Bill Jones
United States
Niantic
Connecticut
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Our five-player gaming group had a go at this one last night for the first time, and the verdict was unanimous -- this is a very underrated game. I know at least a couple in the group were skeptical going in (there are DICE after all!), but as early as the second round (of twelve) there was already agreement that this is a good game, a very good game in fact. High praise indeed from a bunch that is primarily Eurogamers.

Bootleggers has a lot going for it. The artwork speaks for itself, where the board almost looks 3-D. Just look at it:



As you can see, there are also tons of cool little components that you can actually play with. You literally load your own trucks with crates of moonshine and then deliver them to the Speakeasy docks. How cool is that?! cool Believe me, it doesn't get old even after 12 intense rounds of play.

The heart of this game is the theme. Most games have a theme so this is nothing new, but Bootleggers wears its theme on its sleeve like no other. It's about mobsters during the Prohibition and all that went with them. Yes, it's about running 'shine, but it's also about graft, corruption, hits, double crosses, calling in favors, and of course, mob war. The '20s style trucks, machine gun toting mobsters (aka Influence Markers), and family still back rooms all contribute to this theme, while the game cards (with names like "You Dirty Rat" and "Move over, Pigeon") practically make you want to break out the shot glasses and whiskey. In fact, more than one of us said that next time we play it (and there will be a next time), we're going to line up the shots during the game.

While the theme is the heart, the soul of this game is the interaction. Gangster style. The idea is to screw the other players over. The rule book and designers encourage this type of gameplay, and the THUG cards ensure it. With the exception of Influence Markers, which cannot be sold or traded, negotiation is totally open, where cash deals, bribery, extortion, and even outright reneging on promises is within the rules. Hey, that's what mobsters do, capice? devil

Beneath the theme, Bootleggers is really a superior supply-chain management game. You make, deliver, and sell your home-distilled alcohol. If you don't have enough trucks, you can't deliver your hooch. If you don't improve the capacity of your illegal stills, your trucks go empty. And if you don't have enough influence in the Speakeasies, you end up dumping your cargo in the alley, or selling it at half the usual wholesale price to the corrupt cop at O'Malley's. The player who best balances these three aspects, while avoiding rubouts, hijacks, and other "accidents," will win the game.

As far as our first game last night, we were sold on the game long before the end. Bootleggers is a total and refreshing change of pace from our regular game queue, because of the amount of interaction, confrontation, and back-stabbing involved. Many of our other favorites, e.g. Race for the Galaxy, Agricola, Dominion, Puerto Rico, etc., are essentially solitaire games played among four to six players, with everyone minding their own assets and not really interfering much with the other players. Bootleggers is the opposite, where you f#$% over the other players to improve your own chances. There were several cons in our game last night, including one where a player (Ken) picked up the "Hey, Free Truck" card:



What happened was he held onto it for several rounds before eventually negotiating a deal where he sold it to another player (Kishore). I believe on the very next turn, Ken wound up with an empty truck, and I'm sure you can guess the rest - yep, Kishore announcing, "Hey, Free Truck!"

There is an elephant in the room, however, that I must mention, and it is the randomness of the game. There are 25 dice after all! In the end, a good strategy should usually win out, but there are no guarantees when this many dice are involved. That said, a combination of strategy and good fortune won the game for Kishore last night, coming all the way back from last place after eight rounds. Here's how it unfolded:

At the end of eight rounds when we all revealed our cash, Sreeram and I were leading with over 80G, while Kishore had roughly 30G. Ken and Robin were in the middle with somewhere between 40G and 60G. I started working on taking Sreeram down, playing the "Mob War" and "Bust a Shipment" THUG cards on him, while Ken and Robin focused on me (although Robin also worked on Sreeram, extorting 6G out of him with the "A Little Vigorish" card). Ken actually paid Sreeram to play his "Hit" card on me (relieving me of Controlling Influence in Barleycorn's), while Robin played the "Turf War" card on me, leaving me with a single die on my family still. I managed to get as high as 99G despite these setbacks, but couldn't get that last 1G to win the game. Meanwhile, Kishore produced 14 crates of whiskey in Round 11, loaded his trucks (his original two plus Ken's "free truck"), and then played his trump card - the "Big Payoff" (pictured above). He played it on the Real McCoy speakeasy (which had just opened that turn) to gain Controlling Influence. In a 5-player game, this speakeasy pays 3G wholesale plus 2G profit per crate. Kishore rolled a 15 with the four dice, giving him 70G for his 14-crate shipment, and pushed his total to 120G, easily beating my 103G and Sreeram's 100G final totals. That was a mind-blowing ending, and one of the wildest turnarounds I've seen in any game. Kishore actually knocked my beer over in the excitement, but I can't blame him - that was really incredible and perfectly played.

If I haven't given the game a good enough endorsement with this review, consider that Bootleggers is currently selling for as little as $10. At that price, I'm considering buying a backup copy, in case the next spilled beer ends up on the board or the cards. whistle My advice? Just buy it already and shut yer mouth, before I shut it for ya, see?

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Tyrone Slothrop
United States
Beaverton
Oregon
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The people I game with love Bootleggers. It was actually what I ended up using as a gateway game, I ended up buying 1 of them a copy, for 10 bucks how can you go wrong? Cripes, the little dudes with machine guns are worth 10 bucks by themselves
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Joe Maiz
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Palmyra
New Jersey
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Nice review: One game I played, that 'Hey, Free Truck' card came out on turn one, and was used promptly on me, leaving me without a truck on turn two and a rival with 2 trucks; it set me back at least 2 turns..[I rolled one box of hooch turn 1 and sold it for 2gs, leaving my truck empty]

None the less, I agree - very underrated game that alot of folks either havent played or know about - and for $10 online, makes a great xmas gift to family and friends who are gamers.
 
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Henrik Lantz
Sweden
Uppsala
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Great review for a great game! If you don't want interaction in your games, stay away, otherwise go buy it ASAP!

(10 bucks? You can buy this great game for 10 bucks?!? Costs 35 dollars here, and I still consider it cheap and well worth it).
 
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Ken Clark
United States
Connecticut
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Are you calling me a Eurogamer? This time I let it go, next time you sleep with the fishes.

Just for the record, I sold the "Hey, Free Truck" card for 6k on about round 6 or 7, and it sat there unused right up until the end, when it came out to deal the final blow, using my very own truck to boot. It also turned out that I could have used it to grab a medium truck the same round I sold it, from the same guy I sold it to.

I have to admit I was one of the doubters -- I really didn't expect much from the game. But it was great. The best part is how well the theme is integrated with the game. Every action you take just fits. Muscle buys you influence. Enough influence and you control the speakeasy -- putting you at the front of the line when selling your booze, and getting a profit on top of that. Lucky rolls may help you out this turn, but all that prosperity is going to make the coppers come sniffin around your doors next turn. Then there's the thugs that can tip things in your favor in subtle (or sometimes dramatic) ways. And finally all the deal-making, backstabbing, and general shenanigans that go on during "negotiation."

But even without the theme, its a suprisingly well-designed game, requiring players to manage several things at once and adapt as the game progresses.

I am looking forward to the next game -- and bringing my shot glass!
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Don Beyer
United States
Northville
Michigan
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Great review Bill - Thank you!

...and yes, I have had "hey, free truck" played on me too....

...by my brother...

...right after my nephew played "hijack!" angry


Don
 
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Bill Jones
United States
Niantic
Connecticut
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otfeldodja wrote:
Are you calling me a Eurogamer? This time I let it go, next time you sleep with the fishes.

Just for the record, I sold the "Hey, Free Truck" card for 6k on about round 6 or 7, and it sat there unused right up until the end, when it came out to deal the final blow, using my very own truck to boot. It also turned out that I could have used it to grab a medium truck the same round I sold it, from the same guy I sold it to.

I have to admit I was one of the doubters -- I really didn't expect much from the game. But it was great. The best part is how well the theme is integrated with the game. Every action you take just fits. Muscle buys you influence. Enough influence and you control the speakeasy -- putting you at the front of the line when selling your booze, and getting a profit on top of that. Lucky rolls may help you out this turn, but all that prosperity is going to make the coppers come sniffin around your doors next turn. Then there's the thugs that can tip things in your favor in subtle (or sometimes dramatic) ways. And finally all the deal-making, backstabbing, and general shenanigans that go on during "negotiation."

But even without the theme, its a suprisingly well-designed game, requiring players to manage several things at once and adapt as the game progresses.

I am looking forward to the next game -- and bringing my shot glass!


Easy there "Crazy Eye," er Ken! I didn't mean nuthin' by the Eurogamer slur...I was mostly talking about dem other guys, you know, Johnny "Rules" and "Cornstalks" Gray. whistle

But you make a good point about how the lucky dice rolls can actually hurt you later. That's just one of the clever balancing mechanisms designed into this game. Another is the bonus Influence Marker awarded to the last-place player at the end of rounds 4 and 8.

I also didn't mention the time of the game, which is advertised on the box as 90 minutes, but ended up taking us almost 3 hours. That's not a knock on the game at all, since the time practically flew by. Looking back, I'm not really sure HOW it took us 3 hours to play -- it seemed like we were cruising through the game from where I was sitting. Eh, no biggie. I would expect around 2 hours next time I guess, including time outs for shots.

 
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Adam Daulton
United States
Indianapolis
Indiana
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The time of the game is a gripe I do have with it. The old Risk players that I game with really like this game, but after the first few games we've played taking several hours, I think from now on we're going to play the 8 round variant. Rather than playing until 100k.

Good review and a game I do enjoy.
 
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Eric Schiedler
United States
Austin
Texas
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This game routinely takes us 1.5 hours with 5 players for the full 12 round (or to $100). Remember a player can score $100 in three rounds if they control the largest speakeasy. Therefore a game can end in Round 8 to 10 really easily. There is a ton of negotiation, but we get to it quickly, example: we don't let players haggle back and forth over 1 dollar for 15 minutes. That would actually be a misuse of the cards and negotiation tactics.
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Bill Jones
United States
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Connecticut
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eschiedler wrote:
This game routinely takes us 1.5 hours with 5 players for the full 12 round (or to $100). Remember a player can score $100 in three rounds if they control the largest speakeasy. Therefore a game can end in Round 8 to 10 really easily. There is a ton of negotiation, but we get to it quickly, example: we don't let players haggle back and forth over 1 dollar for 15 minutes. That would actually be a misuse of the cards and negotiation tactics.


We played just our second game last night, this time with 4 players (the first time we had 5). I can't say it enough how great this game is. It's just flat-out fun. As I was driving home from the game last night, I actually had a smile on my face the whole drive thinking about how much fun we just had.

The main difference with 4 players instead of 5 is that less MEN OF ACTION cards come out, so there are less nasty THUG cards in play. Even with 4 players, however, we were still able to open the Real McCoy (with its 3G payoff per crate), which is the largest speakeasy in play with less than 6 players. Time-wise, it took us 2-1/2 hours with 4, though we were playing with one new guy.

The game last night did not have the wild swing of our first game, where the player in last place after 8 rounds won the game. However, it still had a fantastically close ending where I ended Round 11 exactly at 100G, and the guy I figured to be in last place actually had 97G! Whew, too close for comfort! whistle I had 88G (and a 20G lead) when the cash was revealed at the end of Round 8, so for the next 3 rounds I was concentrating on shutting down the nearest 2 players while basically ignoring the 4th player. And it also cost me...

For me, the game is not about who wins or loses. I do think a good strategy will usually win despite the dice, and you do have to balance your ability to produce, ship, and sell your whiskey or you cannot win. But it's the interaction, with negotiation, threats, and of course screwing over your opponents that makes the game really stand out. Some games, even great ones, can become such deep brain-burners that a win leaves your ego satisfied, but not much joy beyond that. I think I'd rather lose a close game of Bootleggers and be smiling and laughing the whole way through it, than win at some of the other games in our queue.
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Jason Bessonette
United States
Seattle
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When I first got this game early last year we played it a lot, probably 20 times in a 3 month period. And while we dont play it as much as we used to, it still gets played. The game has good staying power.

I think the playing time thing people mention here shifts drastically. In fact, we can almost always get a game in under 70 minutes no matter how many players. Our games almost always end before round 8 as well.

We even play the 12 rounds no matter how much money variant and easily finish under 90 minutes. I love Agricola as a game, but I often enjoy this more and its much faster. My game collection certainly has room for both, and our group enjoys both a lot.

I have been trying to figure out what to do as an expansion to this. Its tough, because as it sits its a good game. I think the biggest thing to add is more/different cards. Its biggest problem is not enough money. I suggest printing some 50G bills.
 
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Ray Eifler
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as for an expansion, we talked and drafted a design where after you reach 100k, you start build casinos in the dawn of Vegas. You would have to wean yourself off of the wiskey racket, which of course affords other players catch-up opportunity.

Cards would be even more violent, but we were still working out the commodities. The casionos collectively would take in so much per turn. They would compete for top acts, which would result in greater revenues. Or, you could go the more underhanded route and bribe gaming officials or police to raid other casions. When all else failed, you would just shoot the place up!

I dont know if a publisher has an interest, because sales counts for Bootleggers have been nebulous.
 
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Don Beyer
United States
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In the spirit of issuing vigorous denials in the attempt to generate rumors and spur interest in a possible expansion... what I think Ray meant to say was: "There is no such thing as an expansion, we have not discussed an expansion, we are busy working on other projects, we won't play a reunion tour ever."

p.s. its called - bootleggers: las vegas expansion... but you didn't hear that here...


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