How to Play
To begin the game every player picks one of the six crime families (Moran, New York Mob, Bank Robbers, Capones, Murder Inc, and Purple Gang). They take all of the mobsters from that gang and place the cards in front of them. Each player is dealt five cards and the game begins.
Each turn begins with the current player drawing a card so they have six cards in their hand. They will then either play a card for its’ affect or discard a card. The action written on the card is performed and it becomes the next player’s turn. If any player has a counter to the card played and would like to play it, they can play it and that player gets the next turn. In this situation the player will also draw a card immediately before their turn starts so they are back to five cards in their hand.
Throughout the game the object of the game is to get other player’s mobsters on the hit list while trying to keep your mobsters off it. When a mob war starts the first card in the hit list is killed (removed from the game) each turn until the mob war ends. If a mob war is started with a vendetta or ambush card, the first two mobsters are killed each turn. A Mob war is started under the following conditions:
- A mob war, vendetta or ambush card is played.
- There are six or more mobsters on the hit list.
- There are six or fewer mobster cards left in the game.
The game continues until only one player has any mobsters remaining. That player is declared the winner.
Here is a quick rundown of the different cards in the game.
- Contract Card (12 Plain, 3 No Mob Power Counter, 2 No Family Influence Counter, 1 No Mob Power No Family Influence Counter): Force another player to put one of their mobster cards at the back of the hit list.
- Priority Contract (3): Same as a Contract card except that the mobster is put at the front of the hit list.
- Double Contract (3): Forces another player to put two of their mobsters at the end of the hit list.
- Hit (1): Kill one mobster from any player even if they are not on the hit list. You must add one of your own mobsters to the back of the hit list.
- Valentine’s Day Massacre (1): All mobsters on the hit list are killed.
- Double Cross (1): All other players must add one mobster to the hit list. The player who played the card gets to determine the order that they are placed in at the back of the hit list.
- Mob War (1): Starts a mob war.
- Ambush (1): Starts a mob war where the first two mobsters on the hit list are killed each turn.
- Vendetta (1): The same as an Ambush except all of the players except the player who played the card adds two mobsters to the hit list. The player who played the card gets to determine the order in which they are added to the hit list.
- Turncoat (1): One mobster from the player with the most mobsters remaining (off and on the hit list) is removed from the game and the player with the least mobsters remaining gets to retrieve one of their mobsters from the graveyard. If the removed mobster was on the hit list the retrieved mobster takes their place on the hit list. If the removed mobster was not on the hit list the retrieved mobster is placed in front of the player.
- Take It On the Lam (4): Remove one mobster from the hit list. Can be countered.
- Police Protection (2): Remove one mobster from the hit list.
- Substitution (2): Replace one of your mobsters on the hit list with another player’s mobster.
- Intrigue (2): You can rearrange the order of the hit list.
- Truce (1): Stops a mob war. If there are still more than six mobsters on the hit list or six or fewer mobsters left in the game, the mob war immediately restarts.
- Pay Off (1): You can remove all of your mobsters from the hit list.
- Federal Crackdown (1): All mobsters are removed from the hit list and returned to their players.
Counter Cards-Counter cards are only played on other players’ turns.
- Mob Power (3): Reverses Contract and Priority Contract cards (the player who put out the contract needs to put a mobster on the hit list). With Double Contract cards the player who played the contract card and the player who the card was played against both put one mobster on the hit list. Mob Power cards cannot be used against contract cards that prevent Mob Power cards from being played.
- Family Influence (6): Cancels Contract and Priority Contract cards. Double Contract cards only require the player to put one mobster on the hit list instead of two. Cannot be used against contract cards that prevent Family Influence cards from being played.
- Finger (2): Cancels out a Take It On the Lam card.
- Safe House (1): Stops the player from having to play mobsters to the hit list when a Vendetta card is played.
When picking up Family Business I was intrigued by the theme. I am not a huge fan of the mobster genre but it peaked my interest since it would make a good setting for a board game. Family Business is your typical card game. You play cards to help yourself while hurting your competitors. Family Business is a solid game with a decent theme, but it has some issues.
Let’s begin with the theme. Overall I thought the theme was pretty well done. The artwork on the cards is nicely done and does a good job portraying the mobster theme of the game. The mobster cards are particularly well done with the artist’s unique interpretation of some of the mobsters’ mug shots.
In addition to the artwork, the game does a pretty good job of simulating a mob war. One player attacks another player, and that second player then retaliates against the first player. This continues throughout the entire game which gives the game a nice back and forth feel to it.
I question whether the theme is appropriate for children though. The game says that it is for ages 8+. I don’t think an eight year old would have any trouble playing the game since there is not a lot of text on the cards, but I would question whether the theme of the game would work for an eight year old. The game is about mobsters who are killing one another. The game kind of treats in a cartoony fashion and the cards don’t show graphic violence. Parents will need to decide if the theme is too dark for their children.
While I liked the theme for the most part, the theme does somewhat fail in two ways.
There are too many cards that cancel contracts/remove mobsters from the hit list. Unless these mobs are incompetent, I don’t think so many mobsters would get away safely after another mob put out a hit on them. With so many of these cards the game tends to drag on longer than it should. Some of these cards are obviously needed or the game would be way too short since as soon as a mobster was put on the hit list they would get killed right away. In the game I played though it seemed like at least every other contract was canceled one way or another and mobsters kept going on and coming off the hit list.
The other way the theme fails is the mobsters themselves. Each player gets a group of famous gangsters. These are a nice addition to the game but other than cosmetically they do absolutely nothing for the game. No mobster is more valuable than any other mobster so when you have to put a mobster on the hit list you begin to just randomly throw a mobster to the back of the hit list. If the game just went with Mobster #1, Mobster #2, etc the game would not have played any differently. This was a huge missed opportunity in my opinion since I think the game could have had a lot more strategy if some mobsters were more valuable than others and you had to try and protect them.
In addition to some of the failures of the theme, there are a couple other problems with the gameplay.
Family Business is a typical card game. In order to play the game all of the players will need to read the text on the cards and be able to figure out when and how to play the various cards. I know some people either don’t like or have trouble playing these type of games. If that describes someone in your gaming group, this game is not for you. For the most part the text on the cards are pretty self-explanatory and I have seen card games do a much worse job on the card text. On some of the cards, a better job could have been done explaining some of the exceptions regarding the card.
Family Business also has some cards that are kind of rigged. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre card is pretty self-explanatory since if you have no mobsters on the hit list you will be able to kill a lot of your opponent’s mobsters without any penalty to yourself. The turncoat card is pretty rigged if you are in last place since you get to essentially steal a mobster from the player in first place and there is no counter for the player in first to prevent it. The turncoat card is essentially a catch up card that allows a player that has fallen behind the opportunity to catch back up. Finally the Vendetta card is pretty rigged since you will be able to take two mobsters from every other player (unless one has the card that cancels it out) and a mob war is started which kills two mobsters every turn. Since there is only one truce card, the mob war is almost guaranteed to kill all of the mobsters you just put on the hit list.
Another small complaint I have with the game is not being able to save your mobsters on another player’s turn. Since you are unable to save your mobsters on other player’s turns, if you can’t save your mobsters on your turn you will see them die before it gets back to your turn. There were many instances where I had two cards that would have worked really well together but you can only play one card on your turn so by the time your turn comes around again, the second card has lost its’ value to you.
While playing Family Business, I kept thinking back to another game I have played called Guillotine. I won’t get into the details of how to play Guillotine, but the premise of both games are similar. Both games have a line of people and you play cards in order to affect the line and who gets killed. In my opinion Guillotine does a better job than Family Business. Guillotine has more variety in cards, there were more ways for you to defend yourself, and it was just an overall better put together game.
While there are issues with the game which I have spent a lot of time addressing, Family Business is still a solid game. I had fun playing the game and I would play it again.
One thing I give the game a lot of credit for is that it does a great job keeping the game close until the very end. Unless everyone gangs up on one poor person, everyone will be in the game till very close to the end. I think in the game I played, the first person was eliminated while the other players either had one or two mobsters remaining. Unlike in some games where a player is eliminated and they have to sit around a while waiting for the game to end, in Family Business all of the players should stay in the game until the very end.
I also give the game credit for creating an interesting end to the game I played. It was down to the last two players who both only had one mobster left and both were on the hit list. It was my turn and my mobster just so happened to be the mobster who would be eliminated during the next turn. I had no cards to save him (a familiar situation for me the entire game) so I decided to make a drastic move. I was going to die anyway so I decided to go out in a blaze of glory. I decided to end the game with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre card (which I had been holding for most of the game) which killed both of the remaining mobsters. The rules don’t specify who would win in this situation so we decided that the well fought game would end in a glorious tie.
Family Business is what you would call an above average game. The theme is pretty good despite failing in a couple areas. The gameplay is fun but it does have some issues. If you don’t like card games, you won’t get anything out of Family Business. If you like cards games I think you will like the game. If you don’t already have a similar game like Guillotine, I think you should pick up Family Business.