The Godfather is a true classic. A timeless piece of cinematic history, the drama and tension which this film evokes is something that comes along rarely, and innumerable attempts have been made to recapture that magic, be it in film, text, and even video game form.
Jess: That being true, its no surprise that there are also plenty of attempts by tabletop designers to use the mystique of la famiglia to inspire board games.
Andrew: And when you think ‘Godfather board game’, you probably imagine social deduction, bluffing and underhanded deals, or may just a crew of criminals, banging around town doing jobs for their powerful bosses.
What you probably don’t imagine is a dice chucker/area control hybrid with barely any theme on it at all. The Godfather: A New Don, from IDW Games, is a dice rolling area control game set in the grim underbelly of the power struggles of the Italian mafia in New York. Players will take on the roles of infamous crime families, each flexing their muscle to control neighborhoods of the city.
Jess: At least, that’s what it says on the box. Beyond its name, the whole ‘Godfather’ theme barely glimmers through in this otherwise fairly abstract title.
Over the course of the game, players will spend rounds rolling sets of dice, each trying to strategically spend those dice to gain influence over the board. Neighborhoods all over New York are up for the grabbing, and by placing the right set of dice, players can deploy their soldiers to claim those territories, adding up to victory points at the end.
Andrew: Changing the balance of power every turn, though, is the title of the Godfather, which moves from player to player. But more on that in a moment.
The flow of every turn in The Godfather: A New Don is straightforward, and carried out over five phases:
- Vegas: The Godfather rolls the oversized Vegas dice, and anyone who successfully gambled on the roll in the previous round gets these extra dice as a reward.
- Roll: All players now secretly roll their dice. From this pool, each player besides the Godfather puts a single die out as an offer to the Godfather player.
- Offer: The Godfather either accepts or rejects the offers made by players.
- Resolution: Players spend favors to manipulate their dice and try to muscle in on all the territory they can manage
- Clean up: A new Godfather is named.
Andrew: Now, an easy criticism of The Godfather: A New Don is its lack of theme, but there are two moments in each turn that are clearly designed to feel ‘Godfathery’. That’s not a word, but stay with me.
In the Vegas step, players will have placed their bets on what the Godfather will roll. Sure, it’s basically totally random, but if you guess correctly here, you’ll have extra dice to work with during your next turn.
And of course, in the Offer phase, the Godfather is at full power, either accepting the offerings that the other families bring, or making a (counter)offer they can’t refuse…at least, in theory. See, the Godfather can of course take the die on offer – that adds the die to the Godfather’s hold and also lets the offering player place a soldier on the matching favor space (favors are how players manipulate their dice). But if the Godfather wants, they can instead simply tell the player what die face they want, and if the player has it, they must give the Godfather that die instead (getting favor for that number).
However, there is always the chance that the player simply doesn’t have the number the Godfather demands. And in that case, things don’t really work out for the Godfather as you may imagine they should…
Andrew: Alright you’se mugs, I’m the Godfather this round! Here’s what-
Jess: Great, let me tell you how this is going to work. You can take this 5.
Andrew: But, wait, hold on a second. I’m the Godfather, so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. That’s a thing I can do!
Jess: Weeeell, yes and no. Either you can take the 5 I’m offering (and letting me place a soldier on the 5 spot), or you can always ask for something else. Of course, if I don’t have whatever you ask for, I don’t have to give you squat. And no matter what you do, I’m still putting a solider on one of these spots, either the one you asked for or the one I started with.
Andrew: So, essentially, what’s happening is you’re making me an offer…
Andrew: …that I can refuse, but I may get nothing if I refuse it, and you get something valuable no matter what I do?
Andrew: …And we’re sure I’m the Godfather this round?
So, a bit less ‘swimming with the fishes’, a little more ‘go fish’.
Ultimately, this honestly bugged the crap out of me – being the Godfather is supposed to make you temporarily the most powerful player on the board. But because of the round structure, you never actually have control over the business at the table; rather, you are reactionary, either accepting the offers that other players feel fit to make, or demanding a different die value than whatever they toss you, hoping that they actually have one of those dice to give you.
Instead of an intimidating mafia boss, the Godfather here feels, well, whiny, either accepting the scraps tossed to them or asking for more but just as often not getting anything at all. In a game with such paper-thin theming to being with, this odd reversal of roles felt really out of place.
Another ding that can’t be ignored is the aesthetic presentation. The colors are drab in a way that doesn’t suggest ‘gritty realism’ as much as ‘we ran out of primary colors’. I appreciate avoiding garish, bright colors in a game about organized crime, but the presentation made it a challenge to discern differences between districts at a glance, and everything just felt muted and somehow visually boring.
The Godfather: A New Don isn’t a bad game, really, but it did nothing to particularly engage us. Its gameplay isn’t really inspired by the source material, and that aside, it also isn’t particularly exciting, either. Turns are very samey; you will find your first turn virtually identical to your last, and your fourth game virtually identical to your first. There is no real emergent strategy, no depth or complexity to keep the game flowing interestingly, and between the unexpected lameness of the Godfather role and the drab aesthetic, The Godfather: A New Don is simply a fully functional game with relatively little to recommend it over similarly designed titles.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this title. We were not otherwise compensated.)