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[Review] Blood Feud in New York

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Blood Feud in New York (Eagle Games and Rebel Forge, 2004 - Chris Toepker and Kyle Weinandy) took me by surprise. I usually keep an eye on upcoming Eagle games, but this one slid under the radar. The reason for this is that Blood Feud was actually designed by Rebel Forge; Eagle distributed the game. Of course, I find this pleasing, because an Eagle game is almost guaranteed to be full of plasticky goodness, and Blood Feud is no exception.

In fact, if the Gamemaster series was still around today, Blood Feud would fit right into that category from the size of the box, to the amount of plastic inside, to the way the game plays, to the rulebook, etc. The game initially feels like Axis and Allies or Samurai Swords with a mob boss setting in New York City. While there is an elimination factor to the game, it’s a lot of fun to play and can often be finished up in about two hours. Luck plays a roll, but so does skillful maneuvering and purchasing; and the game just reeks with theme (and plastic smell).

A very large board is placed on the table, showing a map of New York City divided up into five boroughs. Each of these are divided up into several city districts. There are also other spaces on the board, such as parks, water spaces, and airports. Each player is given six figures in their color: one mob boss and five “family members”, as well as thirty discs to show area control and some vehicle markers. There are six starting locations on the board; and depending on the number of players, each player sets up their family in the location specified by the rulebook. Piles of neutral units are placed near the board (copper thugs, silver henchmen, gold hit men, limousines, helicopters, speedboats, corrupt precincts, illicit activities, and penthouse palaces. Players are given a few of the neutral units to place in their starting district (depends on how many players are in the game) and a reference card; and the game is ready to begin. One player takes their turn first, with player passing around the table.

On a turn, a player follows four phases. The first is the battle phase, in which the player moves their forces on the board to attack opponents or to take over neutral territory. Battles occur very similar to those in an Axis and Allies battle, except for a few changes. For one, players attack with ten-sided dice and must roll higher than a specific number for each type of unit:
- Thugs: Move one space, can hit on a 7 or higher. (Cost $100)
- Henchmen: Move two spaces, can hit on a 6 or higher. (Cost $250)
- Hit Men: Move two spaces, can hit on a 4 or higher. They also get a “sneak attack”, which allows them one free shot before the battle begins, with casualties immediately removed. (Cost $450)
- Family Members: Move one space, can hit on a 5 or higher. (Cannot be bought)
- Mob Boss: Moves one space, can hit on a 5 or higher. (If he dies, the player controlling him loses the game.)
- Limousines: Move four spaces, carry five units, cannot attack. (Cost 300)
- Speed Boats: Move five spaces in the water, carry five units, cannot attack. (Cost 150)
- Helicopters: Move nine spaces (must land in either the player’s territory or a neutral airport) and carry three units. (Cost 550)
- Corrupt Precincts: A building that forces the attacker to pay a “bribe” to the bank before attacking that area. Also adds +1 to all the attacker’s rolls. (Cost 130)
- Penthouse Palace: Adds +3 to all the attacker’s rolls. (Cost 900)
If a unit rolls a “hit”, an enemy unit is eliminated; but not before it gets its chance to fire. The only exception is the special attack of the hit men, which causes immediate casualties. The battle continues until one side is eliminated. If the defender wins, they take control of any vehicles used in the attack. If the attacker wins, they take control of the district, placing one of their markers there, and taking over the leftover units in the district. If, however, there is a corrupt precinct in the area, the attacker must pay $100 more to the bank than the last price paid, or they don’t take control but merely reside there.

If a family member is eliminated during a battle, the opposing player may either kill the member (removing it from the game) or take it hostage. Only the winner of a battle has this choice; all other family members are killed. After all fights are resolved, any units that didn’t battle can move during the “Move” phase. Movement is pretty simplistic, even when combining moves with vehicles, which makes long moves possible.

After battle and movement, the player enters the Factor Income Phase. This is done via the following formula: First, the player adds up the number of districts they control (have a control token in) and multiplies it by $10. The player also adds $20 for each Penthouse Palace they have and $40 for each Illicit Activity (these cost $200). The sum of all this is then multiplied by the number of independent family members the player has (including the mob boss). This basically means that if I have five family members but two of them are in the same space, I have four independent family members. These numbers can get quite large, so a revenue table is included on the back of the player aid. The player takes the final amount of cash from the bank and immediately enters the Make Purchases Phase. Players can buy new units, vehicles, and buildings. All units and vehicles must be placed either in the same district as the Boss, or in any district with a Penthouse Palace. Buildings can be placed in any district, but only one building can be in each district. Play then passes to the next player.

Players can negotiate at any time - trading money, units, captured family members. Units are left in one district, with the other player moving into the district and “capturing” them. Players can turn over control of an entire district to another player, bribe players, threaten to kill captured family members, and basically conspire together. Players do not have to follow their agreements and may double-cross one another. Players can even peacefully coexist in the same district, but the player controlling the district can commandeer all units in the district at their leisure.

When a player’s boss is killed, they are out of the game. The player who assassinated the boss gains control over all living family members of the losing player, as well as all their money. All units, vehicles, control tokens, and corrupt precincts are removed from the board; but the other buildings remain. Play then continues until either all other players are eliminated, or until one player reaches an income of $6,000. This player is then declared the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The box is rather large but doesn’t really waste much space, as there are tons of pieces inside. The tokens are functional (very similar to those in Axis and Allies) but were a small pain to punch out. I really liked the plastic pieces, though. Between the multi-colored units, the cool helicopters with rotating blades, the neat buildings, etc. everything just really exudes a “cool” factor. The units are fairly large, standing an inch high off of the table, and are made of soft plastic - truly great quality. The only problem I had with mine was that when I first opened the box, I smelled a fairly powerful paint smell. This went away as I set up the first game but was rather memorable. (Several students quickly grabbed the bags so that they could sniff them.) This affected game play zero, I just found it interesting (and there is a thread on boardgamegeek that explains why the smell was there.) The board is huge with plenty of room to place the units and the buildings. The game provides ten 10-sided dice, player aids for every player, a “Quick-start” foldout, and paper money in several denominations.

2.) Money: My only quibble with the game (some people don’t like player elimination - just don’t play this game, then) was the money. It got to the point that the money just got annoying to hand out to a player, just to have them spend it immediately. The highest bill was $100, which made handing someone $1740 tremendously annoying. I finally added $500 bills from another game, and we’re considering using paper to record money in a future game. This isn’t a big deal - just one I noted.

3.) Rules: The rules were nicely laid out and really reminded me of the Gamemaster game rules. A very nice cardboard foldout was included that not only gave a quick start set of rules but also showed diagrams of moving for game play expediency. The thirty-page rulebook had quite a few illustrations, and there were no questions about the rules in our games that weren’t easily covered by the rulebook (although in my first game I missed the rule that said that the Corrupt Precinct was a building). The game is easy to teach; and thanks to the player aids, it was smooth to play.

4.) Revenue: I know that I said I wasn’t keen on the amount of money, but I really do enjoy the financial system of the game. While I’m not sure that the income generation is groundbreaking enough to warrant a patent, I will admit that it’s quite clever. If a player spreads out their family members, they will rake in quite a bit more money - but at the same time really put their family members at risk. Capturing and trading family members really becomes important, as they make a wonderful trading fodder. Buying Illicit Activities is also important, but one must be careful to protect these money machines. Blood Feud is a “rich get richer” game, but players can make quick strikes to capture money from an unwary opponent if they are wise.

5.) Theme and Artwork: The art for the game is fairly serious and grim, but not so grim that people will be put off from the game - I just mean that it’s not very cartoony or full of parody. Even though, the “mob” feeling enters the game, and players will have a blast talking to each other in bad accents. The game suggests that each player come up with a back story for their mob; and as stupid as that sounds, it seems to come naturally in the game. This is certainly a very theme-filled game, and this will thrill those who like the genre. Phrases such as “wise guy”, “are you talking to me?”, and “whack him!” pervaded our games, and everyone had a tremendous time.

6.) Strategy: Knowing what buildings and units to buy can be rather daunting. Since there is a general pool of neutral units, it’s quite easy for some of them to run out (henchmen go quickly); so players must buy carefully. It’s also annoying to put a lot of money into a Penthouse Palace and a helicopter, only to have another player take it the next turn. Knowing what to buy, and when is a crucial part of the game. Utilizing vehicles to their full potential is also important, and players who ignore their opponents’ boats and limos will do so to their peril. Of course, since the game includes dice, it’s quite possible for luck to play a huge role in the game. But that comes with the territory, and any light “war game” such as I consider this one to be. There usually aren’t huge stacks of units in this game, as the striking power of them is fairly poor; and players must constantly be on their guard to watch all their territories.

7.) Negotiation and Fun Factor: I really like trading family members around and threatening them with execution. This is an idea that was in that horrible debacle Tenjo - executed much better here. Since double-crossing comes with the territory, games can be fairly tense; and gun battles occur frequently. We had a blast playing, with several teenagers in my first game commenting that they immediately wanted to buy the game for themselves. Some people aren’t going to enjoy the game (those who don’t like the Gamemaster series, for example); but if you enjoy multi-player battle games, this is an excellent one.

I enjoyed the game for its theme, game play, and just piles of plastic pieces everywhere. The game looks very sharp, starting with the bold box to the awesome site of the board literally covered with little men and units. The “toy factor” of the game is enough to convince some people; but the easy, fun game play will also cause enjoyment. If you aren’t a fan of player elimination or games where everyone can gang up on the leader, then Blood Feud isn’t for you. But if you want to speak in a bad New York accent and run a crime empire in a game, then this is probably the best one currently. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some “Family” business to take care of.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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