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Subject: Gangsters: A first impression rss

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Wesley Williams
United States
Melrose (Rensselaer County)
New York
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Four of us sat down to play Gangsters tonight. The game had been on my "short list" to play for nearly a year, and today it finally made it to the table. None of us had ever played the game before, but three of the four of us have many years of board game experience.

The theme urged me to LOVE this game, but it left something to be desired. It's not a bad game; I'm going to do my best to articulate what exactly it was missing and some suggestions to try and refine the game a bit more.

This musing is based on ONE play of the game (hence, the subject of this post). I’m left wondering if we missed a key rule or play mechanic. We even reread the rules after the game just to be sure. The only known deviation from the basic game was the omission of the 2 minute time limit and the kibitzing rule. (Both of these rules, we felt, would unnecessarily mire us on our first play as we all learned the game. Maybe I'd feel differently about the game if I played it again, but here are my thoughts:

Despite the game lasting about 3 hours, it barely seemed to get going before it was suddenly done. Many games have a natural progression (not unlike a movie or novel) that experienced gamers get a "feel" for. Only one of us got to 5 joints (most had 4 throughout the majority of the game), and we all set about extorting a business or two with the occasional vamp of someone's gangsters when the die roll permitted. Before we knew it, someone had $10,000. No bloody shootout in some crew’s joint - no retaliating massacre in a gang war, nothing.

The board seemed too big for an (essentially) 4 player game. During our play, there was no motivation to enter into direct conflict with other players. We used the cops to harass one another by shutting down some of the organized crime of the other players, but most of us felt it was more efficient to spend resources on an occasional recruit than anything else, and even that wasn’t required. We didn’t even see a benefit to buying more joints, since the public counters were so sparse on such a huge board that the cost outweighed the possible benefits. Those of us that reached 8 racketeers found that oftentimes extra move actions were not used.

So, what went wrong? Do we change the rules? One idea was to raise the monetary goal for ending the game (as the rules suggest) to something more than $10,000. After discussion, we thought this would just "lengthen the race": a race that was better run against the dice than opponents. It felt like four solo games running concurrently - very little player interaction. The best compromise we could think of was to remove the money victory condition altogether. That still left us wondering if the board was small enough to make resources so scarce as to require players to enter into conflict over joint ownership.

The game did seem balanced, as three of the four of us would have reached $10,000 on our respective turns during the winning round. Ironically, the only player that did not reach that benchmark engaged in more direct conflict with the other players than the rest. He thought that would be a legitimate path to winning, but as the game went on we all soon came to realize that wasn’t a possibility (at least in our game).

Despite this critical feedback, we all had fun playing the game. This post is more to elicit comments and suggestions by those that have much more experience with this game than we do. Heck - it’s played at the WBC every year, so it can’t be that bad. After this play we’re left asking - what did we miss?
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Bob Hamel
United States
Connecticut
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Well, just a couple comments from what I read.
You are right, the game CAN be over quick, or it can stretch out for quite a while - depends on how bloody the game is.

A few things to keep in mind -

Playing "defensively" - a player Can NOT win if he/she does not have at least 1 of each piece on the board so if a player looks like they are about to "go out" then the other players try to "gang-up" and Vamp or shoot a weak gang member (or members) to stop this from happening.

Likewise, shooting up a building or buying a building can take away the winning play from a player going for Monopoly of one color thus forcing shootouts and perhaps again a weakening of a gang. If a building does not "fall" then it keeps shooting EVERY TURN that a member of another gang is in the building - that can take down even the largest Rack.

Racks are certainly a key to movement choices which is why many games see Lots of Vamp action against them. If a player has only 1 or 2 Racks, their movement is certainly limited..letting an opponet's rack jump to 7 or 8 is rare in a game of veteran player since that person cn then (as you mentioned) have quite a few choices an moves.

Publics, if swarmed (2 or 3 publics being moved around adjacently owned joints) can produce quite a few quick dollars - especially if joints are high $ and have been build up to level 2 or 3.

Having a public or two, a roll of "6" on Vamp or Thug extorting and rack going into building to purchase or continue to "upgrade" allows for quick $ turn around and sometimes a very quick win.

THIS is the tension of the game, to try and be as quick as possible and yet plan ahead for a game that lasts (usually) about 12 - 15 turns.

Here is a website that has some more info, tips, strategies and assorted info on Gangsters - also, a PBEM tourney is also in the works so keep an eye out for it.

http://www.gameaholics.com/gangsters_status.htm

Hope this helps.
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John Pack
United States
Parker
Colorado
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Like many Avalon Hill games, Gangsters is closer to actual prohibition-related crime than it is to the legends. If you want non-stop killing, try Family Business (which is a blast). In Gangsters, your gangs patiently acquire ten G's, ten joints, or a monopoly (all of the joints of one color). You tip off the cops on a regular basis, but you save a massive shootout against other gangs for the critical situation that demands it.

When I first played (I'm now the GM at the World Boardgaming Championships), I had some of the same feelings -- that the money victory condition needed to be raised and that the game came to a sudden end with few, if any, shootouts. The experienced player takes into account the fact that the game will last only 12-15 turns (with as few as 4 possible and a rare game going to as many as 20). You don't have the time or the resources to engage in a dozen shootouts nor can you win with a strategy that will take 20 turns.

The exact movement rules of Gangsters mean that the game is one of maximizing probabilities. If you're trying to win with 10 joints, you'll want to use most of your two minutes getting your Racketeer into a new joint -- but not just any joint. You want the joint that makes it easiest to get into another new joint on your next move. This is even more true with a monopoly strategy -- where you're after specific joints. A good rule of thumb is that joints near subways with lots of entrances are easy to get to and easy to get to other places from. (Keep in mind that this is also true for Cops and Vamps!)

With a cash strategy, the most critical early move is to get your Vamp and Thug into out-of-the-way buildings where they can extort for the rest of the game (netting $700 per turn on average). Then you can use your moves to steer the Public toward your joints -- picking up an occasional bonus payout (which can be huge if you've upgraded your joints). Again, joints near subways and with lots of entrance tabs are the easiest to get Public into.

OK, how about stopping another player? To begin with one simply doesn't want to damage one's own gang in a huge shootout -- so you rely on Cops to do your dirty work. Make sure you know the distance of each Cop to the nearby crimes -- particularly of the player you think is in the lead. Move a Cop to set up more raid possibilities against your strongest opponent each turn.

If you're trying for joints, your Vamp should be hammering opponents' Racketeers and Thugs each turn. Not only does this reduce their movement and, if you can remove a Thug altogether, their extortion income, it makes your gang very formidable. After the first 4-5 turns, your gang can now be used to hit weaker opposing gangsters and key joints. Knocking out a cash-player's Vamp or Thug will not only hurt their income but require replacement (which can be very expensive in the Vamp's case). A big Racketeer hitting an enemy Vamp in an unowned joint (which it can buy next turn) is the perfect move for any joint collector.

If your opponent is relying on big joints to pull in cash with the Public, you may want a huge Thug in order to hit it. To do so, you'll need to recruit using any extra cash you've got (when the black die is low and you've got extra money that isn't needed for joint purchases) and move your Thug into proximity (in a nearby joint with multiple entrances, usually).

You should be actively working against any player with $5,000 or more, 7 joints or more, or all but 2 joints of a monopoly (particularly if they're well set to move ahead on their next move). Once a player hits $7,000, 9 joints, or all but 1 of a monopoly, you'll have to take risks as you go all-out to stop them (that is, to slow them down until you can win).

Gangsters is a blast -- particularly if you aggressively use the Cops, use your Vamp in key situations (even for cash players), and use your gang in shootouts to stop leaders. I might add that it's much more fun with the squirt gun!

Make each move count towards your goal AND work towards stopping your key opposition -- then you'll find the end of the game doesn't sneak up on you and that you get some of the shootouts you expected!

For more tips on play, check the strategy articles and quiz linked to
http://www.gameaholics.com/gangsters_tournament.htm.
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Wesley Williams
United States
Melrose (Rensselaer County)
New York
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Thanks to both of you for your thorough responses.

bhamel wrote:

Playing "defensively" - a player Can NOT win if he/she does not have at least 1 of each piece on the board so if a player looks like they are about to "go out" then the other players try to "gang-up" and Vamp or shoot a weak gang member (or members) to stop this from happening.


We thought of that, but couldn't the player in question just recruit the missing characters during his/her turn and thus meet the victory requirements anyways?


johnrpack wrote:

You should be actively working against any player with $5,000 or more, 7 joints or more, or all but 2 joints of a monopoly (particularly if they're well set to move ahead on their next move). Once a player hits $7,000, 9 joints, or all but 1 of a monopoly, you'll have to take risks as you go all-out to stop them (that is, to slow them down until you can win).


Isn't a player's money hidden information, or are the tourney rules different?

Thanks again! I'm going to try and make it to the WBC this year, so perhaps I'll see these more refined strategies in play.
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Bob Hamel
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>We thought of that, but couldn't the player in question just recruit the missing characters during his/her turn and thus meet the victory requirements anyways?....

Well, yes, but if that player is going to win my MONEY then any $ spent on recruiting will be less they'll have to win...PLUS, you recruit based on die roll, thus a roll of "6" for the red die would mean that the Vamp would cost $1,800.00...ALOT of cash, and what if Thug was also a 5 or 6 (another 5 or 6 hundred) - in a close MONEY game that could put the person back a turn or two..just enough for YOU to sneak in.

>Isn't a player's money hidden information, or are the tourney rules different?


As for hidden money - yes, you'll never KNOW for CERTAIN how much somebody has but if they are collecting 600 - 1,000 a turn, just like counting cards in poker, you can KIND of FIGURE OUT who is going for money, and ABOUT how much they have......
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Kirk Allton
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Lewis Center
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Did you play with any family members?

I havent played this game in a while, but there were three wargamers (me included) and my cousin. Of course, my cousin hit the first joint of mine he could, then I hit his back. Pretty soon we were making deals with each other to help hit the other guys, getting backstabbed by each other...it was nuts. Needless to say, the other two weren't exactly playing it nice either!

Of course, I don't think it was quite the intelligent way to play as described by others here, I guess it is who is sitting at the table.
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John Pack
United States
Parker
Colorado
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Money is hidden (though tournament rules require it to be on the table -- usually under the "hint" card or the tournament player chit). However, to have any chance of stopping a cash player, one must have at least a general sense of how much the other players have collected. Otherwise, one is guaranteed to be surprised at some point (unless one is doing the surprising).
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John Pack
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Parker
Colorado
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Part of the reason I recommend going after someone when they hit 5 G's (and red alert when they hit $7 G's) is that you don't know the exact cash count. If you wait to act, you'll have waited too long.

One should keep a mental note of roughly where each player is in terms of cash -- unless it's clear that they aren't collecting cash (i.e., spending it on expensive gang and join purchases each turn).
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