Luigi and the Boys

Review of board game The Mob by Pevans

The setting of Gibson's latest boardgame is obvious from the title: The Mob can only be about one thing. Inside the large, though strangely flimsy, box is a mounted mapboard depicting an anonymous US city of the Thirties. Marked out are the various rackets and legitimate businesses, together with a few incidental locations. Each player gets a cardboard 'mat' on which to lay out their eight mobsters and eight anonymous hoods - their family.

Despite this, the game is driven by card play. Each player is dealt a hand of five cards and play then goes round the table five times, so all the cards are played, before players draw their income (if any). This comes from the rackets (and legitimate businesses) controlled by each family. Players can then buy gold bars with their cash at the bargain price of $100,000 for each bar. The first player to amass ten gold bars (i.e. $1 million) wins the game.

The cards are of three types and, as with all card games, what you can do is governed by the hand you've been dealt. There is some scope for tuning your hand since players can discard and replace cards (once only) at the start of each round. However, it is the skill of the player that determines how well they do with the cards. Crucial, of course, is the order in which they're played.

Da business

Playing a legitimate business (white) allows the player to run the business (by putting a single family member on the board). Action cards (purple or grey) allow the player to do something such as sending an opponent's mobster to the restaurant or, in the case of the most feared cards in the pack, rubbing out everybody in a particular racket. The main group of the cards, though, are for the rackets. Playing one of these (coloured according to the racket's minimum value) allows a player to place mobsters (of at least that value) into the racket.

Income is gained at the end of the five rounds for each legitimate business and each racket in which a player has mobsters. Legitimate income depends on the number of gold bars owned: the more gold, the more income (though this is never particularly high). Income from rackets depends on the value of the mobsters in there. This ranges from $100,000 for the Don, to $20,000 for the novice in each family, while the anonymous hoods are worth $5,000 apiece. The point to remember is that, at this stage, the nominal value of the racket is irrelevant.

Muscling In

The fun starts when one player has a card for a racket that someone else is already in. To move in, s/he must place mobsters in the racket whose value is greater than the total of the current occupant(s). This gives the new player control and removes the original player's pieces. Named mobsters are dead (turned "toes up" on the player's mat), but hoods can be bought back (at $5,000 a go).

So players have to estimate what value of mobsters it is worth putting into an area. You want to bring in a decent income and not make it too easy for someone else to move in on you. However, too big a value and you're an immediate target for hostile actions - either a takeover or being rubbed out by a card. Plus, of course, there's the uncertainty of whether anyone actually has the appropriate cards to try and take the racket away from you. The cards dealt out each time are no more than half the pack, so anything is possible.

There is, of course, a definite advantage to being the very last player in a round - nobody can do anything about the last card you play, so it's a good time to bring out your Don. However, a special rule limits what can be done, so that the player doesn't get too big an advantage. Of course, knowing those restrictions, the second to last player now has something of an advantage too.

Nobody Wants a War

Another special rule, for use when playing with five or six people (the game is actually designed for four), is that players must play in an empty racket before they can attack an occupied one. This is a good idea as the game can be extremely bloody - potentially ending up with people accumulating money very slowly as all their mobsters have been wiped out. Of course, if one or two players are considerate and don't attack, they will be at a definite disadvantage to their more belligerent opponents. Hence there's a definite pressure to keep on the attack (the best form of defence), leading to Mutually Assured Destruction. This can occur with a smaller number of players, too, so it's worth considering applying this rule with three or four players (particularly the people I play with!).

As gold bars are displayed openly, all players can see who's ahead and they become targets - as do those who haven't lost many mobsters yet. However, one other wrinkle is that, other than the income from legitimate businesses, there is no incentive to broadcast how well you're doing by buying lots of gold bars. Instead you can save the cash and buy 6 or 8 (or even 10) in one go to win. Players thus have to estimate how well each other is doing when working out who to attack. If this isn't to your taste, limiting players to a maximum purchase of 2 or 3 gold bars a turn will provide an indicator, while leaving some room for uncertainty. The physical production of the game is pretty good, and the artwork is excellent, I particularly liked the neat touch of naming each family member.

In play the game provides tension between the players, with scope for bluff, counter-bluff and outright gambling. It has provoked mixed reactions amongst those I've played it with. The more careful, calculating gamer seems to find it too unpredictable, but gamers with a gambling streak like it. I have to say that I fall into the latter category - though my gambling streak is invariably of the unlucky variety. The Mob provides opportunities for honesty and for skulduggery, for quiet revenue garnering and for sudden blitzes, for playing the odds and for gambling. In short, it's a good game.

The Mob was published in the UK by Gibson's and in Germany (as Capone) by Amigo. It is for 4 players, with additional rules for 3, 5 or 6, and takes 1˝-2 hours to play. Pevans rates it 7/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 83, August 1994 and then in Games & Puzzles 7 (Oct 1994)..

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