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"You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun." -- Al Capone
Throughout the 1920's and 1930's, rival gangsters compete in a life or death struggle for control of the gleaming city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Each district is hotly contested, because in the end there can be only one "King of Chicago"!
You play a mob boss. You compete with your fellow bosses. Through careful placement of your "boys", you control important locations throughout the city. But time is limited! Only three days remain for you to exert influence in the neighborhoods. Use these days wisely, because the gangster with the most influence at the end is proclaimed the boss of bosses!
Beware! Your opponents seek the same raw glory. Take care, because if a gangster is invited down to the river for breakfast, he might not be around for supper!
Gather up your boys, hop in the sedan, and see if you have the skill, the cunning, and the ruthlessness to become Chicago's top Gangster!
- 100 Gangster cubes
- 5 Automobiles
- 5 Scoring markers
- 15 District tiles
- 13 Scoring cards
- 6 Casino cards
- 5 Gangster playmats
- 30 Upgrade markers
- 15 Movement cards
- 8 Doubler tokens
- 3 Information cards
- 1 Board
- 1 Rulebook
Average Rating: 3 in 2 reviews
NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine
Two gangster-themed games were released by major companies during the Spiel in Essen: Chicago Poker by Phalanxand Gangster by Amigo. The booths of both companies were decorated accordingly, and they were quite eye-catching. I didn't have the opportunity to play either during the convention, but did have Gangster explained to me by the good folks at the Mayfair booth. The game appeared to be quite interesting, and my subsequent playings confirmed my expectations.
Set in Chicago during the turbulent early 1930s, Gangster places players in the roles of notorious gangsters vying for control of the various districts of the city. Players motor about the city, dropping off henchmen in various districts in an effort to gain control. But players are gangsters, so they don't always play nice. Opposing gangsters are often crammed into the trunks of the players' vehicles, and often unceremoniously dumped into Lake Michigan. Such are the perils of becoming a crime lord!
The rather busy board depicts eleven districts in Chicago, including the Gold Coast, which is the only district that will not be contested as it juts out into Lake Michigan and is the location for dumping gangsters into the frigid waters. Onto each district is placed a tile whereupon players will place their henchmen. Tiles also list points that will be earned for capturing control of a district, with points being rewarded for majority, secondary, tertiary and sometimes quaternary status. The interesting twist is that sometimes more points are earned for finishing in positions other than first, so players are constantly jostling to secure the desired positions. This subtle difference truly had a dynamic impact upon the game.
Each player receives a mat depicting his gangster and his 1930s vintage automobile, three movement cards – 1, 2 and 3 – and a collection of wooden cubes representing henchmen and his vehicle. Players begin the game with nine henchmen, two of which are placed onto the board in two different districts determined randomly. One randomly determined district receives a "doubling" token, which doubles the scores of that area. The game is ready to begin.
A player's turn is quite simple, as he has only two choices:
1) Move. The player inverts one of his movement cards and moves his auto the matching number of spaces. Movement is from district-to-adjacent district, and any number of vehicles can occupy a particular district. Once a player uses a particular movement card, it is not available again until all three cards have been used.
2) Unload / Load Gangsters. Instead of moving, a player may unload one gangster from his vehicle into the district where his vehicle is located. The gangster is placed into the first unoccupied space on the district tile.
In addition, a player may load one gangster from that district tile into his vehicle. If it is one of his own gangsters, it is placed back into the car, receiving a nice, comfortable seat. If, however, the player decides to kidnap an opponent's gangster, it receives less plush accommodations, as it is stuffed into the cramped trunk of the car. Each gangster's vehicle can hold one opponent's gangster in the trunk. This gangster can be unloaded in another district, but more often the ultimate destination for this hapless henchman is Lake Michigan and a swim with the fish.
It is important to note that a player cannot move his vehicle and load and/or unload gangsters on the same turn. As simple as this rule may sound, it is often overlooked during the game, so care must be exercised to insure that the rule is obeyed.
The only exception to this rule is when a player arrives at the Gold Coast. The player may immediately dump any gangsters from his truck into the lake, thereby freeing up space to kidnap more henchmen. In addition, when arriving at the Gold Coast, the player must take one of the three vehicle upgrades currently available. These upgrades give players greater flexibility, including increased movement, extra trunk space, a large door to unload two gangsters per turn instead of just one, protection from kidnappings in the district where a player's vehicle is located, etc. A player may only possess two upgrades, so acquiring a new upgrade may force the player to eliminate a previously acquired modification.
When any player inverts his third movement card, a card is drawn from the scoring deck. If a district card is revealed, a "doubling" token is placed on the district. If one of the three policemen cards is revealed, nothing happens. In either case, the player turns over all three of his movement cards and once again has all of them available for movement purposes.
When the eighth doubling token is placed onto the board, a "Day of Reckoning" occurs. Each district is assessed and points are marked on the scoring track. If the district has a doubling token present, scores for that district are doubled. Some scoring positions in a district are marked with a "?", and the value of that position is determined by the random draw of a card, which can range in value from 1- 6. Seeking that position can be risky, but can also pay handsome rewards.
Ties for control often occur, and are broken in favor of the player whose henchman was placed last. This small rule does inject further tactics into the game, especially when kidnapping gangsters, as players can remove these henchmen so as to secure desired positions in the scoring hierarchy.
After each scoring round, doubling tokens are removed, players receive an influx of new henchmen, and a new turn is conducted in an identical fashion. Gangsters present on the board and in players' vehicles remain from turn-to-turn. After three turns, the game ends, and control of Chicago goes to the player with the most points.
I have been pleasantly surprised with Gangster. It is a fast, fun, and exciting game that is easy to learn and play. At first glance, some may moan that it is just another area control game. That's true, but the scoring twists and ability to kidnap and relocate or eliminate opposing gangsters gives the game a fresh feel. Competition for control of the districts is fierce, and control can change quickly. There is quite a bit of maneuvering for desired positions, which more often than not results in dastardly kidnappings and a steady stream of visits to Lake Michigan!
A typical game of Gangster plays to completion in less than ninety minutes. Player turns are lightning quick, and downtime is virtually non-existent. Since control of districts can change rapidly, players must be ready to adapt their plans to take advantage of changing situations, or to counteract moves from opposing gangsters intent on muscling-in on one of your districts. There is no resting on one's past achievements, as a successful gangster cannot afford to let his guard down.
Gangster is one of the pleasant surprises from this year's Spiel. It won't be confused as a heavy "gamer's game", but rather finds a nice spot in my collection as a fun, light game that forces players to make continuous choices throughout. It is a game that is easy to teach, and can be played competitively and enjoyed by a wide variety of people, both hobbyists and casual gamers alike. As much as I enjoy the "meatier" games, Gangster is the type of game that will likely be played far more often as it is so easily accessible. I enjoy the game's spirit and atmosphere, and the ability to dump my opponents into Lake Michigan is an added bonus!
Gangster (Mayfair Games, 2007 – Thorsten Gimmler) is a game that I thought would be a pretty good marriage of tried-and-true mechanics (area control) with a fun theme (um, gangsters). In the game, players are driving their limousines around the city, possibly with other player's pieces in the trunk, and attempt to control different areas of Chicago. The art and methods of the game seek to really bring across the theming of this era, and I expected the game to be a winner when I brought it out.
And some folks found the game to be fun, especially when they got into the theming of the game. Sadly, I found the game to be fairly pedestrian, with the theme just barely there. There are a lot of good area control games out there, and this one is just a mediocre entry in the group. The theme is interesting, and it works; but it doesn't have enough draw for me to really get into the game. I think that players who came across this game as their first entry into the realm of games that use area control would enjoy it, but the game went on a little too long and was just a bit boring for me.
Each player takes a player mat of their color, along with three movement cards and nine gangster cubes. The rest of the cubes are placed in a pile near the board, and a scoring marker of each player's color is placed on a track that goes around the board. A pile of upgrade markers is shuffled, and three are placed face up in the Gold Coast harbor space. Fifteen district tiles are shuffled, and ten are placed face up on each of the ten districts on the board. A pile of scoring cards are shuffled as well as a pile of casino cards, and they are placed near the board. Each player uses two draw scoring cards to place a cube of their color, with an automobile of their color placed in the first region drawn. One more scoring card is drawn, and a doubler token is placed in the matching district. The player who has seen The Godfather last goes first, and play continues clockwise.
On a player's turn, they either drive or unload/load gangsters. When driving, the player chooses one of their movement cards and moves their auto that many districts, using connecting roads between the districts. The player then turns the movement card they used face down. When all three cards are face down, the top scoring card is revealed; and the player turns all their movement cards face up. If the scoring card shows a policemen, nothing happens; but if a region is shown, then a doubler token is placed in the shown region.
Each region has eight to sixteen spaces in it for gangster cubes, and a player may load a gangster into the first available spot in the region their car is currently in. The player may also take a gangster from a spot and load it back into their card. In fact, players can load another player's gangster into their "trunk" of the car, which only has room for one. A player may unload the gangster in another spot later on if they wish. If a player is at the Gold Coast, they may empty their truck, killing the gangster there; and then they must take one of the three upgrade markers there, adding them to their car (each player may have two upgrades). The upgrades are:
- Bodyguard – If a player's auto is in a region, other players may not affect their gangsters there.
- Trunk – The player can fit two opponent's gangsters in their trunk.
- Bumper – When moving into a region, the player may "push" an opponent's car out of the region.
- Door – The player can place two gangsters in a district per turn.
- Engine – The player may add one to their movement.
- Tommy Gun – The player may add opponent's gangsters into their trunk from adjacent districts.
After eight doubler tokens have been placed on the board, the "Day of Reckoning" occurs (also known as scoring). Each district shows points that are given to the player with the most, second most, third most, and sometimes fourth most gangsters. The numbers are not necessarily in order – sometimes the player with the most does not get the most points. Occasionally no number is shown, but rather a question mark. The top gangster card is flipped, and its value is equivalent to all question marks on the board. Players score points for each district, with ties going to the person who has placed a piece last. The next round of the game is then started, with all cards reshuffled, and players getting six more gangsters to place (all gangsters on the board stay there). At the beginning of the third round players get five more gangsters. At the end of the scoring of the third round, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins the game (ties give the victory to all players).
Some comments on the game...
- Components: The game has a darker overtone, with drab colors and
artwork that tends to portray the grim reality of the mobsters during
this era. It works, for the most part, and the city itself is very
well done; I actually felt as if I was driving around the city. Each
player has a different color and symbol, making it easy to tell the
difference. I wish that gangster pieces had been included rather than
cubes, adding to the theme; but the cubes do work, and it's easy to
tell at a glance who is winning each district. Everything stores well
into a typical-sized box with more of the grim artwork.
- Rules: The rulebook is five full-colored pages that do a good job
explaining the rules, as well as two pages of theme from Robert Nippoldt, author of the book Gangster – Die Bosse von Chicago.
Everything is very clearly explained, and I found that teaching the
game is easy – if only because it makes sense to drive around and drop
off/pick up gangsters. The scoring is a little unusual, since ties
are broken by the last person to place a cube; and it's also strange
to some players that second or third place might score higher than
first, but it all works out once players go through a game or two.
Reference cards are included that explain the meaning of the upgrade
chips, which are simple enough to grasp almost immediately anyway.
- Upgrades: The upgrades are nice, since they allow players to
customize their gangster to a degree. At the same time, none of them
are extremely powerful, and some of them come in handy only a few
times during the game. Two of them in combo can cause some
interesting strategies – such as the Tommygun and Trunk, allowing
players to snag opponent's gangsters from all over the place. At the
same time, these upgrades don't define the game as much as I would
like, and a player can ignore them and have a good shot at winning.
- Interaction: The aspect of the game that I enjoy the most is the
fact that you can pick up other gangsters and deposit them in other
places, or even kill them off in the bay. Granted, taking them to the
bay and dumping them is usually more work than it is worth (although
it is extremely satisfying), but dropping them off in another region
is very useful – especially if it helps a player gain a different
point total because of the new numbers of gangsters there. In fact,
placing other player's gangsters often is more important than placing
your own, since it's usually pretty obvious what a player is going to do.
5.) Timing: The game has an interesting feel; as there is very little downtime, players simply do one action on their turn, and play passes on. At the same time, the game really feels like it lasts entirely too long; the box says ninety minutes, and I just think that's too long for a game of this type. Move, drop off, move, pick up, move, move, pick up, drop off, etc. The game tends to drop into a monotonous zone that could possibly be resuscitated by players who really get into the theme -- but not over an hour and a half! Perhaps if there were only two rounds in the game, it would be better.
- Fun Factor: Some people are going to be drawn to the game based
on theme alone, as the romantic version of mobsters is entertaining,
especially when based on popular movies. And you can find the theme
here if you try hard enough; but in the end the game is a bit boring,
and I'm not seeing how the theme rescues it. I wanted to enjoy the
game; but near the end I find myself thinking about other things,
hoping that the game ends soon.
- Players: The two player game has each player use two colors,
which makes for an interesting and somewhat quicker game. But I'm
convinced that the three player game may be best, if only because of
the higher interaction and slightly faster game.
There are a few folks who would like Gangster – those who are looking to add an area control game to their collection and think this theme would work. And perhaps it might be a good introductory game for some. I, however, really don't have a place for this game in my collection; while the theme is interesting, it's done better in other games – such as Bootleggers. Gangster is a game that tries to look tough and dresses the part, but in action is fairly unimpressive.
"Real men play board games"