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[Review] Bootleggers

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Eagle Games has received, in my opinion, some unfair criticism over the past two years in regards to their games. People complain about the rules, mostly, and the fact that the games don’t seem to be playtested. While I personally disagree with this opinion, the fact is that Eagle Games has slowly been evolving over the past two years. Age of Mythology was a distinct step away from the light war game. Bootleggers (Eagle Games and SDR Games, 2004 - Donald Beyer, Raymond Eifler, and Steven Gross) is yet another step in Eagle’s progression towards the American “Euro-game.” And while some purists may never like the amount of luck in Bootleggers, I think they’ve succeeded in their goal.

The theme (which is obviously about bootlegging) is extremely strong, and the game is fair and balanced with some interesting mechanics. I had a few small component issues (which are dealt with nicely by Eagle), but the game was simply a blast to play! I think that the game is a successful blend of American theme with a “German” game, to produce something that is quick and fun with tremendous components. I certainly don’t condone bootlegging, but for some reason it’s fun to simulate the corruption of this time period.

Players take the part of different mob bosses, attempting to sell the most moonshine, and gaining the most money. Each player is given a Family Still, which also doubles as a reference card. The still has four spots for dice; a die is placed on one of them. Each player also receives $10,000, and twelve “muscle” markers - little plastic gangsters - one of which is placed in an area called the “back room” on the reference card. There are cards, numbered from “1” to “72”, called Muscle cards. These are split into four groups, sorted by the color on the face of the cards (# 1-18 are red, etc.) The groups are each shuffled with three cards being dealt to each player, giving players a total of twelve cards. The remainder of the cards is removed from the game. Players also receive a small truck (capacity of 4), with the remainder of the plastic trucks being put in a bank. The bank also has the rest of the money, 21 dice, six remote stills, a pile of wooden cubes (crates of moonshine) and some speakeasy improvement markers. The board is set up, showing six “speakeasies”. A pile of “Men of Action” cards are shuffled and placed into the appropriate place, as it is a deck of Truck cards. A cube is placed on a twelve-space track, representing the number of rounds; and the game is ready to begin!

Each round has six phases, in which all players participate. In the Muscle phase, the top truck card is turned face up (showing a small, medium, or large truck), and one Men of Action card is turned face up for each player in the game. Each player then chooses one Muscle card from their hand and plays it face down. The cards are revealed simultaneously and determine player order, from the highest number to the lowest. Each player must then pay a fee shown on the card (either nothing, or from one to four thousand dollars) and also pay fees for each truck they currently own. In turn order, the players choose one of the cards that are face up, deciding to either play it, keep it (only some cards), or discard it. There are many cards in the Men of Action deck.
- Influence cards allow the player to put more henchmen pieces in their back room.
- Still improvement cards allow the player to add a die to their still, or sometimes start up a remote still (which also has room for four dice).
- Speakeasy improvement cards allow the player to put a speakeasy improvement on one of the speakeasies.
- If a player chooses the truck card, they must pay for the truck, discard the card, and take the matching size truck from the bank.
- Thug cards do a large variety of things, from attacking other players to stealing their booze, to switching tokens, etc. They’re the only cards they may be kept in hand.

The next phase (Send in the Boys) has each player, in turn order, place any or all of their influence markers in the Speakeasies. Except for the first Speakeasy (O’ Malleys), there are several spaces for the henchmen; and players may place these henchmen influence markers in any open circle. Several of the circles in each speakeasy are shaded; when these spaces are filled up, the speakeasy is declared to be “open”. Players have one of four kinds of influence in each speakeasy.
- No influence: If they have no markers there.
- Minority influence: If they have markers there, but not the most.
- Majority influence: If they have the most markers at the speakeasy.
- Controlling influence: If they have the most markers at the speakeasy, and more than all the other players combined.

The third phase (Fire up the Still) simply involves each player rolling all the dice they have on their still(s). Players receive a number of crates from the bank, which they place in their back room, equal to the sum of their rolled dice. In rounds four through twelve, the player whose family still (not remote still) produces the most crates has a “Copper” figurine placed at their still. If a player with the copper rolls a “5” on any of their Family still dice, then their family still produces no whiskey that round.

Players then “Run the Whiskey” (Phase four). Players load up their crates into their trucks, making sure to hold to the truck’s limitations (4, 6, or 9 crates). Players may sell crates to each other, or rent their trucks, or make any kind of deal they want during this round. All crates must be loaded or discarded. Players then move their trucks, in turn order, to the Speakeasies. Each Speakeasy has three lanes, marked by one, two, or three stars (except O’Malley’s, which has only one lane.) The player who has the controlling influence or majority influence in a speakeasy is the only person who may use the three star lane. Players with minority influence use the two star lane, and players with no influence in that speakeasy use the one star lane.

During the “What’s the Password” phase, players roll the number of dice shown on each speakeasy to show the demand there (O’ Malley’s has no dice rolled - consumption there is unlimited). For each improvement token on the speakeasy, players add one to each die rolled. The Speakeasy then buys that many crates, starting with the trucks in lane three, then lane two, and finally lane one, in order of the trucks that are in those lanes. If the demand is not enough, the trucks too far back in the queue just discard their crates. The controlling or majority player decides whether the trucks in the one star lane sell their crates. Each player sells their crates for the price listed on the Speakeasy, discarding the crates. If a speakeasy has a controlling player, that player receives a profit per crate sold - even crates from their own trucks.

During the last phase, all the muscle cards played are discarded, the round token is moved, and play proceeds to the next phase. At the end of turns four and eight, each player gets one free influence marker to put in their back room (the player in last place gets two influence markers). Play proceeds until either one player gets $100,000 (in which case they win) or after the twelfth round is over, in which case the player with the most money is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: I’ll start with the biggest gripe people have with the game, and that’s the shortage of money in games with a lot of players. However, Eagle Games recently announced that this is only a problem in the first print run, and they will send extra money to whoever needs it - excellent customer service. Other than that, my only miniscule gripe was that the numbers on the trucks weren’t easily distinguishable. However, you can download sticker numbers online, and it’s not that big of a deal regardless. With those mentioned, I absolutely loved the components. Everything, from the artwork to the plastic henchmen was just top notch. It fit the theme quite well, and the game was just fun. Best of all were the little wooden cubes and trucks. As stupid as it sounds, there’s just a lot of pleasure to be found loading up cubes in trucks and driving them around. If the game only came with the trucks, I would have been happy. But using the plastic henchmen for influence tokens is so much niftier than cardboard tokens and definitely added the “Eagle” touch to this SDR design. The trucks and men are made out of good quality plastic, and the game provides a lot of little dice, which are used heavily (Steve Jackson, take note!). The cards are of good quality with time-period artwork on them, and the board looks like a boardwalk right out of a mobster movie. Eagle Games proves once again that they put out some of the best component-heavy games on the market.

2.) Rules: This is easily the best rulebook Eagle Games has put out so far, it was very clear, and the sixteen-page booklet had many illustrations, pictures, and rule clarifications. The game itself is rather simple, with the only possibly confusing things being the cards; but there are explanations of them in the rules, with clarifications being made on timing, etc. The game can be taught in a fairly short amount of time, and the game can be explained a bit at a time - like explaining each card as they are turned up.

3.) Theme: Some people may not want their kids pretending to be mobsters selling whisky and muscling their way into illegal booze fronts. But the game, if this sort of thing doesn’t bother you, really holds true to the theme! We were talking like mobsters, driving our little trucks around the table, and setting up armed convoys. Perhaps the amount of luck in the game (the rolling of the dice) would scare some away, but the theme solidly plunks the game back down into the fun category. This is most true with the Mob cards.

4.) Mob Cards: The mob cards add a huge “take that” factor to the game, which some folk love, and others hate. These cards allow players to hijack another player’s truck, steal whiskey from their still, force players to pay money to the bank, destroy influence markers in a speakeasy, and other nasty things. Now, added into the flavor of the game, this really helps the negotiation phase. “Give me $3,000, or I’m going to hijack your truck!” and other cruel threats can be heard throughout the game. The board is really nice, and the way the components match the theme really helps game play. Putting cardboard tokens on a grid and putting blocks directly on the board might work, but the henchman plastic figures mesh with the artwork, which meshes with the little trucks. This game oozes with theme.

5.) Strategy: I’ve mentioned how there is a certain luck factor in the game, and someone who rolls high can make a killing on a certain turn. But, the game seeks to thwart that by the usage of the “copper”. Knowing when to play the right Muscle card is crucial and can involve a bit of bluffing. It’s a bit annoying to play the “72” muscle card and find that the next highest card was the “23”. Everyone has the same range of cards, and playing the highest card when a good Mob card is on the table is critical. Getting a remote still up and running is very useful, but so is having total control of a speakeasy. The cool thing about the game is that you can’t control everything, even when you are on top of your game. In one game, I tried to control a fleet of trucks that I rented out to other drivers, while in another I tried to take over several of the speakeasies. There are different general strategies, all adding to the fun.

6.) Fun Factor: Bootleggers was pure fun. The guys from SDR games have really produced some fun rules, and the bits from Eagle are just fantastic. It may sound silly to you, driving trucks around, and having turf wars with henchmen; but it really is a lot of fun, especially combined with good mechanics. Not everyone I played the game was as enamored as I was, but everyone did have fun and enjoy the game. Teenagers especially loved it - the toy factor was huge, but the game play had some real meat.

There have been arguments before about combining American theme and German mechanics successfully. (There will probably be more when people read this review.) But the designers, by their own words, deliberately set about to create a nice morphing of the two. And I believe they’ve succeeded. No one will call this game dry, boring, or over analytical. But at the same time, I can’t see anyone calling it luck-driven, random, or chaotic. Bootleggers is an excellent American-themed game that should appeal to Euro gamers. It’s Eagle’s best product yet, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks that they might enjoy the theme.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

Joined: 04/23/2013
[Review] Bootleggers

I agree. I enjoyed the game thoroughly. If you like Pirate's Cove, definitely give bootleggers a try!


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