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FAMIGLIA

Reviewed by Joe Huber

FAMIGLIA (2-F Spiele/Rio Grande Games, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; $11.95)

 

Essen 2010 was a very good time for Friedemann Friese, as it saw the release of more than a half dozen games Friese designed. But while this is an impressive accomplishment – particularly as nearly all of the games were picked up by outside publishers – it also makes it easy for a game to get lostamongst the crowd. And to an extent, at least, this seems to have happened with Famiglia.

It’s not hard to determine why. First, it’s only for two players, which is a strike against the game for many. Second, it’s a small card game and thus easily missed. Had it been released a decade ago, before 2F Spiele games were professionally printed, it might have flown entirely under the radar. But with Rio Grande publishing the English edition, it’s readily available, and has received some attention.famiglia

The game itself is remarkably simple. There are 60 cards, divided into four mob families, with five 0s, four 1a, three 2s, two 3s, and one 4 in each family. Each family has a special ability. The Accountants allow players to bring cards back into their hands to reuse. The Brutes make it easier to collect cards. The Mercenaries act as members of other families so that they can help to recruit additional cards. And finally, La Famiglia are worth extra points at the end of the game.

Turns are straight-forward and quick. First, if no 0s are showing, players may discard a card to draw additional options, repeating as necessary. Second, a player may play one Accountant, allowing the player to discard that number of cards to his tableau along with the Accountant, drawing an equivalent number of cards back into her hand. Then, a player may play one Brute, reducing the number of one family member from those available by the value of the Brute. Finally, a player may draw a card or pass. A zero – or a card reduced to a zero – may be drawn freely. Any other card may be drawn by playing two cards from one level below, adding one to the player’s tableau, and returning the other to her hand. For example, a 1 Accountant may be drawn by playing two 0 Accountants, leaving one in the tableau and returning the other to the hand. Alternatively, one of the cards may be replaced by a larger Mercenary; in the previous example, a 1 Mercenary can be used in place of one of the 0 Accountants.

The game continues until the deck has been exhausted a second time. The player with the most points in cards win. In general, 0s are worth nothing, 1s worth one point, 2s worth three points, 3s worth six points, and 4s worth ten points, though La Famiglia are worth more. Both cards in hand and cards in the tableau count.

Famiglia is a very simple, straight-forward game as the description above indicates. That was my primary concern when I was first introduced to the game. But playing the game, it quickly became apparent that it’s one of those games that’s simple to explain but still offers lots of interesting options. There is some luck in the game, certainly; you have to start with a zero, but after that there are multiple decisions to be made on most every turn.

There is also room for clever play. In particular, there is often the opportunity to set up a series offamigliacards, by uncovering the right move to start the sequence. These plays frequently aren’t obvious but playing with someone who is really good at the game, one quickly notes that they will win far more than chance would suggest.

While the game has a theme (and Friese has done a good job in finding a theme to apply to the game), it’s still essentially an abstract card game. Those who like their games to be heavily themed are rarely likely to be taken by a card game anyway, but it’s still worth noting that Famiglia feels entirely abstract.

The production of Famiglia is rather a mixed bag. The artwork is typical for Maura, with lots of little in-jokes and familiar elements such as the pink bunny. The cards themselves are extra long and high quality, making the game easy and enjoyable to play. But they fit very oddly – and not particularly well – in the box. In using a standard size box, it’s easy to store, but the cards don’t fit side-by-side in the box, and are just a little too thick for the box to close completely.

I’ve played enough of Friedemann’s designs to expect a clever twist to them, and Famiglia delivers on that front. The twist doesn’t always appeal to me, but always before, if the twist did appeal, it also tended to click. That Famiglia appeals but doesn’t click surprises me. I’ve played nearly ten times now, with every play being very enjoyable but if I’m getting any better at the game it’s not evident from the results. That makes the game an easy keeper for me – and likely to appeal even more to others who catch on better than I have. I would not expect it to appeal to those who aren’t fond of two player games, and it has the feel of a traditional card game so it’s unlikely to convert those who avoid such games. For those who are curious, however, the game doesn’t run much more than $10, and thus is inexpensive to take a chance on. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Joe Huber


 

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