Reviewed by Herb Levy
(Eagle Games/Rebel Forge, 2-6 players, ages 12 to adult, 3-4 hours; $49.99)
Just when New York is enjoying hard earned accolades as the safest large city in the United States (a trend, as a New Yorker, I hope to see continue), Eagle Games, teaming up with the design team at Rebel Forge, releases a game with a totally different perception of the city – that of a wide open town filled with rival gangs. For, in Blood Feud in New York, rival mobs seek to fill a power vacuum in the Greater New York Metropolitan Are
Blood Feud in New York comes in a large box packed with the kind of quality components with which Eagle Games is synonymous. You have a beautiful and large mounted mapboard of the five boroughs of New York City and an eastern slice of New Jersey. The area is split into neighborhoods called “city districts” which will be the battlegrounds between the rival forces. Parks (green spaces), water (blue) and airports (copper toned) are neutral spaces. The game also comes with a truckload of molded plastic pieces representing the different mob families (in six colors) and their hired muscle. Muscle comes in three varieties: thugs (inexpensive to hire at $100 each but not as effective as), henchman (priced at $250 each but can move faster and shoot more accurately than thugs but still not as effective as), hit men (costing $450 each and able to move as fast as henchmen but attack more effectively and can even launch a sneak attack!). Rounding out the plastic are vehicles (limousines, speedboats and helicopters) and buildings (“Illicit Activity”, “Corrupt Precinct” and “Penthouse Palace”), all of which play key roles in the game.
Players begin with a (color-coded) mob family of their choosing consisting of 1 Boss and five Family Members. Think of the Boss as the King in chess – if he’s killed, you’re out of the game! Players also get some gangster help depending on how many players are in the game. (For example, with the full complement of six, each player starts with 2 thugs for free.) They also get a set of “exploitation markers” (cardboard counters) used to mark areas under their control and a Player Card (a valuable play aid which summarizes the important points of the game).
Four phases make up a game turn and each player performs all his actions before the next player begins. The phases are Battle, Movement, Income and Purchase.
All pieces begin in their chosen home space. From there, pieces may move into adjacent city districts. The Boss, Family Members and thugs may move one space; henchmen and hit men can move two. If moving into a space occupied by enemy forces, bullets fly!
In an attack, you commit some or all of your pieces in the area being contested. Combat is resolved by rolling 10 sided dice for EACH TYPE of unit involved in the fight. All forces have an Attack Strength ranging from 4 to 7. If a number rolled is equal to or greater than the Attack Strength, the enemy is hit! Which pieces fire and which get hit is determined in a specific order: first thugs, then henchmen, Hit Men, Family Members and, finally, the Boss. Hit enemy pieces are “wounded” but they fire a “parting shot” before expiring and being removed from the board. Terrain built on the board (in the form of Penthouse Palaces and Corrupt Precincts) can modify numbers needed for a hit. Hit Men, as mentioned, may “sneak attack” by firing BEFORE the “real” battle begins. Any gangster hit by a sneak attack is killed immediately and gets no parting shot. There is a final option here too. If a Family Member is wounded, the winning attacker may “administer first aid” and prevent the enemy Member from dying. Instead, that piece is “kidnapped” and may be used on a future turn to swap Family Members with an opposing mob boss.
If the attacker eliminates (or kidnaps) all defending forces, the attacker and his attacking forces move into the city district and claim it, placing one of his exploitation markers there. If the attack is repulsed or if both sides totally eliminated (a “bloodbath” in game terms), the defender maintains district control.
Any forces not involved in combat may now move. On “foot”, pieces may move one or two spaces. Through the use of limousines and speedboats (which can carry five gangsters) and helicopters (which can transport up to three), pieces may travel 4, 5 and 9 spaces respectively. Gangsters moving in this mode may alight from their vehicles to capture vacant city districts along the way.
Now, players calculate assets and collect income according to a fairly simple formula. Money received is equal to the number of “independent” family members (i.e. the number of areas with 1 or more Family Members) multiplied by your total assets (the number of city districts under your control) times 10. So, for example, with six family members in six districts under your control, you would receive $360. Contract your family into four districts with six areas still under control and your income is reduced to $240. Expand your influence to 6 Family Members in 6 different districts with 10 districts under your control and your income balloons to $600! Income can really soar if you manage to eliminate an enemy mob boss. Do that and you gain control of HIS family members (as well as all of his cash on hand). More Family Members can mean more income in subsequent turns. With funds in hand, you may buy and build.
There are many ways to spend your money. Buy more gangsters (at the prices mentioned above), buy vehicles to give you more mobility and/or buy buildings to increase your assets (and possibly improve your defenses).
Illicit Activity costs $200. Your 200 bucks gets you a black building to place in one of your city districts that increases your assets $40 each turn! A Corrupt Precinct, well worth its $130 investment, is placed in a district you control and prevents enemy pieces from moving through for one turn, adds 1 to attacker hit numbers and forces an attacker to pay $50 BEFORE launching an attack there. Should a city district where a Corrupt Precinct is placed fall, the conqueror must pay $100 MORE than the last time that district changed hands. If the attacker won’t (or can’t) pay, the district STAYS under the defender’s control. Finally, there is the Penthouse Palace, priced at a whopping $900. This has multiple benefits. It serves as a headquarters (new pieces may be placed there as well as at the home space), add to the defense of the district by adding +3 to all attacker hit numbers and adds $20 in assets each turn.
The blood feud continues until either one Boss remains, having eliminated all the others OR one player achieves “incontestable dominance” by earning $6000 or more in income at the end of a turn.
If you called this game Risk meets The Godfather, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. But the game adds layers not present in the Parker Brother classic. The importance of income and the presence of limousines, speedboats and helicopters present their own challenges to planning. The differences between the powers of the various gangsters – and their varying costs – also present problems in resource management. The Play Aid cards are very useful and really help to speed the game along. Wonderfully, the board is large enough so pieces manage to occupy their areas without a claustrophobic crowding. And, let’s face it, the game looks good! But while these are significant differences, the game does share some of the flaws inherent in Risk.
As in Risk, Blood Feud in New York is an elimination game. If your Boss is eliminated, so are you! As the game can easily take three or four hours to play, an early elimination leaves you out in the cold. Dice rolls can have a chilling effect too. A few unlucky pivotal rolls can be murder! But this is what comes with the territory in this game genre. A minor quibble concerns the money. With income rising as the game progresses, it might have been nice to include larger denomination bills.
Blood Feud in New York benefits from first rate production, solid game play and a host of strategic options to challenge your “inner mob boss”. If the theme of gang warfare with bullets flying gets your blood pumping, then, rest assured, Blood Feud in New York gives you plenty of “bang for the buck”. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy