I will skirt technical details here so that you get a basic, conceptual understanding of the game and perhaps feel the flow as well. Three to Six players compete to be the last gang standing selecting from historic gangs like the Morans (they are only thematic and offer no bonuses). Each player has his gang, represented by cards in a tableau, and a hand in which to conduct attacks and defend. Your hand consists of contracts and defense cards with a variety of tweaks therein. Contracts put a gangster in danger and you must try to rescue him, if you were unable to defend, before the hit is complete. Hits are completed when a gangster is on a “wall”. As the “wall” gets filled from the contracts that are assigned it gets closer to a tipping point in which every change of hand triggers a hit onto the gangsters on the “wall” starting with the first. When the “wall” is clear the process ends then starts again when enough gangsters fill the “wall”. This process is called “Gang War”. There are cards available that also tweak “Gang War”. The order of play is clockwise and if one plays a defense card order of play continues from the defender even if that skips players. This is an important element of the game.
A Little About Me
Perhaps it’s best if you know a little about me. I think this may be a good way to determine, for yourself, if I am carrying a bias over into my review/appeal.
I am a life long Axis and Allies (A&A) player (I have a bent toward Ameritrash games). In the early 90’s me and a group of friends would go to a place called “Otter Creek” and spend the weekend. People would be up for any game and most of the people played RPG’s anyway so A&A was a good fit for the time. Some guy kept talking about Family Business. Normally, I would not have been interested in a card game (I like Ameritrash, I NEED MY PLASTIC AND AREA CONTROL!) but there was plenty of time and I was done whittling, so, sure. Since there was no Amazon at the time and no access to gaming stores I needed to wait every year until Otter Creek to play Family Business. In fact, Otter Creek weekend became Family Business time. Now I have my own copy and have played it countless times, and have introduced it at least to five different groups with many buying it the same day to play with their families, friends, etc. I have never been bored and no one is lost when they play it. I feel like this game opened me to other possibilities to gaming and as a result I gave games like Dominion a chance. Those of you who have played Dominio know that I am thankful.
The elusive mystery of gateway games and what makes them effective will not be answered definitivly here, but, speaking from my own experience, it seems this one at least qualifies. Yes Dominion is a gateway game itself, but I have found that people tend to trust me when I say I have a game they should try after playing this. In fact, I have been able to play in multiple groups with this as the flagship game until more meaty games have made their way in. My current group has a mix of players some from Family Business to Twilight Imperium. So, it is a proven success in my mind. It’s hard to get more complex than TI. I can’t guarantee that this will work, but that can be said for any gateway game. I may even say that Dominion is probably a better gateway game, but Family Business-as-gateway is a strike in its favor and its cheaper than Dominion ($12.85 new on Amazon as of 10/7/10). Moreover I have fun every time I play it, so I am in no rush to move onto other things. Also, if your like me, you may want to test the temperament of another player that you may be introducing to a group to see if they can handle games where back stabbing is essential (Diplomacy, A Game of Thrones). If they have a a bad temper when attacked in the game, as one can hardly help taking attacks personally due to the open choice involved, you can gauge if they can handle it with good humor. Dominion does not offer this (as a side note: Dominion and Family Business similarities stop at the gateway level, they are nothing alike).
Speaking of Fun…
The game is a blast! It never gets old. There are so many moments of shouting, “Ohhhhhhh!” when a brutal card is played as there are game changers in the deck. Even new people who are playing the game for the first time are laughing and making fun of each other by the end of the first game. I will usually hype the game up and emphasize how much someone sucks just so they will feel the fun of getting me back when they put a hit on one of my guys. People make alliances and they know they are tentative. Games only last for about 20min. so if you win too many games in a row they will be teaming up on you in short order. The next time you get ready to play people are talking about how they are going to win way before you actually play the game. It really is fun to play with new people that have only played Monopoly because they have no idea what experience they are in for. It doesn’t take long before they are busting out Marlon Brando imitations, that never gets old either because they are usually bad.
There are multiple strategies: offensive, defensive, when to taunt and when to lay low. The down side is that one has to know when to deploy these as your draw will determine to a great degree what strategy will work the best. Think “Race for the Galaxy,” what you draw at the beginning will have bearing on how you should probably proceed (similarities end there).
I have heard that there other card games like this out there. I cannot speak to that so I would say you may need to do some research in that regard, but I know that this game does what it does well. If you don’t like luck in your games I would say that this may not be for you because the game is sometimes 70% luck DEPENDING on your experience. The more you play the game the less luck you will need, but that number will probably never drop below 35%. You will need a fair amount of luck to win. The end game has NEVER been anticlimactic the buildup is never let down by a collective sigh or jeering because of some obscure rule or unjust factor. The rules that make the game proper fun, make the end game fun. The theme works. You do feel like your trying to protect your gang. I wouldn’t say that if your really into Roaring 20’s gang warfare that this will probably not scratch that itch, but I also could not imagine the game being themed any other way (this could be my years of playing as well). The game is fairly fast paced, however, due to the fact that defense cards can skip players is can create down time. The game is emotional though and chances are you are being skipped due to a heated rivalry full of the flavor of trash talk. This can still be boring sometimes but it is a minor flaw and does not always happen.
Due to the fact that defense cards immediately give the person that played them the turn it has led some to believe that the only viable strategy is to attack the person to your immediate right, so that if they do indeed play a defense card it will be your turn again. I have tried this strategy and over years of playing this game have determined that due to the luck that is in the game this is NOT always the best strategy. Why? A)Because if they have enough defense cards and an/or alliance they can seriously cripple you. B) (and the most damaging) it immediately puts you on someones radar. You win way more Family Business staying out of conversation and being off the radar by spreading out your attacks. But what about all the hype and trash talk that makes the game more fun? That has its place to be sure, but it all depends on your hand. This game needs some bluffing, it’s not a primary component, but it’s there. You have to know when to be diplomatic and when to taunt. It is fun with new and experienced players alike. The “To-The-Right” strategy is short sighted in my opinion and I have watched many try it and lose, sometimes even to the opponent to the right! The strategy of choice in this game is the same as in a bad marriage: stay off the radar. And, also like in a bad marriage, it is not always possible. Do yourself a favor and buy this highly underrated game.
-good strategy and diminishing luck factor over time
-ending fits the flow of the game
-could be perceived as shallow thematically
-there is a luck factor
-need to have thick skin/emotional
-occasional down time
I give it a 10. Writing this review is making me want to play it right now!