The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire Review
Time: ~70+ minutes
Times Played: 1
In the few years that I have been playing and actually following the board game culture online, there have been several games that were driven by incredible hype that was created by the game itself (such as Scythe, Zombicide and Gloomhaven). The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is the first game on my radar that was given its hype through the board game media and the publishers media department. I’m sure someone will point one out to me as soon as they read this but just going off of my experience.
I had heard rumblings of a new Eric Lang game and that it would use the IP of The Godfather films and to be fair, that was enough to get many people excited. Unlike previous projects (Rising Sun, Blood Rage), this was not going to be a Kickstarter enterprise and was going directly to retail. The Publisher’s of the game helped institute a Tabletop Showcase week, which is where several notable reviewers and personalities in the community took a video look at this game. There were six different videos from June 19th to June 24th posted and they gave you an insight into topics ranging from how it’s played, to first impressions to even an interview with the creator. I cannot remember the last time that a game received so much attention in the media aspect of the board game community before it was released (and was not a Kickstarter game).
So, with all of that being said, does The Godfather live up to its hype?
Yes. Simple and to the point, Eric Lang’s interpretation of The Godfather is a very good game. This is only after a walkthrough and one playthrough so if you want a more substantial read of everything, stop reading here and come back in a few months when I have time to get this to the table ten or more times.
This is an area control game with worker placement, auction and hand management mechanisms. But before I get too deeply rooted into game play, I want to talk about the visuals of this game.
The box has some stunning artwork (which is a continuous theme thanks to Karl Kopinski). On the inside, you will find miniatures and tin suit cases for up to five players and all the cards needed for the game, as well as the rulebook and the board itself.
Picking up the rulebook, I was a little intimidated at first as it has some weight to it. After flipping through everything, my fears were alleviated as a large portion of the pages include artwork and quotes from the movies. Everything is easy to read and follow and there are pictures for every stage of the game. We had no trouble following along with the rulebook, which also includes a helpful rules summary on the back page.
Each item comes in an expertly made plastic insert. Everything fits perfectly and does not rattle around no matter how you store the box. That’s a big benefit for me as space is at a premium and not all boxes can be laid horizontally. This box, due to the minis, is rather large, so do keep that in mind.
The miniatures are finely detailed and have the players corresponding color on the base. The family members are all different, which might seem insignificant but really helped get into the feel of the game. We had players talk about the butcher being more vicious due to his appearance and the lady in the dress being more cunning. Obviously, not everyone is into roleplaying with their figures but it’s a nice added touch.
Also included are miniatures for several of the allies that you can bribe in the game, the horse head first player token, a car to keep track of the phase of the act, and the Don Corleone figure for keeping track of the act that you are currently on. The horse head marker, while a neat idea, was a tad small and I honestly forgot I had it for stretches of time.
I do want to go on record as saying that I dislike miniature board games (which is ironic from someone who owns all of the Zombicides and plays Warhammer 40k). I feel like they are made to jack up the price of a game and sometimes they just overtake the board, making it hard to read what is under them or due to their number, move them about the board. The Godfather does not have that issue as each character has a spot where they can go and the family is limited in how many thugs and family members they have available each round.
The cards keep the puppet theme of the book and movie artwork with strings supporting the illegal goods that you can receive. With the color coordinating, everything is extremely simple to read and locate. The people I played with (who had never played before) sat on the side of the board where everything was upside down to them but after the first act, they knew what was presented to them.
The cards do not feel like the highest quality to me and maybe it’s me overthinking it, but this will be a game I will be sleeving just to ensure that everything stays as pristine as possible for as long as possible. Since there is so much hand management happening with each player each action, the potential for wear is there and sleeving them should not impact their ability to fit into the tin suitcases, which are amazing.
I love when games add something that can help immerse yourself into the feel of the theme they are trying to represent. The suitcases do that. They are sturdy and durable and each has the players color and the family name listed on the front. Maybe the inclusion of the cases changed the quality of the cards due to cost but honestly, that’s okay with me.
With this being an official Godfather game, does a person have to had seen the movies for them to understand the game or if they have not, will they be at a disadvantage? No, it will not impact your ability to play the game or the enjoyment you receive from it.
But how does it play? We don’t buy games to just look pretty on the table…for the most part.
The game has four acts that follow scenes from the movie and each act has five phases. There are markers (Don Corleone and the car) that help keep track of which act and phase you are on. This makes things much more simple to follow along with. After one round, we knew exactly what we were doing. Each act introduces something new, whether that is a blue or red tiled business or a new family member is printed on the act space. The phases include:
Placing the new business tile in the next numerically numbered available space on the board.
For acts I and II, you will place a blue business tile from the randomly shuffled stack that you have and it will be placed in the first open space corresponding to the number of the territory (so a business will go to an open spot in area 2 before an open spot in area 3;
Placing your thugs, family members, allies and/or completing jobs. The bulk of the game is done here.
You can place thugs in the square locations to shake down the front of a building to receive the benefit of what the business can give and you can use family members (with their circle bases) to shake down the back of several businesses in the areas that you are placing adjacent too.
Actions that you can receive could include: receiving illegal goods (guns, narcotics, liquor, blood money), receiving new jobs, receiving money, exchanging cards for money or suitcasing your money, which is how the game is won. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game, wins. Only money included in your suitcase will count. Players can use their thugs and family members to gun down rival players and send them to the Hudson River if they want to occupy the spot that they currently hold. No space is off limits if you have a piece that can move there. Players that are sent to swim with the fishes are returned to the player at the end of the round. I think of it as recruiting new thugs and grooming new family members for their life of crime.
You can also play allies that you have previously bribed during this phase and each has a varying ability. Lastly, you can complete jobs and they can be ones in your hand or the public jobs available on the board. Each job has a requirement of ‘x’ amount of illegal goods before it can occur. Once you complete a job, you can immediately place it in your suitcase. Each job has a colored border and the player with the most completed jobs in their suitcase at the end of the game receives a five dollar bonus.
The one thing to keep in mind here is that you can only complete actions while you have a thug or family member left to place. So even if you can complete a job or two after placing your last miniature, you will not be able to play and will be skipped;
Deciding on who controls which region/turf on the board after the last miniature has been placed.
After the last miniature has been placed, players will figure out who controls which region. Each thug and family member are worth one point for the region they are in or adjacent to. The majority leader will place their area control marker in the designated area. The controlling player will receive a benefit the next act when someone places in their region. The player with the most control markers in a region at the end of the game will receive five dollars for each region. When control changes from one player to another, their marker is not replaced. The new players marker is placed on top as they are stack-able;
Bribing the allies.
Depending on the number of players, there are allies available to bribe near the end of each round. Using money in your suitcase, you will place what you want to bribe in the top half of the case (with hopefully no one looking) and when everyone is ready, drop the top of the case and reveal your bribe. The player who bribed the most will then choose which ally they want and their bribe goes back to the communal pile of cards. Then the second highest bribe takes the next ally and so on and so forth.
In the case of a tie, the player higher in the turn order wins. If a player(s) bribes no money but would normally be allowed an ally card (for say tying for second), they receive nothing as they didn’t actually bribe anyone; and lastly
Managing your hand and removing cards until you’re at the hand limit listed on the act space on the board.
The hand limit goes five cards, five cards, six cards and then two cards over the course of the four acts. You must only have that many cards in your hand after this phase. The cards that you send to the communal pile are your tributes to Don Corleone for allowing you the ability to commit crimes in his boroughs.
Minus a few odds and ends, that’s it. I could go into each business and the illegal goods and every mechanic that the game offers but with the amount of videos available through the Tabletop Showcase that can do this better than my words ever will (I recommend Rodney Smith’s Watch it Played video), I want to jump straight into my first impressions.
The Godfather is simple with how the actions make sense. You don’t really need to see everything through to the end to see how your placement of thugs impacts your goals. This isn’t Viticulture, where it helps to see the engine that you are building regarding turning fields into grapes into wine into bottles. This is just a guy getting some liquor.
It is easy to layout a turn in advance or see what you want to do and there was never a “why would I do that?” moment. You move to this space because you want a gun to complete this job, you knock off the purple player because they will gain control of the region if you don’t, etc.
This game is simple to pick up but not too simple to make it non-enjoyable. What looks to be a simple pick-and-place game has some surprising depth as you weigh the immediate economic gain of an area over the territorial control of the region.
The kickbacks that you receive as a bonus for controlling an area makes the hardwork worth it. But then again, with people knowing that you will receive such benefit, they might look elsewhere for their goods. This is a euro game with some teeth in it, which in my collection is far too rare.
This ability to “kill off” opposing players thugs and family members cannot be understated. The player does receive their thug or family member back at the beginning of the next act, but it is a major factor in the game.
With this mechanic, we never once felt like we were being singled out or were we turning mad that someone was being knocked off. Maybe this is because we just finished a game of Game of Thrones recently, but it was nice to attack someone and everyone to realize that’s just the way things go. It’s brutal interaction that lives and dies on the board as opposed to a players mind.
The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire offers a high degree of replayability. There is an easy to learn rule set, quick set-up time and a manageable play time. The game also includes an abundance of business tiles and ally cards which could offer a new configuration each and every time you play. With this only being my first playthrough, maybe after ten or twenty I’ll grow sick and tired of this game but for what it offers and the ease of that offering, we should be seeing this on our table several times over the coming months. We wanted to play again after we had done but sadly, being adults and having jobs meant we had to go to sleep at a responsible time.
Speaking of allies, there are some that can be incredibly beneficial. For example, at the end of act III, I had taken control of four territories and was able to bribe my way to the Hollywood Producer (I think that’s his title). Basically, when played, he allowed me to collect five dollars for each turf that I controlled. That was a huge twenty dollar swing for the last round of the game. Granted, I still had to suitcase it but it was nice to be a big baller for once. The suitcases themselves and the act of money laundering never feels like a nuisance. You have to spend time to launder the money and while it is simple, it is incredibly effective.
In regards to the money, I enjoyed playing with the denominations of $1, $2, $3 and $5 not only because it’s thematic for the time period but mostly because it’s easy to add at the end of the game. I’m a simple man. Not one of us got a calculator out!
Having a hard hand limit at the end of the round was also more challenging (but in a good way) than we imagined. The second and third acts, when you can start receiving kickbacks, you can find yourself with an absurd amount of cards and then it comes down to what you want to do with them.
You can also run out of illegal good cards, which I think is a great step as it might force a player to make a different decision and will make strong areas on the board weak and weak areas strong. It seems thematic too, at least in my mind. There is a finite amount of guns and liquor available after-all.
Narcotics, which basically act as a wild card for completely jobs, are incredibly powerful but may not be included in each playthrough. A red building that allowed narcotics appeared and it quickly became one of the more contested spaces on the board. Especially when I ended up with seven guns and no jobs that I could use them for.
The game bills itself as a 60 to 90 minute affair. After a game or two, I think this will more than likely be a 45 to 60 minute affair. There’s always something to do so analysis paralysis shouldn’t be a huge problem for any player and with the act and phase markers, everything is kept on track.
The game is also only four turns. You’re only going to do everything four times. Is it too short? I don’t think so. We really revved up in the III and IV acts as we knew the end was near and none of us felt like we needed another turn or act to accomplish what we wanted.
I have seen several mentions that the art is uninspired and bland and while I can see why people would say that, I love it. For the amount paid, I think everyone expected the art to mimic the scenes from the rulebook and ally cards than the stock image on the job cards.
But the are serves a purpose: it makes everything easy to read, see and decipher from wherever you are sitting at the table.
I don’t know if the Godfather theme really shone through on this game however. Nothing ever really felt like I was trying to impress or usurp Don Corleone and I can’t say that the acts, while labeled with events from the movie, actually mattered in the grand scheme of things. I almost feel as if it could have been a generic mobster game and there would not have been any noticeable differences.
One thing I do want to mention is that if this is what the retail-only version of their games will be like, it might be more beneficial to keep with Kickstarter. I don’t have a full grasp on the retail versus Kickstarter debate, just to be fair. I am only comparing other products I’ve received from CMON via Kickstarter to this retail version.
Just for an example, Rising Sun had a goal of $300,000.00 and finished with a total pledged of $4,228,060.00. That extra money goes to add-ons and better components for the game. The Godfather, I feel, would have easily eclipsed its initial goal and that extra money could have gone to better the components, namely the cards and area control markers as well as shoring up the horse head and car token.
With all of this being said, I would recommend checking this game out. The price tag is a tad salty but it is in line with what other miniature games cost. Will this climb into my top ten games? I don’t think so but it could one day knock on the tenth spot with just how easy it is to learn and play and appeal to a group.