A solid rule set embracing both the shrewdness of a Euro with the brash violence of the cream of Ameritrash.
Huge replay-ability with the random set ups.
Some may be put off by the double dealing and persistent betrayal/murder.
Gale Force Nine have become one of my guilty gaming pleasures, OK let me quantify that statement further. By rights their output should be terrible consisting as it does of TV show licenses an area of our hobby historically beset by cheap buck efforts with slapped on themes. Yet despite this they have consistently managed to produce games (Firefly,Spartacus) that thematically capture the shows and feature rules and mechanics that can appeal to both fans and hard core tabletop hobbyists whilst still offering hugely enjoyable entertainment and replay-ability.
So Sons of Anarchy is certainly in their wheelhouse another cult show dealing with some strong themes, its not for the faint of heart or easily offended charting as it does a high velocity full throttle tale of Shakespearean levels of tragedy befalling a rag tag biker gang. It features a fantastic cast of the cream of american character actors getting their teeth into some of TV’s biggest bunch of bastards as they double cross, swindle, murder and betray each other on a weekly basis. Its the sort of show you need to take a good hot shower after watching and has traumatized my better half on more than one occasion.
The game could never hope to capture all the minute of the episodes and characters, but what it does is apply the petrol drenched leather clad atmosphere to a set of mechanics usually at home in a Euro, area control, worker placement, bidding and negotiation are the meat of the game drizzled with an Ameritrash sauce of what makes the series so appealing blackmail,double dealing, morally dubious behavior and violent repercussions.
the game’s focus is specifically inter-gang rivalries over a turf war for the town of Charming with locations represented by coaster sized tiles that are drawn randomly to create the player board, at first I wasn’t sold on this but actually it adds a solid chunk of replay value and randomness to set ups, with the economy and tactics of each game dependent on the draw. As the game progresses more locations will open up offering either more ways to accrue firearms, cash or stash or with the option to trade one commodity for another. The game then becomes an engine building drag race to either assemble a gun running operation or cashing in on a drug empire, the problem being that the most valuable locations are so hotly contested that pretty soon our happy clappy worker placement descends into a war zone.
The goal of the game is to be the player who has the amassed the most cash here represented by some satisfyingly chunky tokens by the end of the sixth round, this is achieved by either buying and selling guns and/or drugs using the aforementioned locations with each player taking turns to complete actions dependent on the size of their gang. What weapons, drugs and cash the players accrue remain hidden behind a screen so it encourages plenty of opportunity for blustered and bull interspersed with copious amounts of drug deals and gun running and also for you to build a satisfying pile of greenbacks resembling one of Walter White’s cash storage lockers.
This being a worker placement locations cannot be used if another gang is already hanging about, now you could attempt to bribe them to move on or more satisfyingly kill em all! These violent disputes are settled via a throw-down, the strengths of each gang is totalled and players can secretly decide on whether to use any guns, these are then brandished in a closed fist. Once revealed these add to your gangs strength and will result in sending some of your rivals to the emergency ward or potentially the morgue, finally a dice is rolled adding just a squeeze of lemony randomness to allow for last ditch lucky breaks.
Its not all fun and games, any gun play will attract the attentions of the ATF and with it comes heat the more violent and naughty your gang becomes the higher the heat you’ll attract which effects not only the stash you can sell at the end of a round but also if it maxes out you’ll lose a member who takes the fall for all your dubious behavior.
Adding some flavor from the show are anarchy cards which are played each turn, offering everything from temporary locations, abilities and even some nasty events that can stop specific trades taking place or worse can target players with the highest heat. Much like the locations only a portion of the full deck of these cards are used each game, so again there is a whimsical randomness to how things will play out.
This is another solid entry from Gale Force 9, there’s a decent amount of game with enough crunch for a seasoned player to get their teeth into but not too much as to scare away fan’s of the show. And it has to be congratulated by managing to squeeze both a mathy trading game usually the home of farms and power plants with the cut throat and mischievous mayhem of the bluffing and murder of a old west poker game. It shouldn’t work but it does and is a genius abstraction of the core themes and elements of the series and a solid game, throw in some great components including miniature gang members, guns and cool little swag bags of Colombian marching powder and those irresistibly stack-able dollar bills and you have yourself a fine evenings entertainment, crack open a bottle of Jack and thrown on a leather jacket and your all set, just don’t expect to have many friends by the end of the night.