Home Game Reviews La Famiglia: The Great Mafia Wars Review

La Famiglia: The Great Mafia Wars Review

1568
0
Price:
$77

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On Feb 29, 2024
Last modified:Feb 29, 2024

Summary:

We review La Famiglia: The Great Mafia war from Capstone Games. In La Famiglia, exactly 4 players are competing for the best mafia family in Italy.

La FamigliaI’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse. No seriously, please don’t refuse it, we need exactly four players to play this game. I’m speaking of Capstone’s 2023 release, La Famiglia: The Great Mafia Wars by Maximilian Maria Thiel. In my quest to review only heavy 2-4 hour-long Euros that require exactly four players (see my recent review of Deal with the Devil), I signed my oath in blood to review La Famiglia for a few reasons.

It’s absolutely luscious artwork, the premise of a 2 vs. 2 area control game with a unique worker placement planning phase, and of course, as a Godfather/Goodfellas/Sopranos-head, Madonne, you better believe I was picking this one up like a box of cannolis out of the backseat of a car. So join me as we explore the island of Sicily, hire some goons, ride some speedboats, and bomb some cars.

Gameplay Overview:

At its heart, La Famiglia is a 2 vs. 2 area control game. The goal of the game is for your crime family to control 5 “mandamenti,” which is essentially a mafia fiefdom consisting of 3 contiguous regions, or for your team to control 6 mandamenti together.

La Famiglia Screen
The player board and screen. Unlocked orders on the left and player markers that can be removed or added to the planning phase board on the right.

The game is played over 4 rounds, each of which is split into 2 phases, with small management phases following each proper phase wherein control of said mandamenti is determined. The first phase is the planning phase, where players, using a rather ingenious system, place tokens to take specific actions, ranging from recruiting more soldiers to your headquarters (behind your screen), adding more soldiers to the board, acquiring boats, drug labs, or cars, gaining money from your drug labs, issuing orders for your soldiers to carry out on the map during the encounter phase, or upgrading your player board so your actions are more powerful, which also unlocks powerful new orders.

After the first management phase (which cannot trigger the end of the game, regardless of whether the required number of mandamenti are controlled or not) comes the Encounter phrase, wherein all orders that have been placed on the map face down are now flipped face up and are carried out in initiative order.

La Famiglia Tiles
When players gain control of a mandamento, they get to unlock a special ability.

First all supply orders are carried out, which help reinforce regions with additional soldiers, or add defense to protect them against possible attacks. Then attack actions are carried out, where soldiers can flood into a neighboring region and attempt to attack and take control of it, or where devastating car bombs can be rolled into enemy regions, which wipe out opposing soldiers but may not secure the region. Attacks can be done via speed boats as well, leading to unsuspecting invasions from the far side of the island. After all orders have been carried out, the second management phase takes place and control is once again determined.

If a player or team control the correct number of mandamenti (5 or 6 respectively), the game ends. Otherwise it continues to the next planning phase and the next round is played out. After four rounds, if one team is not declared winner by controlling the correct number of regions, the team with the most regions wins. In the case of a tie, the team controlling the region of Bronte breaks the tie.

La Famiglia Gameplay
The map. Cubes represent soldiers, speedboats sit in the water, and neutral gangsters are represented by grey cubes.

Game Experience:

The first thing anyone will see when they look at the game box for La Famiglia is just how gorgeous the art is. And this is firmly true for the contents inside the box as well. This is an immaculately produced game. The map is colorful, the card art is compelling in its cubist presentation, and I love a little wooden car or speedboat. Each faction has its own little box for holding components, as do the neutral markers and coins, and everything fits in the box perfectly. The one thing where I was like “hmmm, that’s where they decided to stop, huh?” was that the soldiers were simply cubes. But this is such a small gripe for an overall wonderful production, and besides, a cube is to area control games what an injured child is to a trampoline. It’s just integral to its existence.

La Famiglia Chart
The brilliant planning phase action selection board. Discs drop to the bottom when taking actions, and then the bottom board shifts up and a new board is added to the bottom.

The next thing you might notice is, well, the robust rulebook. This is a heavy game. It’s listed as 3.82 on BGG, which is fairly accurate, though I would say the majority of the weight of this game is due to its complex combat resolution system rather than the worker placement planning phase. You can explain the planning phase to a seasoned gamer in very little time, it’s all very intuitive, and dare I say, graceful. The combat phase, at times, feels more complex than it needs to be, but I won’t say its complexity is unwarranted or without reward. It leads to some very funny situations, which some gamers will love and others will hate.

As promised, let’s discuss the planning phase. I would go so far as to say this system should be ripped off and ripped off again. The planning system has a variety of available actions that can be used by taking a disc of any color from the top half of the grid and placing it on the bottom half. There are discs of your color, discs of other players’ colors, and neutral discs. Your discs and neutral discs cost nothing to use to select your actions, while discs of other players have a cost of one lira to that player. The discs you choose to use, and how you choose to use them, could have great consequences, as they did in our later playthroughs.

La Famiglia Tiles
A closer look at the player board’s orders area. Top ones have been unlocked, bottom ones have yet to become available.

While the most frequent use of a disc is to drop it to the bottom half and to take the associated action, the other option a player has is to take all the discs in a column of the upper grid and essentially take the “upgrade your player board” action, and drop those discs to the bottom action spaces. This is quite costly, as there’s a base cost, plus the cost of one lira per disc, regardless of color, and an additional one lira paid to the owner of the disc. This stacks up heavily, but the benefits are massive.

One benefit of doing this is, obviously, upgrading your player board, which can improve the quality of your recruitment action, or your deployment action, or make your attacks more devastating. The other benefit is the denial of actions to other players. When you take the upgrade action and remove multiple discs, you are reducing the number of turns people have, and when you drop the discs down to the actions spaces, you don’t take those actions, you simply cover them, preventing others from using them.

Where the discs end up on the bottom half of the planning phase area will dictate what columns the discs are in for the following round, as the tile with all the actions slides up and takes the place of the top half of the planning phase area at the end of the round. My explanation might be a bit cumbersome, but trust me, it’s brilliant, and hopefully the photo clarifies it a bit.

La Famiglia Gameplay
The map with some attack orders issued.

After this planning phase comes the truly wild shit. During that prior planning phase, players will have placed various orders in regions containing their soldiers. These orders either supply those regions with more soldiers, recruit more to their HQ (their supply), add additional defense to your regions, and/or initiate some sort of attack action on a neighboring area. These attacks actions can vary from a fight between soldiers, an action that simply eliminates soldiers from neighboring areas (thematically, a stool pigeon who reports everyone to the authorities), or, most terrifyingly, a car bomb that wreaks havoc in a neighboring area.

There are a few other potential actions, such as riling up neutral gangsters in a nearby area to attack one of your enemies. Additionally, speed boats can carry soldiers from further away, easily masking where an attack may come from. Our first playthrough saw literally zero speed boat use, and after reading some forums about the game from experienced players, it became clear that speed boats could be a powerful tool of both misdirection and expanded reach, and this played out in our second game.

La Famiglia Card
Each player gets a unique gangster card (I was Toto), which lays out your asymmetric start.

Easily the funniest part of the combat system is the finesse fight. While attackers can always choose to conduct a battle between sides using “brute force”—a costly way to attack that has a very high casualty rate for the attacker and is only encouraged when they have significant numerical superiority—the sillier option is always the finesse fight. This involves a game of what can only be described as the Battle of Wits scene from the movie The Princess Bride.

Each player plays one of three potential cards in front of them, facedown. One card changes an opponent’s soldier to the holder of the card’s soldier (a traitor, so to speak), and the other two remove one or two of the holder’s soldiers from the fight, respectively. Starting with the attacker, they may choose to take the card the opponent has played in front of them or pass. Then the defender may do the same. Then the cards are flipped face up and are resolved based on who ended up with them. It’s unlike any gameplay mechanism I’ve experienced in a heavy Euro. You just don’t see this sort of silliness and tension in most games of this complexity. It’s actually a welcome reminder that, despite the Euro-ness of the planning phase, the spirit of the game is an area-majority war game, where best laid plans often go awry.

Final Thoughts:

La Famiglia is an interesting oddball. It’s a game that requires exactly four players, which, sure, there are plenty of games that, while not requiring four players, you wouldn’t want to play without exactly four, so it should not be such a roadblock in theory. But you’d be surprised by how much of a mental block it came be. I also think it would have been possible to craft a 2-3 player version, but it’s clear the designers had a vision in mind, and it was four or bust.

It’s also not a short game. After several plays with the same group, I think you could easily get this game down to two-and-a-half to three hours (even shorter if one team romps the other), but for the first play, with a teach, I would plan for four. Once you get rolling, though, and once the game reveals itself to you, you’ll find a really rewarding experience that presents some genuinely new ideas, as well as some shoehorned-in mechanics that you don’t cross paths with regularly in the heavy cardboard world.

It’s a game the rewards multiple plays, so if you’re a gamer who is all about playing the hot new thing and then moving onto the next one, this may not be for you. I would also not recommend this for people who get upset when their plans are ruined. La Famiglia is definitely a high interaction, mean game, and if you don’t shoot your shot or cover your ass, you’ll find yourself sleeping with the fishes.

Final Score: 4 stars – A complex 4-player-only mafia war game that mixes worker placement and area control, with some additional shenanigans thrown in, for a very enjoyable heavy game that rewards multiple plays.

4 StarsHits:
• Gorgeous production
• Ingenious worker placement mechanic
• Genuinely funny and clever fighting system

Misses:
• 4-player-only count can be an impediment
• Combat system can be hard to grok on first play
• Requires multiple plays to fully appreciate

Get Your Copy

Leave a Comment