The Godfather board game review:
Have you been looking high and low for a game where the tears of your enemies are as valuable as victory points?
Have you had fantasies of Wall Street burning to the ground while the Hudson overflows with the bodies of other challenges?
Are you the sort of gamer whose only measure of victory is the complete and utter annihilation of your opponents?
People, let’s talk about the Godfather: Corleone’s Empire.
Designed by Eric M. Lang and published by CMON Limited, Godfather puts you in the shoes of one of the competing mafia families in 1950’s New York. Mechanically, it’s a worker placement game with area control elements. Thugs will get you higher quality goods from a single store through front-store shakedowns, while family members will get you lower-quality goods from the backs of every store in each adjacent area. You can complete jobs, which not only reward you with cash, but also a one-off special ability. More on this later.
Turf wars determine who controls each of the 7 areas. Controlling an area grants a boon -whenever an opponent shakes down the front of a store, the controller gets the same ability.
The win condition is simple - most cash wins. To count, cash needs to be stored in the suitcase each player gets at the beginning of the game. This makes accountants incredibly important as any money left in your hand at the end of the round risks being discarded in tribute to the Don.
So far, so standard for worker placement, but that’s not what defines the Godfather experience. See, what makes Godfather so special is that it comes with a mechanically- driven streak of absolute sadism.
This is not a game where you get to hide. If you’re hoping to sit back and let your opponents go at each other while you chase an alternate win condition, you’re in for disappointment. Money is a surprisingly rare resource on the board and you’ll never get rich chasing the 1-dollar storefronts. In fact, most of your rewards are a) items with which to complete jobs or b) more jobs.
The game does a fantastic job of driving you to complete these little beauties. They come with high cash rewards, they’re worth bonus money if you complete the most of each type, and their completion is key to extending your turn and manipulating the board. See, once you place your final worker, that’s it. You’re done for the round and at the mercy of whatever your opponents have left. The longer you can hold off on placing your figures, the more impact you can have on the game. This is particularly evident with the GUN jobs like Car Bombs or Drive-by Shooting where you outright remove your opponent’s figures for the round, opening previously closed stores and increasing your influence during turf wars. Other jobs allow you to move your opponent’s thugs around, cause your opponents to discard; one even has you steal money directly from an opponent’s suitcase and add it to yours.
For the first time in a long time, I found myself white-knuckling it through opponent turns, praying that the next job to be played didn’t screw me over too badly. Areas I thought were guaranteed where stolen from under my nose. Money I was convinced was safe, was stolen by my key rival. Resources I desperately needed wound up under my opponent’s control, forcing me to give them free resources just so I could remain competitive.
I don’t know that I enjoyed Godfather. I’m not an extremely competitive person. I prefer co-op games or games where I can turtle and do my own thing, follow my own faction specialities or go for win conditions the other players are ignoring. And I’m sure you’d agree, I am well served in that area by any number of other games.
Which is why I think Godfather is worth talking about. Amidst a sea of games with cleverly designed mechanics to ensure you stay in the game no matter what, Godfather stands up and says “No. You want it, you earn it!” There are virtually no random elements to blame. You own every decision, every action and every enemy you make. It is utterly unapologetic and, for that, I applaud it.
Godfather post-mortem – Tension, betrayal and offers you literally can’t refuse.
This is not a game where you ‘play nice’. This is a game where every opponent figure in a zone is a threat, where the only way to play is to be as cutthroat as possible, where the very act of getting ahead always comes with a critical downside for someone. It’s cruel, gruelling and punishing.
And that’s what makes it beautiful.