h 'n Gun$ has always been a weird one that stuck out on my shelf. It isn't just because the box size is a little smaller, but a little thicker than the other square box games next to it. Nor is it because of the Kesha-like spelling of the title. But rather because it was a game that I could pull out with my long-time gamer friends and new gamers with little hesitation or worry that it might not produce an exciting and fun experience which was directly proportional to the amount of silliness we would display from pointing bright orange foam guns at one another's heads.

It really is a side-by-side comparison.
So, Ca$h 'n Gun$ (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns) had a solid place in my collection. When Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns 2) was announced, I was curious. I mean, there were changes to the tried and true system. Did I need the new version to replace my old one? Well, I got a copy to find out. And I'll compare both versions of the game side-by-side.

First of all, the core game play is the same for both games. Loot for the round is placed out face up for everyone to see. Players then choose one of eight cards to "load" into their gun for the round. Five cards are "clicks" that are essentially bluffs--the gun will not fire. However, each player has three cards that will do damage to another player if it shoots. Getting shot means you get a wound (three wounds and you are out of the game) and you miss out on that round's share of loot.

First Edition. My guns have bite marks in them courtesy
of my teething daughter.
Next, players count down and then simultaneously point their guns at another player. The character you are pointing does not know if you played a click or a bullet. Multiple guns may be pointed at a single player and some players may be safe with no guns pointed at them during that round. However, players now have a chance to take the coward's route and drop out. There is another countdown and players may simultaneously drop their guns. This means that they will not be wounded by any guns pointed at them, but they are excluded from dividing up the round's loot.

For the players still in with guns pointed at other players still in, cards are revealed. If anyone is shot, they gain a wound and drop out of the round's loot share. Then those remaining in the round divvy up the loot for the round.

Second Edition.
Play continues for eight rounds (or until only one player remains alive) and the winner is the player who is alive with the most amount of money.

That is the basics of the gameplay which is consistent between both editions. So, what are the differences?


Title:

First Edition: Ca$h 'n Gun$

Second Edition: Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition

Summary: Although the annoying punctuation and shortened version of "and" is still in the game, they've reduced the number of dollar signs in the name to only one in the second edition, which is an improvement.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.


Number of Players:

First Edition: 4-6 players.

Second Edition: 4-8 players.

Summary: There have been numerous times when we've had 7 players and someone suggested Cash and Guns and we were unable to play. However, the first edition did have rules for a 9 or 12 player team variant in the box if you had a second copy of the game, but purchasing a second copy just for the very specific number of players seemed silly.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.


First and Second edition Bullet Cards.
Production Value:

First Edition: The character standees, tokens, and money are cardboard, and everyone has a set of relatively standard sized cards for their eight bullets. The bullet cards are large enough  The foam guns are bright orange (in the US release, since we kind of need every precaution to not get shot by our police), but are solid and feel good to hold. There are little details throughout the game that are fun. The money has small fine print text with hidden little jokes on it. Honestly, the game feels like it was made as a labor of love because of the little things hidden throughout it. The game even thanks a bunch of gangsters and "Quentin" in the back of the rules.

Second Edition: The character standees and tokens are cardboard. The bullet cards are a lot smaller, though the loot cards (no longer cardboard) are much larger. The foam guns are black with orange tips. The guns are identical in build and feel with a coloration difference. The money cards are a lot more "simple" in design. While they look less cluttered, they are also rather plain. There are also updated special thanks in the end of the rulebook as a nice nod to the original list.

Summary: Cash and Guns 2's standees and tokens are die cut to the shape of the illustration, which is a nice, albeit minor, nicety. The loot cards in Cash and Guns 2 is larger, which is nice, but it is without the details of the original, making the larger cards look empty and plain. The bullet cards in the second game are universal (the original had bullet cards associated to each character), however, the smaller bullet cards are actually a little disappointing. There is something psychological about holding a hand of large cards as being more intimidating and it feels more powerful. It really is a minor thing, but the bullet cards feel like Derringer ammo instead of Magnum ammo. However, there is also something psychologically empowering about holding a black gun instead of a bright orange one.

Verdict: Cash and Guns in everything except the guns. Unless you live in Missouri, then the bright orange guns in Cash and Guns is a positive.


Second edition characters (top) vs. First edition
characters (bottom).
Artwork:

First Edition: Cash and Guns art style is campy and cartoonish, however, it can be a little... uncomfortable. When players choose their characters in the opening, I usually lay them out and tell new players to choose their ethnic stereotype. It isn't really a big problem, but it is noteworthy for some groups. However, the illustrations are stylistic and lend to the theme, giving the game just a hint of grit in the silliness of the actual game play.

Second Edition: I actually kind of like John Kovalic's artwork in the Dork Tower comic. He has a simple art style, but it conveys the care that he has for those characters. His artwork has also been associated with Munchkin, which is the bane to many "serious" gamers. That being said, I am very disappointed with Kovalic's artwork in this. It is too simple and the lack of detail stands out too much. Even with the crisp lines, the artwork looks more like placeholder sketches rather than completed artwork on the cards.

Summary: Taste in artwork is subjective, so YMMV, but despite liking Kovalic's artwork in Dork Tower, I find it too simple and plain in Cash and Guns 2. The larger bills for the money just have too much empty spaces in it, which draws more attention to the simplicity of the illustrations that adorn them. However, it does avoid the ethnic stereotypes in his artwork that made some players uncomfortable.

Verdict: Cash and Guns wins here. Unless you play with ethnically sensitive Munchkin fans, then Cash and Guns 2.


Gameplay:

First Edition: In the first edition of Cash and Guns only five bills were added to the table at the start of a round. When the loot was split between the remaining players, it could only be split if it could be split evenly--without making change. This meant that if there were three players left in and there were two $5000 bills, one $10,000 bill, and one $20,000 bill, then no one would get any of the loot. Instead it would remain on the table and next round five more bills would be added, making the pot much higher.

Second edition loot (left) and
First edition loot (right).
Also, when players backed out and laid down their guns to avoid being shot, they took a shame token. Each shame token cost the player $5000 at the end of the game.

The players each begin with eight cards. Five are clicks. Two are Bangs, which cause a wound. And each player also has one Bang, Bang, Bang! The Bang, Bang, Bang! cards took place before any other cards. So a player shot with a Bang, Bang, Bang! would be knocked out of the round before his card was played, even if he played a Bang--unless he also played a Bang, Bang, Bang! card. Bang, Bang, Bang! cards still just caused one wound.

Second Edition: Eight loot cards are laid out each round and each round all eight will be claimed in a round robin style, so not every player may get an equal amount of loot. There are also cards other than just bills. There are pieces of equipment that will let the player grab a Bang from the discard pile or heal themselves. There are also set collection pieces as well. Artwork cards are worth more money dependent upon how many of them you have at the end of the game. There are also diamonds, which are each worth a bit of cash, but whoever has the most of them at the end of the game gets a bonus. Each round all of the loot is taken and nothing carries over into the next round.

There are no shame tokens in Cash and Guns 2. Cowardliness isn't penalized with anything more than missing the round's loot, but with eight pieces of loot out there instead of five, it is still costly.

Cash and Guns 2 also has a Godfather. After the guns are pointed but before the chance to lay down your gun arrives, he may direct any one player who has a gun pointed at him to point it at another player. It is a powerful role, but it is included as the ninth piece of "loot" available each round. During the round robin loot taking, a player could take the Godfather title and role for next round as one of their loot choices.

There are no Bang, Bang, Bang! cards in Cash and Guns 2. Each player has 5 clicks and 3 Bangs.

Summary: While the core of each game is the same, there are some key differences in how the game plays out from the changes in each. First of all, the loot carrying over and the Bang, Bang, Bang cards created more strategic play in the original Cash and Guns. Now, don't get me wrong, Cash and Guns isn't exactly a strategic game, but when there are five players and you realize that the loot will only split three ways, you are faced with some interesting decisions. Do you eliminate one person and hope another falls as well? Or, do you play your Click hoping to draw the pot into another round for a larger pot and use your Bang, Bang, Bang!?

Also, I like the Shame tokens. There is something visceral about receiving a marker and a debt for your cowardliness. Without receiving the Shame token, backing out feels easier. There really is something psychological about having to accept a token to represent your cowardliness.
When I first read about the changes in Cash and Guns 2, I balked at the idea of set collection with the loot. Ultimately, it still doesn't work out perfectly, but it isn't as bad as I thought. The only problem is that they become the quickest and easiest to track. So-and-so has four art cards, and another just popped up in the loot pile--well, we know who we have to shoot then. This could lead to interesting decisions, but since tracking actual loot is difficult, this often becomes the focal point of "who to shoot".

The addition of "gear" in the form of healing and extra Bang cards in the loot is an interesting change as well. It comes at the cost of a share of loot during the round robin, so the price of such cards is palpable and fair.

The Godfather role also worried me. I thought that it was too powerful, but honestly, it is a great addition. I really enjoy it. It is strong (for living), and the Godfather chooses loot first, so it is strong (for winning). However, the Godfather role is up as a loot choice. Now, taking the Godfather role means you pass up on loot, but once the opportunity to go first and avoid a gun pointed out you outweighs the available loot, it is sure to go. Because of how the role is balanced with the loot division in Cash and Guns 2, it isn't something that could easily be "ported" into the original game.

Finally, the removal of the Bang, Bang, Bang! cards simplifies and streamlines the game. However, it is at the cost of another "strategic" play. With the Bang, Bang, Bang! card, you could bluff out and intimidate a player with a Bang card pointed at you. And once it as known that you played your Bang, Bang, Bang! then you were suddenly viewed as more vulnerable. I miss it, but I also appreciate the simplicity that its removal has left.

Verdict: This is difficult. Both editions have things that I like about them, but none of those things would translate well by bringing them into the other edition (with the exception of Shame tokens). The annoying truth of the matter is that both are very close to one another. I really do miss the growing pot and the escalation of threat from the first edition. But the second edition also feels "cleaner". It is a toss up.


Additions and Variants:

First Edition: The first edition of the game comes with 10 "Super Power" cards, which give the players an additional ability or scoring goal in the game. They can make the game more interesting, but, honestly, we rarely actually used them. Instead, we focused on the "A Cop in the Mafia" variant.

In this version, players are dealt a secret role card. All players except one will be a gangster (which normal play and victory conditions). One player will be an undercover cop. The Cop wins by calling for back-up three times. Each round a card is passed around unseen to each of the players under the table. If the undercover cop is still in for the round, he can flip the card before passing it. Once the card has passed around the entire table, it is revealed.

Second Edition Power Cards (top) and First
Edition Super Power and Undercover Cop
Cards (bottom).
If the card is flipped, then the police have been called. If three calls have been made before Round 6 is over, then the undercover cop wins alone. If three calls were not made, then the cop can only win if he is the sole survivor.

What I like about this variant is the suspicion and deduction involved. Only players who remain in the round can flip the card. So if the card flips, you can rule out the players who were out. Any time that a game can add suspicion and a traitor, I love it.

Second Edition: Second edition comes with sixteen Powers cards. One Power card is dealt to each player at the start of the game. Unlike the first edition, the Power cards are dealt face up instead of face down, so there is no bluffing or surprise movements that can result from their distribution. Some of them overlap the Super Powers cards from the first edition. The cards give new powers and abilities to the players. For the most part, the Powers are fun and interesting, however, there are a few that have very specific triggers and may not happen in a game, and others that are weakened (or strengthened) by other Powers in play.

Summary: I absolutely miss the Undercover Cop variant in the second edition. For me, it changed Cash and Guns from a silly filler to a silly filler with distrust and hidden traitors. Yeah, I suppose that is a rather direct way of putting it, but tension and distrust is extremely amplified in the Undercover Cop variant.

Verdict: Cash and Guns.


Overall:

Both games are fun. Honestly, there is a little bit of nit-picking here because both games are welcome at my table. Both offer a slightly different take on the same theme. I like both games, so it's kind of like having to choose which of your kids you like the best. I have to default on the older one, if for no reason than it's provided me with more Father's Day presents (or good memories if I'm referring to the game). But ultimately, there are things that I want from both editions in one box. But do I think that an upgrade from first edition to second edition is necessary?

Well, only if you often have 7 or 8 players. The black guns are nice and I know some people will be getting the new edition just for them (because, you know, Sharpies are so expensive). The artwork is a little too plain and they removed my favorite variant from the game.


However, if you don't have the original version of Cash and Guns, then this is a great purchase that you will enjoy to an same proportion that you don't mind looking silly. It is a game that works well with non-gamers, casual gamers, and hardcore gamers (although a bit of the strategy and deduction was removed in the second edition for the hardcore gamers). If nothing else, the game is worth it for those awkward moments when you have your mom pointing a foam gun at you and looking you in the eye and saying, "You know I'm going to Bang you" and you lay down your gun so you don't have to find out what that means. 

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