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GAME CLASSICS: THE GODFATHER GAME

[Sometimes an idea takes hold, enjoys success and spawns a deluge of imitations. This maxim holds true for all sorts of media, games included. Often, in the wake of a hit, a host of games sharing a similar theme will flood the market. In this issue of GA REPORT, “hit” takes on a whole new meaning as we’ve become immersed in a mob of games dealing with “breaking the law”. But crime and the denizens of the underworld are not new topics in the World of Games. One of the most interesting to hit the marketplace can trace its inspiration to one of the great movies of all time. In this installment of our Game Classics series, we go gunning for action in The Godfather Game.]

THE GODFATHER GAME (Family Games, 1971, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, about 60 minutes; out of print)

 

In 1971, a film with an all star cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and James Caan and based on the blockbuster novel by Mario Puzo burst onto the scene with the power of tommyguns blasting. The film was The Godfather. And, as is so often the case with successful films (reference: Batman, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings), related merchandise hit the marketplace like a tidal wave! The popularity of the film gave rise to several games with crime themes. One of the finest members of this gang was The Godfather Game.godfathergame

The object of the game was to be the most successful mob boss by controlling the rackets – and earning the most money – in New York City, specifically Manhattan. The game came with a mounted board depicting 8 Manhattan neighborhoods (Harlem, Wall Street, Lower East side, Park West, Upper West Side, Little Italy, The Docks and Midtown), four sets of color-coded circular pieces, three decks of cards, play money, a set of “Racket Indicator Cards”, four play aids (the Racket Control Value Cards), a pair of dice and instructions. With all players choosing their color-coded pieces (used to represent all of their “gangsters”), getting a $2000 starting bankroll and receiving a Racket Control Value Card, play begins.

At the start, all neighborhoods are unclaimed and open to different kinds of criminal activity which include Bookmaking (with Bookies costing $300 each), Extortion (with each Strongarm thug costing $250), Bootlegging (Bootleggers available at $200 each), Loan Sharking ($150 each) and Hijacking ($100 each). Which rackets are in which neighborhoods are determined as players in turn purchase from the bank, one, two or three pieces of any Racket, pay for them and place them in neighborhoods of their choice. Placing a “racketeer” of any racket in a neighborhood restricts later placement because only ONE racket may exist in a particular neighborhood and once a racket starts there, it is the ONLY racket that can ever be placed in that area. Players complete their turn by drawing a card from the deck.godfatherThree decks of cards are used. Chance cards are found in two separate decks: Good Break cards (which are helpful) and Bad Break cards (that are bad news). The main deck contains money cards (imprinted with numbers from 1 to 9, giving the fortunate player 100 to 900 extra dollars), racket figure cards (giving the player extra pieces in specific rackets for free), breaks of the game cards (which require a die roll – roll even and you draw a Good Break card; odd and a Bad Break card comes your way) and Fingerman cards (which allow you to remove any three enemy pieces from the board).

On turn, players do FOUR things, in a set order: play a card from their hand, purchase pieces, position pieces on the board and draw a card to be played at the start of the next turn. It’s the positioning that elevates the game play.

The goal is to achieve control of neighborhoods as you place your gangsters, up to three pieces at a time, in neighborhoods. As more pieces move into neighborhoods, the fight for control becomes intense.

Control is won by occupying spaces AND by circling a position (i.e. fencing it off). Enemy pieces may be eliminated if you and only you (no “alliances” between opponents permitted) can surround them with your own pieces. Such pieces are lost and removed from the board.

The player who occupies or controls the majority of spaces in a neighborhood is rewarded with “Racket Control”. The Racket Control Value of the neighborhood (ranging from $1000 to $10,000 based on the particular racket and the size of the neighborhood) is added to the wealth of that player at the end of the game PLUS a cash bonus of 10% (rounded up) of the Racket Control Value is received by that player for each of his next 3 turns! With control established, that neighborhood is CLOSED! No further action may be taken there. When all 8 neighborhoods are controlled, the game is over and scores tallied. The player with the highest value in cash plus Racket Control is “The Godfather”.godfatherviolin

The Godfather Game blended the theme of underworld power struggles with elements of Go modified by a streak of luck. This concoction enabled the game to straddle the gap between a satisfying adult gaming experience and a so-called “family” game quite nicely. In an interesting marketing ploy, the game came in TWO editions. The first edition came packaged in a violin-shaped case, similar to those used by gangsters to carry their machine guns “unobtrusively” and used plastic pieces; the other, less expensive version, came in a standard-sized (and rather flimsy) black and white box and used colored cardboard pieces. But, whatever the edition, the game offered solid game play that should have kept this game on store shelves for years, truly an “offer you can’t refuse”. But it didn’t work out that way. Why?

It’s pure speculation but a possible explanation lies in the marketing of the game. Calling itself The Godfather Game may have actually hurt it in the long run. Buyers attracted to the game because of the title and assumed film relationship were undoubtedly disappointed. No photos of the stars on the box or board, no storyline found in the game play, no reference of any kind to the film. Either the manufacturers couldn’t get the rights or didn’t want to shell out the considerable fees such a license would have demanded. On the other hand, gamers looking for a challenging game might have easily assumed that a movie tie-in game, which this certainly purported to be, was all about the film and little about the game play. An erroneous assumption in this case but a very understandable one.

Despite an excellent blending of luck and skill, the game soon faded into obscurity. The Godfather Game? “Fugedaboutit!”. But, no, we haven’t forgotten. Instead, The Godfather Game holds an honored place in our pantheon of Game Classics. – Herb Levy


 

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