The nefarious Bandida is behind bars. Her crime? Who knows. Did she bring Wotsits to a games night? Smothered all the components in sticky cheese dust? Did she spill a glass of red wine on the cards? Either way, Bandida’s a wily old fox. She’s digging a tunnel out from underneath her jail cell. And it’s up to you – the players – to work together and stop her escaping!
Bandida is a co-operative card placement game by Helvetiq, for 1-4 players. (You can play solo, but it’s far more fun to play as a team!) You use hand management as players take turns adding tunnels to the growing network. The aim? Try to fence Bandida in, by blocking her paths to freedom. As the tunnels grow, can you fill in all the dead ends in this labyrinth?
The suggested game time on the box says Bandida plays in about 15 minutes and is for ages 6-99. Meaning, in essence, the rules are simple, and anyone can enjoy this game! There’s some iconography to grasp, but it’s simple and the actions add a fun sense of excitement into the mix. So grab your shovel and flashlight – it’s time to learn how to play Bandida…
Win Together, Lose Together
Bandida is a cooperative game, which means the players win together, or lose together. Despite having an age range of 6+, don’t fall into the trap of assuming Bandida is a cakewalk for adults. If you don’t plan well as a team, you’re going to aid Bandida’s escape efforts. You win the game if you’re successful in blocking all her possible tunnel exits. A good few of the cards are cul-de-sacs, with a Torch icon on them. These are vital to hemming Bandida in. You lose if the deck runs out and there’s still open unfinished tunnels.
There are two other modes you can play (alongside this classic ‘Catch Bandida’ scenario). I’ll talk about those at the end of this article. First, let’s set up the game!
It Takes Seconds To Set Up
Setting up a game of Bandida is a breeze. Place the Super Card (Bandida in her cell) in the middle of the table. It’s double-sided; one side has five exits leading out of it, and the other has six. Five exits is that little bit easier, seeing as your aim is to try and block all these routes.
Bandida is within the tile-placement family of games. Played Carcassonne before? Then you’ll know how the layout is unpredictable, and never the same twice. It can sprawl off in any direction! It’s wise to make sure the surface you’re playing on can accommodate this. If playing with younger children, consider playing on the floor, for example. Bandida is not the kind of game you can play on, say, a small, circular cafe table.
Shuffle the deck and deal each player a hand of three cards. It’s worth noting: there are two Alarm cards in this deck. If you end up dealing either of these to a player during set-up, return it to the deck and deal them another card. Then re-shuffle the deck. (More about Alarm cards, later!) There’s also one Ladder card. This is for a different mode – where you help Bandida escape! If playing regular Catch Bandida though, remove this card from the deck.
Keep the remaining deck face-down and within arm’s reach of all players. Pick a start player at random (the rulebook suggests the youngest player). Now you’re all set up, and ready to play!
Your Turn: Add To The Tunnel
Your turn in Bandida is simple. You play one card from your hand into the tunnel network. This involves hand management, picking the right card to play where, and when. Cards cannot sit on top of each other, only adjacent. You can rotate the card in any orientation you like.
There’s one golden rule to remember when placing a card. When adding a tunnel, the faces of the card have to line up and match to the cards next to it. You can think of these tunnels like the roads on the square tiles in Carcassonne. In that classic gateway game, you can’t place a road tile that leads into a city wall, for example. The same applies here. In some circumstances, you might not be able to play any of your cards. If so, return your hand to the bottom of the deck and draw the same number of new cards.
The challenge with Bandida is that, to begin with, the options are limitless. But as the game progresses, you might find that only specific cards fit into spaces you’ve created. You don’t want to hamper yourselves as a team! Plus, as the deck runs down, so too does the time remaining. In the latter phases of the game, you don’t want to place cards that have numerous exits on them! You want to do the opposite, and close them off. Once you’ve placed your card, you draw a new card into your hand. Then it’s the next player’s turn, clockwise.
Zippit! What You Can And Can’t Say
Players can communicate and discuss what they believe is the best cause of action. They are not allowed, however, to state which specific cards they have in their hands. So they could say, for example: “Oooh, we should place that card here. Because I’ve got a good card to play next time!” They cannot say, for example: “I’ve got a T-shaped tunnel card with a Torch on it, and a C-shaped Broken Tool card.” Try to stay true to this rule! This can, I appreciate, be particularly tough for younger players to grasp, so go easy on them…
The majority of the cards feature an array of tunnel directions, junctions and curves. Some of them, though, have icons on them. When you play a card with an Object on it, you have to do the corresponding action straight away. There’s five different icons/Objects, each one providing a different action. For context, there’s two of each (so 10) of these cards within the deck of 70. Let’s break these down, one at a time.
Backpack – More Room To Store Cards!
If you play a Backpack card, this allows you to draw an extra card at the end of your turn. (Thus, increasing your hand size by +1.) Your hand size remains at this quota for the game’s duration, unless another card changes it. The backpack is great, granting far more flexibility with regards to hand management.
Dynamite – It’ll Blow A Hole In Your Hand
If you play the Dynamite card, you have to play another card from your hand straight away on this turn. Afterwards, you draw cards from the deck so your hand size returns. Dynamite can be good or bad, depending on the state of your hand. Good, because if you have another great card in your hand, you can further improve the current state of the tunnel. Bad, because if your other cards aren’t great, you have to play one!
What do I mean by a card not being great? The idea of Bandida, remember, is to block her in. This means shutting off all of her possible exits. Some of the cards fork off or create more junctions, resulting in even more exits for Bandida. Even more holes for you to plug. So be careful when playing a Dynamite card! They’re a question of timing.
Broken Tool – A Poor Escapee Blames Their Tools
If you play a card with the Broken Tool on it, you have to play your entire hand of cards into the tunnel network. Like the Dynamite, this can have a decent turnaround if played at an opportune moment. It can also prove troublesome if you hold a hand of garbage! Forced to play all your cards in this manner? Don’t forget: if those cards are Object Cards in their own right, you have to obey those icons, too! The same applies to Dynamite – if you play a second card with an Object on it, you then have to trigger that Object.
Afterwards, you redraw back up to three cards. If you had more than three cards at the time of playing the Broken Tool (Backpack, remember?), you still only draw three cards. (This can work in your favour though if you play the Broken Tool after falling foul of an Alarm card. I’ll explain further down!)
Map – A Blessing In Disguise? Or A Wild Goose Chase?
If you play a Map card, you have to remove three cards already within the tunnel network. These cards don’t have to be sitting adjoining to one another. One could be from, say, the left, another from the top and another from the bottom. The rule you have to obey, though, is the cards you remove cannot break a path leading back to Bandida’s Super Card.
The Map, again, can be a blessing in disguise. If you play it at the right time, you could omit three disruptive cards with multiple tunnels leading out of them. This is a huge boon! But if you play it at the wrong time, it forces you to remove good cards. In the worst-case scenario, this means removing blocked exits, and reopening them!
Water Bottle – Can’t Talk Now, Too Busy Glugging
Playing a Water Bottle card means all forms of communication around the table must cease. No one can talk until the play returns to the player that placed said Water Bottle. Time to exercise those eyebrow muscles!
Don’t Step On The Alarm! Oh, Too Late…
I mentioned Alarm cards earlier, so let’s talk about those. There are two Alarms on the deck. You know when an Alarm’s heading your way because there’s an alarm bell icon on their reverse. Picking up an Alarm card at the end of your turn? You have to play it straight away. You’ve alerted Bandida! You add it into the tunnel network somewhere, then do what it says. This is always a punishment…
One of the Alarms forces every player to discard one card from their hand. You pick which card you lose, but it’s still a painful decision! (Although it can prove fruitful if throwing away an unappealing card with multiple exits.) Remember, you can remedy this later by playing a Backpack (which gains you one card). Also, if you play the Broken Tool later, that states you draw three cards afterwards. (Even if you’re hand limit has declined to two.) So don’t be downtrodden if you step on this alarm – there are a few ways around it!
The other Alarm forces you to discard the top five cards from the deck. That deck represents the game’s timer, so this speeds up the game. Also, it might mean some of the good cards (such as the Backpack) get eliminated from the game in this manner! However, if you’re wearing your lucky socks, there’s also the chance that this Alarm might wipe out weaker cards.
Mode II: Help Bandida Escape!
There’s a second mode you can try too, where this time you’re not trying to thwart Bandida. Instead, you are her buddies and you’re trying to help her escape!
This time during set-up you include the Ladder card into the deck. This is a dead-end, like a Torch card. Your aim here is to locate the Ladder card within the deck, play it, and block off all other exits. That way Bandida can climb out of the Ladder to freedom! Again, if the deck runs out before you can accomplish this, you lose the game. (If the ‘remove-five-cards’ Alarm arises, check to make sure none of the five cards in such a case are the Ladder. Put it back in the deck, remove a different card, and then re-shuffle the remaining deck.)
Mode III: The Lovers’ Escape
There’s a third mode to play Bandida too, but you need a copy of Bandido to play this. (Bandido is the predecessor to this game, also by Helvetiq.) Here you add in the Ladder card and the Super Card from Bandido into the starting deck. You win the game if you can locate both Bandido’s Super Card and the Ladder, play them both, and block off all the other exits. The same rules apply with regards to the Alarm. (Check the five cards you discard don’t contain the aforementioned cards).
One Final Tip…
So that’s all there is to it! Take turns adding cards into the communal tunnel network. Obey the Object Cards, and try to block Bandida’s exits. Cards are of a 2x1 dimension, so you can place them in any manner of ways. Be careful, though, about creating non-fillable ‘holes’ in this tunnel network. This can occur if you place cards in such a way where you’re left with, say, an unintentional ‘border’. In such a case, you might get left with a tunnel that cannot get blocked or connected, if a 2x1 card cannot physically fit there. And that’s an instant route to failure…