Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mob Rules

As I often say: it's as though someone left the lid off of 2010 and allowed it to evaporate. The summer barely seemed to have arrived before leaves began to appear unbidden upon my front lawn, although they are hard to see beneath the all apples that have blown off our tree.

Audrey has returned to work at her old school in a new position, looking after an autistic sixth grader. Glory has begun grade 3 with one of her best friends last year, and Fenya is beginning the transition into junior high school at Vic.

Now that I think of it, it's not just 2010 which has rushed past, is it?

As the autumn routine falls into place, familiar patterns begin to re-establish themselves. A long hiatus from boardgames, some of the lads and I got together at Earl's fabulous new digs to try out his new boardgame, Blood Feud in New York. I had seen the game a number of times in various shops, and admired the production values, but have never spoken with anyone who's played it.

We started out cold, a little later than was perhaps wise, especially since there were a large number of pieces to be sorted out, but despite being perhaps the second pieciest game I have ever played (after War of the Ring), the mechanics are somewhat elegant, and gameplay proved to be straightforward and quick, even when our decision making was not.

Said pieces include not only the various personnel you will direct, from thugs to hit men, but also speedboats, limousines and even helicopters, as well as building pieces representing your various rackets, penthouse fortresses or corrupt police precincts in your employ.

Each player represents the head of a crime family attempting to dominate the underground of New York City. They deploy themselves, family members and thugs and henchmen on a map of the city encompassing The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan and New Jersey. The early turns saw each of us steadfastly ignoring the other while we established our various illegal enterprises and recruited new muscle, but eventually you come shoulder to shoulder-holster with the other families, and gunplay ensues.

The key element of the game is the five family members who support The Boss directly. At the end of each turn, you count a certain amount of dollars for each territory you control, similar to risk, but you multiply this for each independent family member on the board. Keeping them together is far safer, but half the risk feels like far less than half the reward, especially if your opponents are maximizing their profits.

The four of us all tend to play fairly conservatively, so it was quite some time before there was a fight of any significance, and besides, you don't get paid for taking out other personnel, and it costs money to replace men you lose. However, when one of Mike's yakuza family stayed too close to the borders, my Mick mobsters ponced on him and took him captive.

A few turns later, I had a second hostage and a third had died, reducing Team Yellow's earning potential to half that of the other players. Mike did not roll over, however, instead moving his boss and virtual head quarters further down the map where I would have to overextend myself to follow, no doubt eliciting attacks from Pete's Russian Mafia or Earl's 'Always Bet on' Black Brigands.

We ended up wrapping up a little after midnight, and were probably a little more than halfway through the game proper. In order to achieve the victory condition of $6000 income on a single turn, you would almost certainly need to eliminate another player and assimilate his family into your own. Once you have a 8x or 12x multiplier to your income, I imagine it would be very hard for the competition to keep pace, although an alliance would probably arise out of this as well, so who knows? Only further playings will reveal whether being the first player to unseat a competitor is enough of a benefit to warrant the inevitable attention you will attract from the remainder.

It was my intention to turn over my holdings to Mike when I headed out, no one was really interested in playing it out that far, so my $3200 income qualified me as the leader, if not the winner, and we left Earl to sort out the hundreds of pieces and tokens. Close enough to a victory for this bog-cutting boyo; I don't usually do that well in strategic games!

Being who we are, we also took full advantage of the creative void in the game, naming most of the gangster pies we had our fingers in, and making decisions less for their tactical merit and more because they fit the flavour, or would irk someone else. "At what point," I eventually asked, "did this become a role-playing game?" but I see this as a feature, not a shortcoming. Also, since it is a game where player elimination is practically a necessity, care should probably be taken in who you play with...

The highly competitive and colourful gameplay, coupled with excellent esthetics will definitely have me wanting to return to the mean streets of New York at some point in the future. Since the game supports between two and six players, I think a change in numbers would also have a huge effect on the game, and would no doubt prompt much more in the way of negotiations and treaties than our introduction.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's also worth mentioning that in a game of Star Trek Scene-It Earl managed to squeak out only a narrow victory and that I was actually leading, having hit the Ending area first but failed to close the deal on the early victory chance.