The game is played by four to seven players (two to eight players with variants and expansions). Each player takes one of the following roles:
Each player also receives a unique character card with special abilities and a certain amount of 'bullets' (i.e. life-points).
The object of the game is different for every role:
- the Outlaws must kill the Sheriff;
- the Sheriff and his Deputies must kill the Outlaws and the Renegade(s);
- each Renegade's objective is to be the last character in play. The Renegade(s) must kill all the characters with the sheriff being the last one dead.
Each player is dealt a Character card and a Role card. The Role cards are given face down to each player.
4 players = 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 2 Outlaws
5 players = 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 2 Outlaws, 1 Deputy
6 players = 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 3 Outlaws, 1 Deputy
7 players = 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, 3 Outlaws, 2 Deputies
8 players (with Dodge City expansion pack) = 1 Sheriff, 2 Renegades, 3 Outlaws, 2 Deputies
The Sheriff announces his role and places it face up in front of him. The other players' roles remain secret. All players reveal their character cards.
The character cards determine the amount of life points each player has (the number of "bullets" is the amount of life points); each player reveals their assigned number of bullets on the back of an unused character card. The player given the Sheriff role starts with one additional bullet. Each character is equipped with a special ability. Players should announce their character and ability.
Each player is dealt a number of cards equal to the number of bullets they have. The Sheriff plays the game with one additional bullet. If his character has 3 bullets, the Sheriff will play with 4.
Each player is considered to be at distance 1 from the players sitting next to him on either side, distance 2 from those sitting one seat further away, and so on (counting the shortest route).
The game is played in turns, in clockwise order. The Sheriff begins. Each player's turn is divided into three phases.
1. Draw two cards
- The active player draws the top two cards from the draw pile. As soon as the draw pile is empty, shuffle the discard pile to create a new playing deck.
2. Play any number of cards.
- Now the player may play to help himself or hurt the other players, trying to eliminate them. He is not forced to play cards during this phase. Any number of cards may be played; there are only two limitations.
- Only one BANG! card may be played per turn;(Unless one has a "Volcanic" or their special ability is to play more than one BANG! IE: Willy The Kid)
- No player can ever have two identical cards face up in front of him.
When a card is played just follow the symbols on it. Cards can be played only during your turn (with the exception of Beer and Missed!).
Normally a card has an effect which is immediately resolved, and then the card is discarded. However, blue bordered cards, like weapons and horses, etc., have long lasting effects, and are kept in the table face up in front of you.
The effects of these cards (in play) lasts until they are discarded or removed somehow (e.g. Cat Balou or Panic) or a special event occurs (e.g. in the case of Jail or Dynamite.)
3. Discard excess cards.
Once the second phase is over (you do not want to or cannot play any more cards), then you must discard from your hand any cards exceeding your hand size limit. The hand size limit of a player (at the end of his turn) is equal to the number of bullets currently shown on the card that lies under his character card. Then it is the next player's turn, in clockwise order.
To shoot at another character, a player must play a card bearing a "Bang!" icon to a player within shooting range.
- This means that if the shooter hasn't got any weapons, he can only shoot players at distance 1; if he has a weapon that can fire to distance 3, he can target any player at distance 3 or less.
If the targeted player has a "Missed" card, he can play it to avoid getting shot; otherwise he loses one bullet (life point).
When a character loses his last bullet, he is "dead."
A Beer card can be used to restore a bullet. A player cannot use Beer cards to exceed his character's number of bullets. A player can only restore his own bullets via a Beer card, and he can only play it during his turn. A Whiskey card performs the same function as Beer cards, except that it restores two bullets (may not exceed the character's number of bullets).
- Exception: if a player loses his last bullet, he can immediately play one or more Beer cards until he remains at 1 bullet.
A player may usually play only one "Bang!" card during his turn, but other cards can be played without restriction during the turn.
- For example, some cards allow to steal cards from an opponent's hand, force an opponent to discard a card, jail a character, change the relative range to other players, or change the range at which the player can shoot. Most of the cards are self-explaining, bearing little symbols that describe the card's effect when combined; the rest carry a symbol that suggests that the player consult the game manual (this is not true starting from the 3rd Edition, where these cards have a written text explaining their effect).
Some cards require a "draw!": this means that you have to reveal the first card of the deck and check the card suit and value shown on the lower left corner. For example, you may escape from the Jail only if you successfully "draw!" a Heart card.
Penalties and Rewards
If the Sheriff eliminates a Deputy, the Sheriff must discard all the cards he has in hand and in play.
Any player eliminating an Outlaw (even if the eliminating player is himself an Outlaw!) must draw a reward of 3 cards from the deck.
Determining the winner
Once the Sheriff is killed, the game is over. If the only player left is a Renegade and is alive at this point, the Renegade wins. However, if two or more players are still alive or the only remaining player is an Outlaw, all the Outlaws win, dead or alive.
On the other hand, if all Outlaws and Renegades are dead before the Sheriff dies, the Sheriff and all the Deputies win, dead or alive.