Bootleggers Review

Sometimes when shopping for games you wind up getting a great deal. One of the games that I had never heard of that I bought because of this reason was Bootleggers.

Do you remember prohibition? If not, then (like me) you probably weren't alive in the 1920's. Fortunately, to teach young gamers about this time, Eagle Games created a game about it. In Bootleggers, each player takes on the role of a mafia which is trying to make the most money by creating whiskey and selling it to speakeasies. (Yeah, "speakeasies". More things that you might not be familiar with if you weren't alive in the 1920's.) To play the game, there are several phases. First, each of the players picks one of their "muscle" cards. Next, in muscle card order, each of the players gets to take a special card. After this, players can "send in the boys" in order to influence speakeasies. Next, players produce whiskey based on the number of stills that they have available (each still provides a die that determines how much is generated). Finally, the players sell their whiskey to the open speakeasies and make money for it.  (How much depends on who controls the speakeasy and how much demand the speakeasy has - again determined by dice.  Bigger speakeasies have more dice.) The game continues like this until one of the players has made a certain amount of money or the players have played a certain number of rounds. At the end, whoever has the most money wins.

The first pro of Bootleggers (which has a con associated with it) is how the muscle cards work. Each of the players starts with one muscle card for each round of the game (8 in a short game, 12 in the full game). The muscle cards are separated into 4 different colors, which each represent a spread of about 15 numbers. (ie, cards 1-15 are red, 16-30 are yellow, or something like that). The different colors are shuffled separately and then dealt to the players so that they get the same number of each color. During the game the players must determine how important it is for them to go first each round, as they will wind up playing all of their muscle cards during the game - if they burn their highest cards in the first round they will get stuck going last in the later rounds. Plus, each muscle card has a dollar amount associated with it that the player must pay - the little cards are free, but the higher cards cost quite a bit (though now that I think about this, all the cards wind up being played and all of the players have roughly equal cards, so all the players will spend approximately the same amount throughout the game on cards.  Seems like this element of the muscle cards may be pointless).

The con of how the muscle cards works is that it makes the game not "fair" (or "even" if you prefer). Most of the middle cards balance out throughout the game since you play them when you just don't want to go last, so they're not really important. What is important is what each player receives on the high end. There will most likely be a round during the game in which several players desperately want to go first. In this round, they will all play their highest card, and whoever wound up getting the highest card dealt to them goes first. I'm not really a fan of how that winds up playing out, but it is somewhat minor and didn't detract from the game too much.

The next pro about Bootleggers is how well it implemented the theme. Whereas lots of games take a game mechanic and then plaster a theme onto it, I felt like the theme was integrated well here. Granted I'm not very imaginative, but I can't really envision the mechanics used in Bootleggers in a game with a different theme (unless it was incredibly abstract - yes, euro games may be able to use these mechanics).

Finally, Bootleggers was a pretty fun little lighthearted game. It plays relatively quickly, is pretty easy to teach people and I enjoyed playing the game. That is definitely a pro. However...

Bootleggers lacks replayability. I enjoyed my first few games of it, but then I found a strategy to the game that seems to be overpowered. Since you have stumbled upon my site, I will generously share with you this strategy... control a decent speakeasy and sell all of your whiskey there. It often takes quite a bit of patience to do this (and you look like you're getting destroyed during the first half of the game, which is actually useful because the player in last gets extra influence markers on certain turns).  Nevertheless, if a player focuses on collecting influence markers and then keeps all of them until they have enough to permanently take control of a speakeasy, it is almost impossible to beat them. As much as I enjoyed this game, once I realized that there was really only one strategy that worked, I essentially gave up on playing it.

Overall, Bootleggers receives a 7.0/10. I enjoyed the game, but it doesn't hold my interest for long enough to receive a better score. I think you should definitely play this game once, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it, because you probably won't get more than a few plays out of it. Also, you should try to get as big a game of it as possible going when you try it, because the mechanics seem to work best when it is a full game (6 players I believe).

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