According to Wikipedia, Omertà(/ɵˈmɛrtə/; Italian pronunciation: [omerˈta]) is a popular cultural attitude and code of honour that places heavy importance on a deep-rooted “code of silence“, non-cooperation with authorities, and non-interference in the illegal (and legal) actions of others.
For some reason that I can’t say I fully understand, the 1920s and its gangsters hold quite a lot of fascination with a lot of people. The image of the rugged man in a terribly elegant suit with a femme-fatale at his arms while holding a Tommy in a dark and mysterious environment is something that people love. Somehow the Mafia and the 1920s are very enticing. Even if it actually was a very bloody and ruthless time riddled with bloody and ruthless organisations.
Yet, with books still written, movies still show, documentaries still, well, documented, it is only fair to think that someone would write a role playing game. But this game is not what you’d expect right away. This game allows you to play as a criminal, not crime-fighter. I will admit that it didn’t fill me with enthusiasm when I first heard of it, but I was very, very intrigued. And is a game that comes from Spain, so that intrigued me even more. Not because it is rare to see a game being produced in Spain, quite the opposite, but because I have only got my hands on two professionally produced games from Spain in the last few years and this is the only one that’s not a fantasy setting. And the icing on the cake for me is that Holocubierta is a young and very promising company that seems to be getting things very right all the time!
So the book; what is it like? Heavy. And thick. And heavy.
They have spared no effort in the material production of this game. You could cause very serious damage if you hit someone with it. The hardcover is lovely, with a gorgeous illustration that summarises the mood and atmosphere of the game perfectly and a logo that even manages to make good of a terrible font!
The layout is also very good. Standard two columns with big font, good paragraph separation, and a more than adequate number of noir style illustrations with the right theme all the time. The layout artist has done something else, though. The inserts have a different font, hand written type font that gives those inserts a sense of importance to be read. They are so separated from the main text by the font, that you feel the contents are really important. And they are. From rules explanations, to historical facts and gameplay examples, they are a very important part at the time of making the game accessible.
With more layout little details, like having some historic fact at the bottom of each page, the only thing I am missing is some cartography. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
The whole setting is framed beautifully by the research the authors have made around the area. From the origins of the word “Mafia” to the evolution of the organisation, some real characters, description of New York and Chicago in more than sufficient detail and tables with information about the life and equipment 80 years ago, you shan’t feel you don’t have enough information to fall back on while running or playing this game.
It also includes a fictional city called Creekville with its areas where the mafia works, gangs of gangsters and loads of information.
My only little nag is with the lack of cartography. There is none and I would have loved to see a map of New York and Chicago in the 1920s, not to mention one of Creekville. Something maybe to be sorted in future supplements for this game.
The game system is percentile, which I have to say surprised and, to some degree, disappointed me to start with. As much as it is a versatile and well known system, I couldn’t help feeling I was reading another version of Call of Cthulhu. This started to change soon enough, though. With only the warning of a mention in the index, the rules start to get serious and talk about car pursues, torture, courage, pain and damage… This game doesn’t hold back. At all.
The hierarchy of mafia families is also explained. And how to create your own band of “mafiosos” from scratch; with code of honour and everything!
To finalise, the game comes with three introductory adventures to get you started. Although they are not very “sandboxy”, they increase in complexity one after the other. So you start with a fairly simple scene in which your group will become member of a family, progress to doing some minor work for the family and lastly carrying out a difficult mission that will take your players into a prison to rescue a member of the family.
Not terribly inspiring adventures, but perfect to get you in the mood of what could be!
Oh, sorry. That’s not the end of it! There are several appendixes with bibliography, cinematography and biographies. So inspiration is REALLY easy to obtain!
So did I like it?
Well yes, much to my surprise. And I say surprise because, deep inside, I didn’t want to like this game. I didn’t want to like a game that puts you in a criminal organisation active today that brings so much pain and suffering to so many people. Call me legal-good if you want.
However they separate the age so well from modern day, that by the end of the book it had completely disappear from sight and I was more than happy to cross the border into Canada to steal some whiskey, face the Canadian Guard and come back to Creekville to sell the liqueur to the black market.
I was going to make more of an issue of some selling mistakes around the book, but they are publishing an errata sheet right away, so no point, even though it bugged me. Also the lack of maps of the city is a bit of a shame that I hope they’ll address in the future.
So I would give this game four stars and gladly recommend it if you have any interest in the crazy decade. Now you just have to order the book from Spain and learn Spanish because it hasn’t been translated yet.