Designer: Eric M. Lang
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not
2-5 players, 100-150mins
Price: £65 approx
This is one of those games that seems to divide opinion quite readily into two camps: those that aren’t happy with the theme or subject matter, and those that love the whole idea of playing gangsters and mobsters who stitch up and double-cross each other for the price of a slug of liquor. Needless to say, there’s a fair bit of that in this game…
Production-wise, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is hard to fault: the board feels solid, the tiles and stackable counters feel good in the hand, and the decent-sized plastic miniatures (on different coloured bases to represent competing families) all look the part. Plus, there are five lovely metal tins that represent the suitcases of each Don (individually coloured and numbered), and it’s these that are used to stash away laundered money and completed job cards throughout the game.
Job cards vary from simply stashing away money and ‘shaking down’ businesses to gunning down figures, or even a full-on car bombing that wipes out all enemies in a single area! Any gunned down figures are dumped in the Hudson River on the board until the end of the Act, and it’s remarkable how many end up there during the last Act of the game, but I digress…
Players start the game with two Thugs and a single Family Member (three Thugs in a 2-player game), a couple of Job Cards and $6. Additional Family Members will join you in Acts II and IV. Thugs have coloured square bases, and Family Members have matching coloured round bases. The objective is to try and stash as much money and as many completed jobs as possible in your metal suitcase (called ‘suitcasing’), with additional money earned at game end for having majority control in various ‘Turfs’ and the most job cards in each colour. The amount of money in your suitcase is added to any bonus monies to determine your final score at the end of the game.
Played across four Acts that are roughly in line with the original movie, each Act consists of placing Thugs and Family Members on the board and reaping the relevant benefit or resources those spaces provide, with Family Members earning multiple benefits across adjoining areas (aka Turfs), and Thugs earning the simpler, one-off benefit given for ‘shaking down’ a business…
After this, the players with majority control in each Turf get to place a control marker indicating they currently ‘own’ that area, and can reap additional rewards when Thugs from other families start shaking down businesses in their Turf, etc.
Once the Turf War is resolved in each Act, players get to bid for Allies (these are further broken down by Act, and gradually provide bigger and greater rewards as the game progresses). Allies take up space in your hand, and some can be placed on the board to provide additional benefits, but there are definitely some that are more useful than others.
After this phase, the final part of each Act is when players may need to discard cards to stay within the hand limit for each Act (these cards are considered a “Tribute to the Don”, which is suitably thematic!), and this is also where you need to decide if those Allies are worth hanging onto…
Play proceeds like this until all four Acts have been completed, and there is a definite sense that as each Act progresses the stakes get higher, and the losses harder to take: players do get additional Family Members but Allies get more powerful, too – this racks up the tension considerably, as you can probably guess…
I really like this game – thematically, Corleone’s Empire has a lot going for it, even down to the first player marker being shaped like a horse’s head! It can also be played in 90 mins or so with four or more players with very little down-time between turns (and takes just over an hour with two players: each player starts with an additional Thug figure, but several Family Member spaces aren’t used, thus making for a fast-flowing, competitive head-to-head). In later Acts the number of options and strategic actions open to players increases considerably, with more figures to place and plenty of hand management and advanced planning required to source resources to complete more job cards, etc.
It also flows smoothly from start to finish – while the number of options you have each turn seems limited, the scope and effect of those actions makes for a challenging, cut-throat, but ultimately enjoyable game experience for all.
This is a Euro-style game in every sense, with elements of worker placement, area control, hand management and set collection all blended seamlessly together. The gameplay and mechanics are clean and easily grasped, but more importantly, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire could serve as an excellent gateway game for those looking to bring new gamers into the fold, and as such deserves a place alongside such classics as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, I think.