Bandido is trying to escape AGAIN and it is up to you to stop him.
That’s the entire premise of the game of Bandido from Swiss publisher Helvetiq. In the game, the titular character Bandido is busy digging tunnels beneath the jail walls and it’s your duty to find and block all of the exits before he successfully makes his escape.
The game is played with 69 oblong cards which have different configurations of tunnel branches printed on them. Players take turns placing these tunnel segments into the central tableau in an effort to bring each branch to an end or to create a loop in the tunnel so that it simply falls back in on itself. If the players succeed in blocking off all of the exits before the cards run out, they win. Otherwise, they lose and presumably get fired for being the most inept guards in existence.
Now, if you’re just interested in reading about what I think about the game, feel free to scroll down to the Thoughts section. For the rest of you…
Getting the game set up is simple: the Bandido tile is laid in the center of the table with either side facing up. One side has six exits and one only has five. Then the cards are shuffled to form a deck and each player is dealt three of these. Finally, a starting player is selected and you are ready to begin.
On a player’s turn, they will add one card from their hand to the cards that have already been played making sure that all tunnel segments are connected together. Then they draw a new card. If there’s ever a tunnel segment played that ends in a flashlight, then that tunnel segment has been successfully closed off.
This flow of play continues until either there are no more cards left to play or all of the exits have been blocked. If the latter is true, the players instantly win the game. If the cards have run out and all exits are blocked, the players win. Otherwise everyone loses together.
You may have guessed from the shortness of this review that Bandido is a VERY light game and you would be correct; in both a literal and a figurative sense. All told, Bandido clocks in at less than 1 pound and can easily fit into your pocket, your backpack, or your purse. This portability belies the ultimate physical footprint of the game. Bandido can be a real table hog so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of space available when you start playing.
In terms of components, the quality is fine. The cards are thick. The box is well constructed. The rules sheet is terse and to the point. While there’s nothing here that will make you “ooh” and “ahh”, there’s also nothing here that will deter you either. I wish that the cards had received the linen finish treatment because the game would look a little less boring that way. There’s not much in the way of artwork here aside from the image of Bandido himself. It’s just a lot of brown patterned to resemble dirt presumably. I would have loved to have seen some scenery inside the tunnels themselves… pipes, roots, rocks…. anything at all really. In terms of attractiveness, Bandido’s definitely not going to be stealing any shows.
In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to the game. The only strategic decision you are ever really tasked in making is 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 and requires a lot of table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. And this is where Bandido really shines.
Bandido’s one of those cooperative games that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. It gets you invested and there is a genuine buildup of excitement as you’re able to successfully close off each of the exits. There were times in my plays with my wife and my parents where we found ourselves planning out our card placements two or three turns in advance.
“You play that one and then I can play this one here. That will funnel those three tunnels into just two. If someone is able to then play this specific shape of card there, we could close both of those tunnels off for good.”
And then, having come up with a plan, you begin executing it and praying that one of you draws the card that you need to see it through. The tension as each new card is flipped is palpable and the dread that you feel when the deck starts to run thin is very real. You don’t want Bandido to escape, but sometimes he just does and you immediately want to pick it all back up and do it all over again. In one sitting with my parents over Labor day weekend, we played Bandido four times in a row.
Bandido’s a lot of fun, but being a cooperative game, it’s very susceptible to the rise of a Boss archetype – particularly if one player is better at recognizing patterns than the other players are. Aside from the overall lightness of the game, this would really be my only negative.
Despite my initial misgivings, I’ve had a lot of fun with this little game. It’s the perfect filler game for your entire family. It’s small and portable, has a decent depth of game play, has a very easy to learn rule set, plays very quickly, and since it contains no iconography or text, it can even be played with small children as well. Bandido dug a tunnel and crawled right into my heart. I have no doubt he’ll do the same for you, too.