Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.
Originally posted on menwithdice.com.
This is Mob Ties, where you have the chance to immerse yourself in the high stakes world of organized crime, fending off threats from both other players and the feds. You’ll get a chance to shoot your opponents in the middle of a little league game as they are about to embrace their child. And if they’re encroaching on your racket, take care of them by serving them poisoned spaghetti as they’re enjoying their evening meal at Little Italy. Watch out though, ‘cause if the feds get tipped off about the hookers in your trunk, you might get shanked in prison.
Each player controls 5 mobsters, who move among the seedy locations in the city in order to control the illicit dealings operating there. Cash is king – whoever has the most, wins. Money is obtained throughout the game through controlling rackets, and each surviving mobster has a cash value.
Mob Ties has a central game element known as a show of respect. The show of respect is used to determine various things in the game. Each mobster has a respect value ranging from 1 through 3. Players use their respect to vote for a player to get whatever award is at stake in a location. Let’s say you have 4 respect in a location, I have 3, and Fat Tony has 2. Through threats, intimidation, bribery, extortion, promises, cajoling, and funny accents, Fat Tony could convince me to use my respect to vote for him, giving him a total of 5, out-respecting your 4.
A Don is selected each round via a show of respect in the Don’s Mansion. The game comes with a skull ring to be worn by the Don, which the rules require a player to flaunt as a symbol of power. As a house rule, we sometimes allow the Don to wear the ring with humility. The Don has a few perks. He’ll draw 2 cards, select one, and give the other one away. Cards can be otherwise pricey to afford. The choice of who to give the card to opens up some negotiation. To convince the Don to give you the card, perhaps you could promise not to kill one of the Don’s men or give him money.
Most locations have a racket value. There will be a show of respect in each location to determine who will collect the money from that racket. The cash distributions for each racket will present more opportunities for negotiation.
Players will then get a chance to play attack cards to whack opposing mobsters. This game can get pretty bloody pretty fast. When there’s a gun to your head, it’s amazing how quickly players can be willing to make a deal. There’s always attempts to get cash while attacking. “How many of your mobsters do you want to live?”
“Well, all of them.”
“Then give me all your money!” The colorful language in the response and the bloodbath of retribution is rather enjoyable.
In addition to the pressures coming from other players, the game will spawn fed tokens to random locations each turn. When a location accumulates 4 fed tokens, the feds move in to pinch a mobster. To determine which player has to send one of his mobsters to prison, a show of respect is performed.
Mob Ties provides a few basic rules to offer an open ended format for negotiation. Because of the negotiation, this game results in maximum player interaction seen only in titles such as Battlestar Galactica. I’m really impressed with how the game creates a platform for players to come up with creative ways to threaten, intimidate, or bribe. In a group of completely dry gamers firmly dedicating to not being aggressive, then this game could fall flat on its face. But, it does everything it can to create an atmosphere where players have a lot of freedom to practice aggressive persuasion.
The terms of negotiation is chosen before each game: All Bets are Off or Honor Among Thieves. If there’s honor among thieves, all promises are binding and must be upheld. If all bets are off, players can break their word. The very fact that the game has this option is a cool feature. It allows for the group to have a fun decision on how much backstabbery potential the session will have.
Mob Ties isn’t a strategy game, but neither is it a purely social game. There are gamer games, which feature strategic decision making and complex elements, and then there’s party games, which primarily induce interaction. The genres merge in the form of gamer party games, like The Resistance or Cash and Guns, which have a pinch of strategy and complication, but still primarily induce interaction. Within that spectrum, I’d place Mob Ties right between gamer’s party game and gamer’s game.
Gamer games Mob ties Gamer party games Party Games
Mob Ties’ biggest achievement is successfully creating an atmosphere among the players that reflects and enhances the game’s setting. Everything about the game’s presentation facilitates the aggressive mobster mentality. All of the card’s artwork is dark and in the style of a graphic novel. No discussion of this game is complete without acknowledging the artwork. For Mob Ties, the artwork isn’t merely ascetically pleasing or facilitate easy game functionality. Instead, it is an essential ingredient to the environment that the game produces.
The art is decidedly adult, with images prominently depicting blood and violence, and minimal sexuality. The artwork is both a gift and a curse. Among adults, in a very real way it adds to the enjoyment of the game through creating the ambiance of the game. If your gaming experience is predominantly a family one, then this could be a very real show stopper. Although most of my group has otherwise unquestionable moral standards, yet they are all adults, and have had a blast with no complaints regarding the artwork. If I were playing with children or in a family setting, I would not consider putting this out on the table.
Other nice touches is the blood stained money, the Don’s skull ring, and the blood and guns on the game board. Virtually every component and element is designed to highlight the mobster tone. It really helps differentiate this from just a fun light gamer’s party game to an adult cutthroat aggressive negotiating experience.
If the conversation above the table was removed, there wouldn’t be much of a game left to enjoy. While it is the negotiation that drives and is the heart of this game, it is not devoid of thoughtful decision points traditionally featured in gamer’s games. One would be the movement phase. You get one and exactly one movement each turn. This forces players to not squat and stay put, but forces the balance of power to be dynamic. It also prevents the game from getting out of control with everyone moving around. This decision often takes the longest for players, since it is the weightiest in the game. Each movement can have large ramifications in determining who controls each location, and taking advantage of opportunities while not opening up ones for your opponent makes this single decision each round a tough one.
There’s also hand management decisions. The game will allow you to play as many cards as you like, so it’s tempting to blow your wad in the first round – but will leave you bereft of cards later. There’s often a temptation to spend all you’re good cards at the start of the game, but it takes discipline to manage your hand the wisest. You’re given a formidable number of cards to start, but unless you’re the Don or good friends with him, coming across new cards will set you back $25,000, which could easily be the difference between first and second place.
With Mob Ties, more mobsters is merrier. The number of players the game can support is 3 to 6, which is nice that it can accommodate a broad range of turnouts for game night. However, the experience is often better when you’re in the higher end of the player range. I probably won’t try it again with less than 5. The more players, the more interaction, the more negotiation, and the harder you’ll have to fight for your money. This is a double edged sword, though. Like all games that heavily rely on negotiation, there is potential for the game to be slowed down by excessive debate and posturing. So while the pace of the game could diminish with a lot of participants, the good news is that the negotiation is stirring and sometimes deadly, and not just haggling over the cost of indigo in Renaissance Italy.
The game length is directly related to how many mobsters get killed and incarcerated. The game finishes once mobsters equal to 3 times the number of players are eliminated. Depending on the level of aggression, the ratio of attack to defense cards, and the willingness for players to compete for rackets, it can occasionally take too long for the death toll and incarceration rate to rise quickly enough, and the game sometimes lasts a little longer than it should considering its depth.
The game comes with a separate rulebook full of variants, optional rules, and advanced rules. It gives you lots of options to customize your Mob Ties experience as you see fit. Some make the game harsher, while some allow the game to be more forgiving. I’ve tried all of the optional rules, and some of them have fallen completely flat and were ignored or unused by all players. Which is fine, since they are just optional variant suggestions. It’s nice to know there’s ways to customize your experience.
Mob Ties is able to give you a unique gaming experience. For what other game lets you fatally bludgeon your opponents in the face with golf clubs if you get tee’d off at them, or interrogate them by sticking their hand in a meat grinder? And those hookers in the trunk? Fuhgeddaboutit.