What's the problem with real good and highly artistical (gameplay, mechanics, components) games at parties with a lot of non-gamers around? People get turned off before the game as gotten the chance to prove itself. Better option for those occasions is a light, fun-themed fast-playing (card) game. These requirements are met for the old game, which has been redesigned (only artwork wise), of Family Business.
The reason for playing this game besides what I've outlined above, is the desire for many youngsters, to act out and conduct a mob war, which has been seen in so many films and read in so many books. It's a safe way to jump into adventure. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, cause while this all may be true, it's equally true that this game is not to be taking seriously purely from the game. It's starts to get interesting when you have a nice crowd of players (and possible bystanders for increased effect) and politics begins to burst into the group. But first a short lay out of the game.
Every player gets to put in front of them on the table 9 mobsters, each signified with a distinct name (that doesn't effect the game one bit) and to what clan they belong. Objective is simple: be the last one standing.
Every player then gets dealt 5 cards from a pile. There are a couple type of cards, which can be roughly divided into attack and rescue cards. Attack cards mean is to put one or more of the mobster(s) of the other player(s) on the notorious hit list. This hit list is in the center of the table, and once the hitlist has 6 mobsters on it, a mob ware ignites. Every turn, the top mobster (either put first on the list, or rearranged as being the first on the list) gets ripped, burned, clipped, whatever you wanna call it. A mob war ends traditionally when there are no more thugs on the list.
Besides putting mobsters on this list, you can also save your thugs from the list, hence the rescue cards. Some of the cards, attack as well as rescue, can be countered by another card, and then there are cards that can stop or start a mob war by themselves, or wipe all of the mobsters on the list in one blow. Finally there are cards that can substitute gangsters.
In your turn, you may draw a card and then play one attack or rescue card. If you react out of your turn to anyone's card, you may draw up to 6 cards, cause when you react, it is your turn right a way. Well, next it's on to the Bruce Willis stance and be the last man standing, really.
I tried to put things as simple as possible, but if you still have trouble seeing the bigger picture, you should get to play some rounds and things become perfectly clear. It is not that complicated.
What makes the game beyond what the game offers, is the politics. Once every player has an idea of what to do it is how you manage to successively wear down your opponents' mobsters, while getting yours out of the crossfire. Cards like Vendetta or Double Cross, where you make each of your opponents to put one or two mobsters on their list, are bound to find reactions like everyone putting a contract on your mobsters (aka putting them on the list).
Like so, you can also choose not to play a card, but discarding one, revealing to every player that you have no intentions of such action, which can be a diplomatic decision. Well, the rest is a question of being successful or not in demonizing your opponents, while they shoot each other to sinders, while you keep just a mobster or two above average, so that you don't become a main target.
Which is as far as you've got to take this game seriously, if you have at all. It is fun, entertaining, and challenging, if you hold in mind, you've got to deal with the politics and psychology that comes in influencing your opponents. So, if two or more players decide you are their objective, you have no chance, other than seeking an equal alliance with another player, which can lead into clan merging. This part is the part I like the most about this game, besides the simpleness and the theme (big fan of Pacino, De Niro and such). Also, the more players, the merrier. I'm not sure if the new version (2006) has more players to boost, but that could have been easily done if they'd put some more cards to play in the pack, while adding some more clans as well. The last is somewhat less imperative, since you can use any kind of similar objects as tokens for your mobsters.
Finally, some thoughts on the components of the game. In the old version (the one I have played exclusively), every mobster in a clan is alike, even Bonny and Clyde have the same face as all the others in their clan. This could be more tastefully done with some varying artwork. Especially when they have used the names of well-known crooks in the business, like forementioned couple, Al Capone, Bugs, among others.
The playing cards are nice and clear in depicting what they do, and they handle fine throughout. The feature of a wall, or corridor or whatever you may call it, is a nice add on for the theme, but is not that important for the feel of the game.
A peculiar similarity though can be found in a game of Guillotine, where you send assorted nobles to the falling knife. So if you're not into mob wars, but like France under Robespierre, you can equally pick that one (the goofiness there is somewhat more apparent, as is evident from the artwork).
If you want a game with lots of party potential, simple to learn, and good for political and psychological messing around, you're sure to like this one too, especially if you're in to the mob theme.
I agree with everything you said. My only complaint is that it's not really a game at all - that is you can't get "good" at it because, as you have stated, it all comes down to politics. As soon as someone used to win a few in a row - BAM! everyone's taking down the new "leader" - especially if he let's it be known he's won the game a few times. But then again, I guess that's also in keeping with the theme