Due to the explosion in board game culture over the last decade or so, it’s not surprising that the market has become saturated and bloated to the point where we could literally carry on buying base games, expansions, promos and add-ons until the bailiffs make us stop. As a result, we are also seeing the same theme regurgitated over & over again; the number of zombie, Viking or generic fantasy games available is ridiculous (I say this despite me owning several myself). One theme, however, seems to have slipped through the net slightly, especially when you add in the factor of ‘a good game’ to the mix, and that is the mafia or organised crime theme and may be an obvious one, but how many tactical, all encompassing, non-card games are there? In an attempt to remedy this, Cool Mini or Not have not only released a board game that they hope will tick all the boxes but have also added unequivocally the biggest title in the genre. Today is ‘just business and nothing personal’ as I review The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire. Let’s find out if CMON have ‘made us an offer we can’t refuse’ or left us wanting to ‘sleep with the fishes.’
The Godfather is a 2-5 player game that will take less than an hour to play with 2 players and around 90 minutes with the full compliment. The game’s designer, Eric Lang, brings area control, hand management, special abilities and a ton of difficult decisions to 1950s New York along with some truly excellent components which are what we’ll look at first. All 34 miniatures are fantastic, and with the exception of the thug characters, all are individual moulds which make each family feel different. The detailing on them is brilliant with the thugs carrying Tommy guns, one family member carrying a fish hook and meat cleaver whilst one prefers a shotgun, add to that one of the female family members who looks majestic in her evening gown only to be hiding a pistol behind her back. Also included are four neutral minis, one of which is Don Corleone himself, and although he is purely used as a round tracker, his mini is exceptional. The other 3 are the Mayor, Union Boss and the Police Chief which are known as allies, and if bribed sufficiently can be used by players through the course of the game.
The last two mini pieces probably highlight more than any other piece in the game, a big reason why CMON are an example for other companies to follow when it comes to components. The first is the first player token which depicts the horse’s head scene from the movie. The second is the phase tracker which is a 1940s-50s police car. Both could have simply been cardboard tokens and no one would have batted an eyelid, but CMON stepped up to show the rest how it’s done and should be commended for it. I’ll not labour the rulebook other than saying that it’s a damn near perfect representation of what a rulebook should be (for the level of game being played). It walks players through what they will be doing in-game, breaking down each phase, using short concise blocks of text and loads of coloured diagrams. Throw in the ton of art work that’s also present, and it makes for an enjoyable read.
There are plenty of cards in the game which I will talk more about later, but the standout ones for me are the ally cards. From the 3 already mentioned to the small time bookie, the Hollywood producer or the family accountant, the artwork is, as with the majority of the game, superb and created by Karl Kopinski. The two types of cards that don’t live up to this (I’m sure these will have been CMON’s choice and not down to the artist) are the illegal goods deck and the job cards. The illegal goods cards are simply black & white dull pictures of a gun, booze, blood money or narcotics. The job cards were disappointing as they all use the same artwork despite what the card represents. For example, a drive-by shooting card looks exactly the same as an extortion card which, considering the standard set with the components, was a letdown.
I have yet to decide if I like the board or not as my opinion seems to change each time I play it. For sheer simplicity and usability, it’s great, everything is clearly marked with big, chunky indicators which makes it extremely easy to play with. On the flipside, I’m just not stuck on the background representation of New York City which either looks rushed or unfinished.
The final components that I will mention are the suitcases which each player will get and hope to fill with cash and job cards. Before the game was released, I immediately thought these were gimmicky, overproduced and pointless. After playing the game, I think these are gimmicky, overproduced……..nah, only joking. The metal suitcases are brilliant, not only do they add a further layer of theme to an already theme-heavy game, but they are extremely practical and fit for purpose; another example of CMON rising above with their components.
The game itself is surprisingly simple and easy to learn, considering on the face of things there’s a lot going on and a lot for players to think about at all stages of play. The idea of the game is to use your family members and thugs to shake down businesses, collect illegal goods cards to complete jobs, use allies and ultimately make as much cash as possible to hide away in your suitcase. It’s important to note that only suitcased cash will be counted at the end of the game, anything still in a player’s hand is discounted.
On the board are seven turfs, such as Queens, Wall Street and Midtown, and each turf will have one business printed on it with random businesses being added at the beginning of each round. Each business has a front which thugs will shake down and a back which family members will target, although when a family member is played, they shake down the backs of all businesses in or adjacent to that turf, making them very powerful people.
Once a new business tile is added to the board, then players enter the Family Business phase which is the main phase of play. In turn order, players will take one action, play a thug or family member, complete a job or play an ally. When they do, they immediately receive the benefit from that action such as cash, illegal goods, killing an opponent’s family member or being allowed to suitcase some of that hard-earned cash. Play continues until all players have taken all their actions and used all of their miniatures.
The next phase is turf war, which is where players will count up the number of miniatures in each turf; the player with the highest number of minis in that turf will gain control of that turf and are able to place a control marker on the board. Having control of a turf is important both during and at the end of the game. During the game, if an opponent plays a thug to shake down the front of a business in a turf that you control, then not only do they get the benefit, but the controlling play also receives it as well, so care must be taken so as not to give free items away to your opponents. At the end of the game, the control markers are counted for each turf, and the player with the most markers in a single turf will receive a $5 bonus.
The fourth phase is the bribery phase and is perhaps one of my favourite parts of the game. At the beginning of each round, a set number (depending on player count) of ally cards will be placed on the board. All allies have different abilities, such as moving other people around the board to give cash bonuses or illegal goods or to allow you to suitcase some cash. The way in which you gain these allies are that each player will secretly take cash from their suitcase and hide it in the suitcase lid, then all players simultaneously reveal their bribes with the person offering the most getting first pick of an ally card but losing the cash offered. The other players will each choose an ally according to their bribe until it reaches the last player who will always miss out but keep their cash, if any was offered.
The final phase is to pay tribute to Don Corleone: This simply means discard cards from your hand down to the number as listed on the board depending on the round. An aspect that really spices the last of the four rounds up is that players can only carry two cards into the last round, which makes for some very difficult choices bearing in mind that those cards could be jobs that you wish to complete, illegal goods, allies or even cash that players will be forced to discard. Play will continue through the four rounds, with the eventual winner being the person with the most cash in their suitcase at the end.
So, do I like the game? Not only do I like it, I love it! It definitely goes into my top five games and is easily my favourite game of 2017 so far. CMON always produce great components, but I am sometimes critical of the actual gameplay of their games as some do feel too random or repetitive; lots of stuff just not much game, in other words. The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire completely changes that for me as the game mechanics and rules fit perfectly together, giving players a challenging and light tactical experience whilst still making it fun to play, which is always a big plus. Regarding the components, the minis are typical CMON and will be getting painted. Some of the cards are a bit drab, and I would have liked to have seen a wider variety of job cards, as well as a few more business tiles, although I may only feel that way because I’ve hammered the game since getting it and have, in fact, arranged to play it later this evening even after the review is finished.
I also found the game to be really easy to teach as it was far less complex than I imagined due to its easy to read rulebook, limited actions and phased play. Usually, I would say that this may limit a game, but it fits just right with the Godfather. On the theme, my preconceptions were totally wrong pre-review: I was worried this was just a random game with the Godfather spilt over it. Not even close, whether through the components, artwork or mechanics, Corleone’s Empire oozes theme with CMON certainly doing it justice.
Designer: Eric M Lang
Artist: Karl Karpinski
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not