Mob Ties Review

One of the more recent games to be published through Kickstarter is Mob Ties.

In Mob Ties, each player takes on the role of a rival mob family that is trying to take control of the city. To do this, you need influence. And, of course, your goal is to have the most money. But you must be careful of the Feds - they'll try to crack down on your empire if you're not careful. Of course, if there's a member of some other family present when the feds crack down... well, I guess the Feds aren't all bad. During each game round you will first decide on who is the Don for the round - based on who is able to garner the most influence in the Don's Mansion (the Don gets extra cards and is able to serve as the tiebreaker for all other showdowns). Next, you go around each of the other locations and determine who has the most influence - and those players collect money. During this phase, you can also buy new cards (for killing your enemies). Next, each player must move one of his mobsters to a new location. After this, the Feds show up; you flip a number of "Fed" cards based on the current "Heat Level" (this goes up as more mobsters are killed or thrown in jail). If there are more than four Fed markers at a location, then the Feds will arrest somebody (the person with the most influence gets to choose which Family loses a mobster) unless Weapon cards are played (which reduce the number of Feds). Finally, we get to the "Action" phase (that's a polite way of saying the "Kill all of your Rivals" phase). During the Action phase, different cards can be played - but mostly you Attack your enemies... or try to convince the other players to attack each other (possibly by greasing the wheels with a few thousand dollars). Finally, you can bail your mobsters out of jail (if you have the money for it), and then you check to see if the Heat Level is raised. Once the Heat Level is raised three times, the game is over, and whoever has the most money (living mobsters that aren't in jail count towards this) is the winner.

The first thing that you need to realize about Mob Ties is that it is a game of "negotiation" (bribery, extortion, threats, black mail, etc). You are trying to win the game, but you won't do very well if you don't play well with (manipulate) the other players. Sometimes you will need the Don's influence, sometimes you'll be bribing other players to exact revenge for you when you lose a mobster. Sometimes you'll be bribing other players not to attack your mobster. If you enjoy negotiation and social interaction driving a game, then you'll really enjoy this part of Mob Ties. If you play with a group that doesn't enjoy social aspects of games (the kind of people that don't bother making treaties when playing games of Risk (2210)), then your experience with Mob Ties might not be a positive one.  With this negotiation, you also have the option of playing with "Honor Among Thieves" (where you must actually hold up your end of the bargain) or "All Bets Are Off" (where people will regularly stab you in the back after you make a deal).

Mob Doctor's can save a life
Secondly, you need to realize that Mob Ties is not intended for a younger (or easily offended) audience. I have not noticed any profanity in the game, but all of the artwork is intentionally dark and sinister (I showed the Mob Doctor card as an example - it is definitely not one of the worse cards). Plus, one of the locations is "Kitty's" (a strip club), and the artwork shows a woman's butt in a bikini-like outfit. There is nothing in this game that wouldn't be in a PG-13 movie, but if you're going into it looking for a more "family friendly" (hehe... get it?  I like puns, so, if you didn't laugh then you're only punishing yourself) mob game like Family Business or Famiglia, you will be in for quite a surprise!

With that said, my first pro for Mob Ties is the interaction. I like the negotiation aspect of the game, and I especially like the role of the Don. Depending on who plays the Don, the game can work quite differently. A good Don will do everything that he can to be bribed as often as humanly possible. Each turn he draws two cards; one of them he gets to keep, and the other he has to give to another player. A savvy Don will ensure that he doesn't "give" the card to anybody, but makes sure that he gets his at least a few thousand dollars out of this card. I like that the game balances the Don by having it be a location like any of the others - but without a direct monetary aspect (yet with the potential of being either the most or the least valuable location on the board).

The next thing that I really like about Mob Ties is that it has a large amount of variants that you can play. In fact, there is an extra instruction manual included with the game just for these variants (and you also have pieces that are included in the game for them). Do you feel like players are getting eliminated too quickly? Then you can play with the mercenary variant that lets you buy extra mobsters. Do you think that the Feds aren't doing enough? You can start the game by drawing an extra Fed card. Do you really just want to play on everyone's paranoia? Then you can play with one of the player's Associates being an Undercover Fed (of course you don't know which one.... so I guess you need to "take care" of all of them).

The Capo - the king of your crime syndicate
One of the final things that I think is interesting about Mob Ties is that it is a very bloody game. Depending on how you and your friends play the game (and how many of you are playing), it is quite possible that five or more mobsters are killed in the first round. The game helps encourage this by having a "first blood" bonus of $25,000 to the first player that kills an enemy's mobster. Of course, once you kill a mobster, you've given that player a really strong reason for attacking you - revenge! So, from the very beginning, many players will be attacking each other. And then they'll realize that one of the players has been left out a bit too much - "What, you still have five mobsters? Hmm... here's an attack of 3. Oh, and here's a car bomb. While we're at it, let's go ahead and poison your spaghetti... Oh, was that your Capo?  How sad for you."

Having played the game and done very well, and having played it and done very poorly, the main con that I would list is that it is very hard to catch up to other players once you fall behind in the game. Once you lose a couple of mobsters, you will really struggle to do well. Even if playing the mercenary variant, with only three (or less) mobsters it will be hard to control a location. If you don't control any locations, then you don't make any money. If you don't make any money, then you can't buy those mercenaries (or more cards to defend yourself with). For that matter, with no money, you can't even bribe your opponents to fight each other - you have to just convince them with your smooth talking. And if that doesn't work, you just go around sad as you watch other people's crime empires blossom as yours crumbles around you.

Overall, I give Mob Ties an 8.5/10. I didn't see this one during it's Kickstarter campaign, but it is really one of the more pleasant surprises that I've had recently among games offered to me that I wasn't already familiar with. Obviously, if you don't like negotiation games or your friends would be offended by the seedy artwork, then this isn't for you. However, if that's not the case, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

If you like games with large amounts of social interaction, you might also check out The Resistance, Battlestar Galactica, and possibly even Ideology.

I would like to thank Hostage Entertainment for providing me with a review copy of Mob Ties.

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