Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dave Reviews: Throwing Bodies In The Hudson, The Game

The Godfather: Corleone's Empire

Remember: no matter the wealth you collect, you can't spend it if you're dead. So make sure your thugs and lieutenants eat the bullets.

The Godfather: Making Sure Your Kids Get Shot Before You is an area control game, because it's about Mafia families, so of course it's an area control game. New York is broken up into seven areas with a number of businesses spread amongst them, and blank spots where more businesses open up later, just waiting for the mob to shake them down for their profits. You have two types of units: thugs and family members/lieutenants. Thugs go to a business and give you whatever is listed on the front of that business, be it drugs, booze, blood money, jobs, whatever. Family members work between districts, giving you access to the goodies in the back of all businesses in those districts. The backs of businesses are usually a little less good than the front, but since you're often getting three or four at once, the family members are very powerful.

More importantly, at the end of each round, every figure you have on the board counts towards control of the districts they're influencing. Thugs have to sit on one business, so they only impact one district at a time, but family members give you influence over two or three. Basically, family members are great! Better get them out on the board as soon as possible so you get all the things and win influence over all the districts.

This is what you think until your people wind up floating in the Hudson (this is, in game terms, literally what happens) and someone else takes over their influence spots. You'll still get the immediate goods from the backs of affected businesses, but dead mobsters don't scare anyone into compliance. Control doesn't have much of an impact during each turn (though certain cards depend on area control), but building control turn by turn establishes dominance, and dominance of districts is worth big money at the end of the game.

So why would anyone put their family members out before it's necessary? Because jobs are how anything gets done in the city, including murder, and sometimes jobs you can complete are hard to come by. The game begins with a business that will give you a job card, but you may not see another. Three jobs are laid out at the start of each turn that anyone can choose, if they have the resources, but the resources may be hard to come by. If someone can't get their hands on guns, they can't kill your people. Someone will always be able to get guns, but they may not get the murder jobs. If you don't get the murder jobs, you can still do other jobs to make money, but control becomes substantially harder because that means other people have the murder cards and will wipe you while you have no capacity to fight back. In fact, they'll often wipe your people assuming you'll fight back, planning that you'll fight back, and winding up with a happy bonus when you don't have the cards to do it with.

Furthermore, you have to balance your capacity to do jobs with everything else you need in order to not waste cards in light of the hand limit enforced at the end of each round. Sure, you can pile money and resources into your hand, but if you don't stash money in the suitcase or find jobs to spend those resources on before you place your last figure, you'll have to discard down to five or six cards (or two at the end of the last round). Everything is in constant motion; stockpiles must be used quickly or not at all. To maintain the murder example, it's fine if you want to save your guns and job card for the next round, but that will be most of your hand capacity--find something to do with everything else before the turn is over.

But, man, someone has those murder cards. If it's not you, do you work around them and wait until someone else makes the people with the murder cards more angry? Or do you throw everything at whatever is available to you and accept the body count as the part of doing business?

I've been going on about the murder jobs, because they stand out the most. Everything else lets you gather resources and money in a variety of ways, and might be most differentiated by the resources required to do them rather than what they accomplish. And there's a feeling, when you don't get the murder jobs in a game based around area control, that you're getting unbelievably screwed.

You're not, though. Maybe you don't get as much dominance money at the end of the game. Maybe your opponents occasionally get free resources because someone puts a thug in an area they control. But the other jobs are generally more profitable, get you more stuff, and are as viable a method for winning as slaughtering all your rivals if you do it properly. There's also something about the theme of the game that makes it suck a little less to get your people killed--whether they chose this life or were born into it, they knew the risks. (It also makes it a little weird when your family members climb out of the river and go back to work, but, eh, balance.) And if you win auctions at the end of each round for allies, you get extra people to put to work so you use your figures less quickly and, maybe, keep them alive until all the bullets are spent so they can win you all the territory.

Because the game starts with a very thin number of businesses to shake down for goods and services, and more businesses come into play randomly chosen out of a stack, it's quite possible certain resources will be in short supply in a given game. This is an example of good randomness--randomness that changes the experience of each playthrough, but doesn't necessarily advantage one player over another. One person can take a chance and stockpile blood money in round one, and be very well set if blood money jobs are available and the resource hard to get, but it's not the game's fault if that strategy doesn't work (or if it works very, very well). A chance was taken and the consequences of that chance occurred.

Having not played with five people yet, the following is a theoretical statement: I think this game would be most appropriately played with five people. With three, for example, some business slots stay empty the whole game, and it feels like you're not playing with a full city. That's not a criticism; it's unrealistic to make a game for only five people, and the designers did a fine job making it work with less. It's balanced well, so that everyone still has reasonable access to resources while limiting them enough so not everyone can just bathe in them, but it looks like a reduced version of the complete game. The potential carnage in a five player game, the working for influence... again, I need to see it first, but it seems like it could be incredible.

Score: 8.5 horseheads out of 9.7 (it's best if you don't ask where the pieces went)

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