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It is the time of the speakeasy and bath tub gin... It is the time of the BOOTLEGGERS!
In Bootleggers, players will find themselves slipping into a very thematic experience as they produce and sell moonshine in the early twentieth century. Using a vast array of plastic gangsters and trucks, players must attempt to use their muscle cards to take the best action cards and control the speakeasies. With treachery, backstabbing, alliances, and more Bootleggers forces players to use their resources wisely. It's a good thing to produce a lot of moonshine at the distilleries; but too much will bring the police down on your business, and hired thugs might steal your trucks or worse! Bootleggers is a combination of good mechanics with a healthy dose of American theme for a fun, rewarding experience.
We played our first game of Bootleggers this week with 5 players. Our group tends to favor Eurogames such as Agricola, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Stone Age, etc., so there were doubts going in because of the amount of dice involved. But after only two rounds (of 12), we were all in agreement that this is an underrated game, and a very, very good game in almost every way.
First off, the game looks spectacular! The board artwork gives it a 3-D appearance.
You also see the incredible amount of components included, and all are very high quality. This is not a game that just uses cubes and cardboard markers, but it has authentic '20s style trucks and 120 colorful miniature mobster figures (aka Influence Markers). The trucks are actually functional too, where you literally load them with crates of whiskey. As simple as this might sound, it's really very cool and helps create part of the atmosphere of the game.
The atmosphere or theme bleeds through this game like almost no other. Nearly all games have a theme, but once you start playing you often disregard the theme and concentrate on the mechanics. Not with Bootleggers. Every action seems to fit what mobsters would do, and it all meshes together where muscle rules, but that power is always tenuous at best because of lurking double crosses, hits, hijacks, extortion, turf wars, and all-out mob war.
The theme is one thing, and it envelopes everything in the game, but the real soul of this game is the interaction among the players. Many games, even great ones like Agricola or Race for the Galaxy, are essentially solitaire games played by a group of people at the same time -- everyone minds their own assets for the most part and leaves the other players alone. Bootleggers is the opposite. The game is designed to advance your own cause by screwing the other players. The rule book encourages it, and the THUG cards ensure it. Open negotiation is part of the game, and aside from Influence Markers, which cannot be sold or traded, everything else is within the rules -- cash deals, extortion, threats ("I promise not to use the 'HIT' card on you, if you sell all your whiskey Barleycorn's"), IOUs, and even reneging on previous promises are all legal. Hey, you're mobsters!
Beneath the theme and interaction is really a superior supply chain management game. You produce illegal alcohol in your family and remote stills, load your trucks with the moonshie, and deliver it to the Speakeasy docks. If you don't have enough capacity in your stills, your trucks go empty. If you don't have enough trucks, your whiskey never leaves your stills. And if you don't have influence at the Speakeasies, your shipments either get dumped in the alley, or sold at half the usual price to the corrupt cop at O'Malley's. Whoever is able to best balance these three aspects, while avoiding rubouts, hijacks, sabotage, and extortion, will gain the most money and win the game.
The game also has several clever mechanisms for achieving balance. First, if you do happen to have a lucky dice roll on your still, the copper's attention is attracted and he can possibly shut you down for a round. Second, at the ends of rounds 4 and 8, the players all reveal their cash and whoever has the lowest amount gets a bonus Influence Marker. Also, there is no elimination in this game. If a player does totally run out of cash, he can continue to play without paying the normal payroll and graft fees required at the start of each turn, without penalty.
As far as the randomness of the dice, yes it does exist. Over the course of the game, the lucky and unlucky rolls should average out. From what we saw in our game, good strategy mitigates the luck of the dice. What is possible is a wild ending, which is exactly what we saw in our first game - the player in last place at the end of Round 8 won our game, and won it easily. It happened like this:
At the end of Round 8 when we all revealed our cash, I had a little over 80G as did another player, while the other three players were between 30G and 50G. The first to amass 100G wins the game, so I played the "Bust a Shipment" and "Mob War" THUG cards on the other player with 80G to take him down, while the other players used "Turf War" and "Hit" on me to hurt my chances. Meanwhile, the guy with 30G set a plot in motion, where he started building influence in the Real McCoy, the largest (and most profitable) Speakeasy in the 5-player game. Within two rounds, the Real McCoy opened for business as other players placed Influence Markers in it. In Round 11, the formerly last-place player played his two trump cards, the "Hey, Free Truck" and "The Big Payoff" THUG cards.
After acquiring the extra truck via the "Hey, Free Truck" card (ironically stealing a truck from the player who sold him the card earlier!), he produced 14 crates of 'shine, and then played the "Big Payoff" card to gain Controlling Influence at the Real McCoy. This Speakeasy pays 3G wholesale plus 2G profit per crate (compared to 2G/1G for the other speakeasies), so he was set to earn 5G each for the crates loaded on his truck. The Real McCoy has 4 dice determining how much it would consume, and he rolled a 15 - guaranteeing the sale of his entire 14- crate shipment for 70G - pushing his game-winning total to 120G. It was the wildest and most unlikely finish I've seen in any game, and yet it wasn't luck - he just played it to perfection!
I posted another review on BoardGameGeek that has additional information and replies from other users here:
After just one game, we are all sold on Bootleggers. It's fun, the turns go quickly, there is plenty of back-and-forth interaction, and fortunes can turn quickly making it unpredictable and keeping players in the game throughout. It gets my highest recommendation!
I recently played with this game with 6 players and found it to be a huge amount of fun.
Lets my start with the CONS:
* Luck does play a part in this game, so die hard strategy fans might find it less enjoyable. Personally, I enjoy a bit of randomness, so this really is a con for me.
* After playing it once, it seems that some of the cards might be stronger than others, and could potentially swing a games outcome. This might not be as much of an issue after several plays, as players would understand the relative strength of the cards and could plan accordingly.
Now the PROs:
* Theme is unique and fun. Having trucks and running 'shine....that has fun all over it.
* The deal making and posturing of players is absolutely the highlight of this game.
* The components very nice, but not up to the Fantasy Flight Games\Days Of Wonder level. A few improvements could be made.
* The game has very good mechanics which are balanced and provide players with a variety of options every turn.
* Another plus is that fact that there is very little downtime between turns for players. Even playing with 6 players, there was not huge amounts of time spent waiting for other players to complete their turn.
If you can get past the fact that luck can and will impact the game and you enjoy games that players can directly effect other players (many designer games don't allow as much direct interaction between players), this game is a blast.
Players select (via a brilliant Muscle Card bidding process) either a truck for shipping or various types of action cards. You can focus on mass production and sell what you can't ship to other players. You can hog up all the trucks and force players to sell to you. You can get into blood feuds with other players over the most lucrative establishments. Or, you can fly under the radar and focus on the less profitable speakeasies to avoid multiple rivals. I have not seen a game that warrents this much player negotiation since Settlers of Catan. There is a nice mechanism that give a little reinforcements to whoever is in last place. The game encourages you to make promises to deals to players and also gives you a pat on the back to double crossing other players, wich really gets your heart pumping when you make a deal. YOU CAN'T TRUST ANYONE!!!! Very exciting an replayable.
This game has definatly increased my optimism in the direction that Eagle Games is heading. (EURO mechanics oozing with american theme)
I love this game! Just a little background, I tend to enjoy more strategic type games, while my wife prefers quicker games. Surprisingly, my wife also loves this game. Its like monopoly just got way cooler.
This game is one of our favorites to play. One of the best things about the game is how much the mobsters theme comes through - it really makes for a fun experience. During the course of trying to become the richest crime boss we found ourselves spontaneously talking to each other with gangster voices and picking aliases for each other like Fast Eddie and Snakes .. Mechanics are great, a lot of room for negotiating, extortion, bluffing, and double crossing, the action cards are a great component. Good mix between luck and strategy. There's a large player interaction component, which when mixed with the theme, makes for a lot of social fun. Good quality board and pieces, its actually really fun to load up actual trucks with actual wooden crates. 3 things to be aware of:
1. This game involves some double crosses and sabotaging other players, so if you or your friends are on the extremely sensitive side, you should probably play something less cutthroat, like Sorry!
2. game is addictive, especially if you love competition.
3. Parents will be happy to know that despite the mobster theme, the game play and graphics are PG. Only challenge is our youngest cant resist the temptation to play with the trucks and plastic men.
cons: can be difficult to verbally teach others how to play, unless you just play through a practice round.
takes a while to set up and complete game.
money counting slows up the pace. use poker chips instead.
The theme alone makes this a big hit! The mechanics are quite unique and fun, making it a nice change of pace from other games. It has beautiful artwork and a lot of fun, well made pieces. Everyone that I've introduced to the game has liked it.
The only drawback, as far as I'm concerned, is that the game ends rather abruptly and the ending doesn't fit the theme well. The goal is to be the first to acquire $100,000, however since everyone's money stash is hidden and players do not have to reveal how much they have, there lacks a suspenseful build up; there comes a point in which someone just says they have $100,000 and it's over. I would've liked to see something like a requirement to control two or more speakeasies in addition to acquiring $100,000. This would require additional ways to eliminate opponents' influence (which probably would be an good addition regardless), however, so not a house rule that would be easy to implement. The game may also end after the 12th round, if no one had made $100,000 before that point. In this case, whoever has the most money after the 12th round wins. I've never had a game go all 12 rounds; none of our games have gone past 8 or 9 rounds.
The final word is that it's a great game and I highly recommend it! My congratulations to the designers; a very impressive first game and I'd like to see more from them. Sadly it appears to be out of print so grab it while you can! You need this game!! :-)
The concept of Bootlegger is definitely an original one. The game play runs in phases which is good, granted the 12 cycle limit is a bit... limited. It makes for fun times especially when you've a good number of players, though it can get a bit tedious keeping track of things. Definitely needed more money though. We ran out of money by the 7th cycle.
Of course there are rules, but the only thing you can't trade is your influence markers. Everything else is fair game. I had my brother in law almost win the game just through extortion. He hardly produced any crates on his own, he just kept threatening us or highjacking our large trucks. I was amazed at how effective it was.
The nice thing about Bootleggers is there are so many important variable to be strong in. In other words there are a lot of different ways to be powerful and win.
I am trying to think of a way I would improve this game and I can't. It is slightly repetitive, but with a game like this, if all know how to play the rounds can go pretty quickly.
I believe this game is no longer being produced. I would snag one up while you still can.
I love the mobster theme that this game brings out. You're sure to have a great time making deals and blackmailing your friends (sometimes in accents that have nothing to do with the Mob. One of the players was talking in an Irish accent!)
It is fairly simple and sraightforward to learn, but it lacks the final "je ne sais qoui" that would have turned this into a perfect game. I think some of the mechanics are a little unbalanced and there is not enough change of control of the bars. The supply chain side of things is pretty cool but again, I don't think the mechanics were balanced to the degree that I expect from my favorite games.
All in all, this game is a lot of fun and well worth having in your closet.
Eagle Games has received, in my opinion, some unfair criticism over the past two years in regards to their games. People complain about the rules, mostly, and the fact that the games don’t seem to be playtested. While I personally disagree with this opinion, the fact is that Eagle Games has slowly been evolving over the past two years. Age of Mythology was a distinct step away from the light war game. Bootleggers is yet another step in Eagle’s progression towards the American “Euro-game.” And while some purists may never like the amount of luck in Bootleggers, I think they’ve succeeded in their goal.
The theme (which is obviously about bootlegging) is extremely strong, and the game is fair and balanced with some interesting mechanics. I had a few small component issues (which are dealt with nicely by Eagle), but the game was simply a blast to play! I think that the game is a successful blend of American theme with a “German” game, to produce something that is quick and fun with tremendous components. I certainly don’t condone bootlegging, but for some reason it’s fun to simulate the corruption of this time period.
Players take the part of different mob bosses, attempting to sell the most moonshine, and gaining the most money. Each player is given a Family Still, which also doubles as a reference card. The still has four spots for dice; a die is placed on one of them. Each player also receives $10,000, and twelve “muscle” markers - little plastic gangsters - one of which is placed in an area called the “back room” on the reference card. There are cards, numbered from “1” to “72”, called Muscle cards. These are split into four groups, sorted by the color on the face of the cards (# 1-18 are red, etc.) The groups are each shuffled with three cards being dealt to each player, giving players a total of twelve cards. The remainder of the cards is removed from the game. Players also receive a small truck (capacity of 4), with the remainder of the plastic trucks being put in a bank. The bank also has the rest of the money, 21 dice, six remote stills, a pile of wooden cubes (crates of moonshine) and some speakeasy improvement markers. The board is set up, showing six “speakeasies”. A pile of “Men of Action” cards are shuffled and placed into the appropriate place, as it is a deck of Truck cards. A cube is placed on a twelve-space track, representing the number of rounds; and the game is ready to begin!
Each round has six phases, in which all players participate. In the Muscle phase, the top truck card is turned face up (showing a small, medium, or large truck), and one Men of Action card is turned face up for each player in the game. Each player then chooses one Muscle card from their hand and plays it face down. The cards are revealed simultaneously and determine player order, from the highest number to the lowest. Each player must then pay a fee shown on the card (either nothing, or from one to four thousand dollars) and also pay fees for each truck they currently own. In turn order, the players choose one of the cards that are face up, deciding to either play it, keep it (only some cards), or discard it. There are many cards in the Men of Action deck.
- Influence cards allow the player to put more henchmen pieces in their back room.
- Still improvement cards allow the player to add a die to their still, or sometimes start up a remote still (which also has room for four dice).
- Speakeasy improvement cards allow the player to put a speakeasy improvement on one of the speakeasies.
- If a player chooses the truck card, they must pay for the truck, discard the card, and take the matching size truck from the bank.
- Thug cards do a large variety of things, from attacking other players to stealing their booze, to switching tokens, etc. They’re the only cards they may be kept in hand.
The next phase (Send in the Boys) has each player, in turn order, place any or all of their influence markers in the Speakeasies. Except for the first Speakeasy (O’ Malleys), there are several spaces for the henchmen; and players may place these henchmen influence markers in any open circle. Several of the circles in each speakeasy are shaded; when these spaces are filled up, the speakeasy is declared to be “open”. Players have one of four kinds of influence in each speakeasy.
- No influence: If they have no markers there.
- Minority influence: If they have markers there, but not the most.
- Majority influence: If they have the most markers at the speakeasy.
- Controlling influence: If they have the most markers at the speakeasy, and more than all the other players combined.
The third phase (Fire up the Still) simply involves each player rolling all the dice they have on their still(s). Players receive a number of crates from the bank, which they place in their back room, equal to the sum of their rolled dice. In rounds four through twelve, the player whose family still (not remote still) produces the most crates has a “Copper” figurine placed at their still. If a player with the copper rolls a “5” on any of their Family still dice, then their family still produces no whiskey that round.
Players then “Run the Whiskey” (Phase four). Players load up their crates into their trucks, making sure to hold to the truck’s limitations (4, 6, or 9 crates). Players may sell crates to each other, or rent their trucks, or make any kind of deal they want during this round. All crates must be loaded or discarded. Players then move their trucks, in turn order, to the Speakeasies. Each Speakeasy has three lanes, marked by one, two, or three stars (except O’Malley’s, which has only one lane.) The player who has the controlling influence or majority influence in a speakeasy is the only person who may use the three star lane. Players with minority influence use the two star lane, and players with no influence in that speakeasy use the one star lane.
During the “What’s the Password” phase, players roll the number of dice shown on each speakeasy to show the demand there (O’ Malley’s has no dice rolled - consumption there is unlimited). For each improvement token on the speakeasy, players add one to each die rolled. The Speakeasy then buys that many crates, starting with the trucks in lane three, then lane two, and finally lane one, in order of the trucks that are in those lanes. If the demand is not enough, the trucks too far back in the queue just discard their crates. The controlling or majority player decides whether the trucks in the one star lane sell their crates. Each player sells their crates for the price listed on the Speakeasy, discarding the crates. If a speakeasy has a controlling player, that player receives a profit per crate sold - even crates from their own trucks.
During the last phase, all the muscle cards played are discarded, the round token is moved, and play proceeds to the next phase. At the end of turns four and eight, each player gets one free influence marker to put in their back room (the player in last place gets two influence markers). Play proceeds until either one player gets $100,000 (in which case they win) or after the twelfth round is over, in which case the player with the most money is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: I’ll start with the biggest gripe people have with the game, and that’s the shortage of money in games with a lot of players. However, Eagle Games recently announced that this is only a problem in the first print run, and they will send extra money to whoever needs it - excellent customer service. Other than that, my only miniscule gripe was that the numbers on the trucks weren’t easily distinguishable. However, you can download sticker numbers online, and it’s not that big of a deal regardless. With those mentioned, I absolutely loved the components. Everything, from the artwork to the plastic henchmen was just top notch. It fit the theme quite well, and the game was just fun. Best of all were the little wooden cubes and trucks. As stupid as it sounds, there’s just a lot of pleasure to be found loading up cubes in trucks and driving them around. If the game only came with the trucks, I would have been happy. But using the plastic henchmen for influence tokens is so much niftier than cardboard tokens and definitely added the “Eagle” touch to this SDR design. The trucks and men are made out of good quality plastic, and the game provides a lot of little dice, which are used heavily (Steve Jackson, take note!). The cards are of good quality with time-period artwork on them, and the board looks like a boardwalk right out of a mobster movie. Eagle Games proves once again that they put out some of the best component-heavy games on the market.
2.) Rules: This is easily the best rulebook Eagle Games has put out so far, it was very clear, and the sixteen-page booklet had many illustrations, pictures, and rule clarifications. The game itself is rather simple, with the only possibly confusing things being the cards; but there are explanations of them in the rules, with clarifications being made on timing, etc. The game can be taught in a fairly short amount of time, and the game can be explained a bit at a time - like explaining each card as they are turned up.
3.) Theme: Some people may not want their kids pretending to be mobsters selling whisky and muscling their way into illegal booze fronts. But the game, if this sort of thing doesn’t bother you, really holds true to the theme! We were talking like mobsters, driving our little trucks around the table, and setting up armed convoys. Perhaps the amount of luck in the game (the rolling of the dice) would scare some away, but the theme solidly plunks the game back down into the fun category. This is most true with the Mob cards.
4.) Mob Cards: The mob cards add a huge “take that” factor to the game, which some folk love, and others hate. These cards allow players to hijack another player’s truck, steal whiskey from their still, force players to pay money to the bank, destroy influence markers in a speakeasy, and other nasty things. Now, added into the flavor of the game, this really helps the negotiation phase. “Give me $3,000, or I’m going to hijack your truck!” and other cruel threats can be heard throughout the game. The board is really nice, and the way the components match the theme really helps game play. Putting cardboard tokens on a grid and putting blocks directly on the board might work, but the henchman plastic figures mesh with the artwork, which meshes with the little trucks. This game oozes with theme.
5.) Strategy: I’ve mentioned how there is a certain luck factor in the game, and someone who rolls high can make a killing on a certain turn. But, the game seeks to thwart that by the usage of the “copper”. Knowing when to play the right Muscle card is crucial and can involve a bit of bluffing. It’s a bit annoying to play the “72” muscle card and find that the next highest card was the “23”. Everyone has the same range of cards, and playing the highest card when a good Mob card is on the table is critical. Getting a remote still up and running is very useful, but so is having total control of a speakeasy. The cool thing about the game is that you can’t control everything, even when you are on top of your game. In one game, I tried to control a fleet of trucks that I rented out to other drivers, while in another I tried to take over several of the speakeasies. There are different general strategies, all adding to the fun.
6.) Fun Factor: Bootleggers was pure fun. The guys from SDR games have really produced some fun rules, and the bits from Eagle are just fantastic. It may sound silly to you, driving trucks around, and having turf wars with henchmen; but it really is a lot of fun, especially combined with good mechanics. Not everyone I played the game was as enamored as I was, but everyone did have fun and enjoy the game. Teenagers especially loved it - the toy factor was huge, but the game play had some real meat.
There have been arguments before about combining American theme and German mechanics successfully. (There will probably be more when people read this review.) But the designers, by their own words, deliberately set about to create a nice morphing of the two. And I believe they’ve succeeded. No one will call this game dry, boring, or over analytical. But at the same time, I can’t see anyone calling it luck-driven, random, or chaotic. Bootleggers is an excellent American-themed game that should appeal to Euro gamers. It’s Eagle’s best product yet, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks that they might enjoy the theme.
“Real men play board games.”
Played twice and really liked it. Fun, easy play, nice components and a "clean" design that has very good player-interaction (unlike, say, Agricola). In our game, people were making deals and "offers U kent refoooze" by the 2nd turn!
It's been a while since I played Bootleggers, but what I remember was: Good theme, poor execution. It seemed that we spent several hours doing the same thing, over and over. Roll dice, move trucks, load trucks, move trucks, unload trucks. Maybe it's just because I'm not a boardgamer, but I found myself wishing I was playing D20 Mafia, not this board game. It wasn't awful, it was just repetative. The concept was good, the graphics were good, I liked all the little pieces . . . it just went on too long.