You know when you get a song stuck in your head and it goes on and on, round and round, until you’re driven half cracked by it? Normally referred to as an earworm, it’s one of the most awful things your brain can do – it’s like having all of the RAM inside your head devoted to one single process and you can do NOTHING else until the cycle wears itself out. I’ve noticed recently that the same thing happens to me with games. I play something, then replay certain sections of the game over in my mind. Whether it’s a satisfying round of Amerigo or something dumb I’ve done in an online game of Carcassonne, it can get annoying. Sometimes, though, I find myself going back because I’ve simply enjoyed a game and want to play again: Hello Mob Town, you splendid little bugger!
A while ago, Phil from 5th Street Games sent me a prototype copy of his currently running Kickstarter campaign which – as of earlier on today – managed to hit its funding goal. I hereby guarantee that every single person who receives a copy of Mob Town is going to have a bloody good time because I honestly reckon that this is going to be in my end of year best-of list for 2014. Quite the statement for a game that’s not even been properly published yet, but I stand by it; Mob Town is dirty, low down, sneaky and straight-up awesome fun. You WILL want a copy when you play it, if only because it pretty much gives you a license to freely hurl abuse at your fellow players.
Between two and four people can play, each one taking control of their own gang. Over the course of three rounds, you’ll look to score points by taking over properties in randomly generated towns, with whoever has the highest total at the end of the game crowned the best mobster. There are five different property types, each of which have four cards numbered from 1 to 4 – so, twenty cards in total – but not all of them are used in each round; it’ll be between twelve and fourteen, depending on how many are playing. There’s also a draw deck that is filled with the animal hench-beasts that you’ll use to exert your influence over the towns, each of whom are also given a numeric value, as well as a set of Agenda cards for each player. We’ll cover those shortly.
On your turn, you have a whole bunch of options available to you – however, you can only do one action when play comes round so the game moves at a pretty decent pace. Most of the time you’ll be drawing cards from the deck or trading one in to grab a bunch from a face up selection in order to boost your options. Should you see a property in the town that you like, you pay its cost by discarding from your hand, but you can’t just put down anything. You see, each of the property types can only be “bought” by two different animals: Hotels can only be taken over by Snakes and Foxes, for example, while Weasels and Rats are used to grab Factories. When taking over a property, you can use any combination of the necessary cards to pay the cost, then you put one of your tokens on the card to show your influence over the property. Unfortunately, just because you’re in control of a place, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way… Your opponents can wrest a property from you by paying its value plus however many tokens are on it. This can lead to plenty of back and forth battles for certain cards in the town, especially if a couple of players need it to meet an Agenda.
Oh yeah, Agendas! This is where they come in. At the start of each round, you’ll need to choose two of them then work towards fulfilling them by seizing control of the right places. Some of the Agendas demand you control the majority of a certain building type, while others are all about focusing on having the most connected properties or simply more than anyone else. Manage to meet the requirements of your Agendas and you’ll score a bonus at the end of each round – sure, it may only be three points for each one met, but that can be the difference between first place and last. Thankfully, should your plans go awry, you also have the option to switch an agenda out from your hand for something that could potentially bring in points. Should you get trapped in one section of the town, you can also pay other players to pass through areas they own in the form of cards from your hand – you always have options!
Finally, players each have three Briefcase tokens at the start of the game that can be traded in to introduce a new building from the remaining town cards – very useful in to bring in even more extra points and get those valuable Agendas met, but there’s a catch; each unused token is worth a further two points at the game’s conclusion, so spending them is a big decision. Rounds finish when “The Law” card appears, whether it’s drawn from the deck by a player or added to the line of those available to pick up. Each owned property earns the controlling player the amount of points printed on it, Agendas are checked and scored, then a whole new randomly generated town is made.
(A quick aside about how each town is created – it may be the most ingenious way I’ve seen to make a randomised playing area. Each of the town cards has an arrow pointing either north, south, east or west, and once the first card is put down, it’s simply a matter of following the arrow and placing the next one. If there’s no space right next to the card, just keep going in the signified direction until there is space! This simple process creates all manner of town layouts, from long and spindly to all bunched together, and though it’s an often heard cliche, you’ll never see the same town twice!)
And that’s it – but why is Mob Town stuck so firmly in my brain? Well, it’s undoubtedly down to the devious tactics that come into play during the game’s three rounds. Even with two players, the limited amount of space on the board combined with the Agendas that have been secretly chosen mean that they have no choice but to confront each other; get four people around the table everything gets very busy very quickly! Looking back at the games I’ve played, I keep thinking about whether it would’ve been better to switch out Agendas mid-round, or introduce new buildings at the expense of those valuable Briefcases. Any game where I find myself second-guessing my actions well after it’s been packed away has got to be worth anyone’s attention.
There are a couple of issues that I think need addressing before 5th Street Games go into production, the main one being the scoreboard. Stopping at 25 points when you can easily score 50 or more over the three rounds is annoying, though far from gamebreaking. Also – and this might sound really dumb – it’d be nice to have a little clarification on what animal gangs each player are in control of. I mean, each of the colours come with a symbol (bones, paw prints, that kind of thing), but the rulebook doesn’t specify what beasts they represent. These are tiny, nitpicking issues that can be sorted out with a couple of sentences in the rulebook and a differently set out score track, and if those are the worst things about a game when it’s in prototype form, you should definitely be at least looking at the Kickstarter page right now.
Mob Town is a wonderful way to pass a half hour, scaling well no matter how many people are sat at your games table. Even though it’s light on rules, there’s a lot of player interaction and plenty of potential for screwing over your opponents. The card art is very cute indeed (also done by the game’s designer, the talented swine) and the information you need to access is clear, so thumbs up on that score. All in all, this isn’t just one of the best Kickstarter games at the moment – this could easily be one of my favourites of all time. I can’t wait to see what the final version ends up looking like, especially now that there’s also a bunch of extras available via the City Limits expansion that change the game up even further. Go check it out – it’s running until March 10, 2014, and it’s pretty bloody excellent.
Designed by Danny Devine and published later this year by 5th Street Games, Mob Town plays with between two and four people with games taking around 30-40 minutes. A copy on Kickstarter will set you back $25 ($35 with the City Limits expansion), and there’s even a Print and Play version of the game to try out for free. Give it a shot – you could have yourself a new favourite filler!