I meant to post this a couple of days ago while it was still fresh in my head, but unfortunately, BGG has been down for the last year.
However, there are a couple of things that have stuck with me since playing it. This report will be a bit of a patchwork quilt. Please keep in mind that the game was played with mostly "Euro-minded" players. More thematic games like BSG do make it to the table however.
Most of us enjoyed the game! There was some feeling that a first play was a bit too long. I do not necessarily agree, but I do think that play time will come down dramatically after a first play. The last three rounds played much faster than the first two. Total game time took right around two hours which included rules explanation.
We had a very exciting ending where it came down to two rolls of the dice for a whacking that decided first and second place. The player in second was just trying to whack one of the gangsters to reduce the first place player's overall Respect. The last two rounds were very exciting overall.
There might not be so much of a runaway "leader" problem, but more of a "runaway loser" problem. One player got into a position where they were very low on cash, respect, and useful cards after the first round, and never really caught up. They were able to get some effective point generation in the last couple of rounds to come in within ten points of the "pack" of players in first second and third, but they honestly never had a shot at winning the game. Even with the "welfare rule" they never drew any worthwhile cards, and nine times out of ten drew cards that would cost them $5 to play anyway.
Our feeling regarding the overall supply of cards and money was that it should be increased, and possibly the cost to play $5 "anytime" cards should be decreased to probably $3. The game is more about theme and negotiation (and fun!) than it is about resource management or even economic strategy. When played with that in mind, I don't think a player should ever feel "knocked out" of the game.
To put it simply, the player's should have more than enough game-driven options available to them. The "strategy" and "winning" should come from the deception and negotiation... which is more mafia-like anyway.
Maybe let players draw X + 2 number of cards and keep X (1, 2, or 3) based on the welfare rule. The players can and should be brutal to each other. The game should help them out
Some rule specific comments:
Change 6: Whenever a gangster makes a move, whether or not they were successful, one neutral influence is placed on them. This is a result of them getting their “hands dirty”.
We actually forgot this even though we rarely Made a Move in the game. It seems fiddly, but I'm not sure what drove the change. Could be we just need to get used to it.
We actually used "whacking" much more than "making a move". Maybe because there was no obvious respect penalty, other than losing money, which can be bad enough.
Players can remove ONE of their own influence markers per round as part of a deal
I actively HATE this rule. We had it happen twice where a gangster had 10 cubes on them, and the player controlling the gangster just said, "OK, I remove one cube now as we are going into the 'Fed' stage". It's VERY gamey. I don't know how you fix it. The argument was that the player in question was "negotiating" with the entire table and removing the cube. We made him pay for his gamey-ness however
This is awesome. It only played into the game as directly influencing an action a couple of times, but it was a huge deterrent in preventing people from placing influence on the gangster with a blackmail token.
The Family Phase
We had a situation in the 2nd to last round where the Top 3 gangsters were removed to jail all at once along with one of the lower level gangsters. It was pretty fun... but there was some confusion as to how to fill up the open spots. We ran out of Soci cards and had huge gaps that we had to pass cards through. We house-ruled it on the spot, and it wasn't that big of a deal really. Just an interesting outlier. It might be because of the gamey-ness of the rule mentioned above. Man, I really hate that rule.
Sorry for the patchwork of impressions.
Overall the game is definitely promising and I personally feel it has a great sort of throw-back feel to it. I know it's based on Kremlin, and it really feels like a much more thematic game than a pure strategy game. My only real issue is, "Let the players loose so they can connive and back stab to their heart's content!"
I certainly agree that there is not enough money in the game in general so things are left out or avoided as the players cant afford the actions. With the influence placement being so important quite rightly then spending money is going to happen during this phase. If a player could choose to skip this bidding war one turn and could do more with their money it would play better I believe. Lets make some more money flow in the game so players can use it to get back in if struggling and leading players can try and protect their lead etc.
I still think the welfare rule should allow extra influence to be placed instead of gaining extra cards that can sometimes not give an advantage.