Friday, 29 August 2014

There's Anarchy in the Household...Sons Of Anarchy Board Game Review

I’m always torn when it comes to games that are tie ins to shows that I really like, because on the one hand I already like the show, so that scores a plus for the game, but on the other hand, I already like the show, which means that if the game isn’t true to the show, there’s going to be a problem...

And when I really like the show, sometimes that stops me from even picking up the game in the first place because I’m too worried about the game not being true to the show. So it was with some trepidation that I took a look at Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem. 

It’s a simple premise, everyone gets a gang, and you try to control locations, along the way you throwdown with other gangs, skim money off the top, run contraband and in general act in an unsociable manner, with the proviso that all blood feuds are off when the game is over. 

After the first time of playing, I’m pretty sure the blood feud didn’t leave the table immediately...

The thing about the show is that it’s not about the various criminal activities that the gang gets up to, it’s about the family and friends that make up the gang and their associates, so it’s interesting to play a game where the primary focus is all the things that the show is supposed to be about.

Presentation values are extremely good, at least on a par with Fantasy Flight, and there’s a good number of plastic counters as well as press out pieces.  A turn consists of each player taking a number of orders (actions) equal to the base number of orders plus the number of members (that’d be guys on bikes) that they have.  Actions include Ride (move to another location), Exploit (use a location you control), Throw down (fight at a contested location), Recruit (add a new prospect to the clubhouse), Patch in (Pay cash and guns to promote a prospect to full member), and Sit tight (do nothing...). 

The immediate thought for one of the players was that more members equals more actions, and as a result, more win in the turns to follow, and so followed that strategy, one of the others instead went after the locations, and the third took a mix of both.  As it turns out, none of these strategies is an immediate game beater, and a lot depends on what cards are drawn through the course of the game.  In order, players claim the order tokens for their turn, reveal new cards (Sites and Anarchy cards), issue orders (in rotation around the table, not one player takes their whole turn then the others and so on), Black market (how much contraband is being moved that turn), then Last Calls (typically problematic events) and clean up, including checking if any of the gang have been killed in the turn previous.

It plays well, little slow to begin with, but once you’ve got the hang of the orders and moves system, you can see strategies evolving quickly, but you have to be way of the cards that are revealed every turns, which escalate from one card in the first round, then adding one card every round till there are six cards revealed in the final round.  It’s possible for a gang to be eliminated before the end of the game if they don’t have any gang members left to take a fall when one is called for, but this didn’t happen in our game and I suspect you’d have to be extremely unlucky to get that to happen.

The game plays straight to six rounds, at the end of which, the person with the most money wins, in the event of a tie, the player with the most guns wins and if that fails, both gangs throwdown against each other to see which one wins.

On the one hand, being a fan of the TV show, my thought on the victory was that it should have come by wiping out the other players, but the other players aren’t fans, and the six round limit worked very well for them (translation: I didn’t win...).  Overall it’s interesting, the three player minimum, four player maximum, will limit the playability of it in some quarters and it’ll never get the same level of interest as things like X wing because of the way it’s going to be played that can’t be expanded upon.  That said, the rules are simple enough that it can be played by casual gamers and hardcore alike, and will provide an entertaining break for both, but remains true to the TV show from which it originates, and so for those who are picking it up because it’s tied in to the TV show of the same name...

There’s win to be had...

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