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[Review] I'm the Boss

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Slowly but surely, I’m going to try to play most of Sid Sackson’s games. Face 2 Face games is helping me accomplish that goal with their reprints of many of the Sackson classics. I’m the Boss (Face 2 Face Games, 2004 - Sid Sackson) is a reprint of Kohle, Kies & Knete, and is yet another reason Sid Sackson was a true game designer. I’m a big fan of negotiation games, especially ones that are fast, furious, and allow a lot of people to get involved.

I’m the Boss is a great game, as long as five or six players are playing. Negotiation games seem to by necessity require many players, and this isn’t an exception. With a full complement of six players, however, especially those of tenacious spirits, the game can hit a high of excitement that I’ve not seen in too many other games. Until I played I’m the Boss, Dragon’s Gold was my favorite game. I still love that game, but I think I’m the Boss has been more fun for me. I could see how hot-blooded people could lose their cool over a heated exchange; and a bit of luck can slightly affect the game; but boy oh boy, was it ever fun!

A large board is placed in the middle of the table, with a track of sixteen large spaces surrounding it. Each space stands for a “big deal” and has listed a number of required investors for that deal, as well as the amount of shares that deal lists as a dividend. Sometimes specific investors are required, which are listed on the space or possibly a choice between other investors. A pile of deal cards, numbered from one to fifteen, is placed face up in numerical order in the middle of the board. Six investor cards are randomly dealt, one to each player, with the remainder (if any) placed to the side of the board. Each investor has a name starting with a different letter, and a specific color denoting their family. Piles of money, with denominations in the millions, are sorted and placed near the table. A stack of ninety-eight Influence cards are shuffled, with five cards dealt to each player, forming their hand; and the remainder forming a draw pile in the middle of the table. The player whose investor comes first in alphabetical order goes first, and the player to their right takes a dollar token, placing on any space of their choice. The player who goes first is the Boss for a turn, after which play passes clockwise around the table.

On a player’s turn, they can either “make a deal” on the space the token is on or roll a single six-sided die. After rolling the die, they can either “make a deal” on the new space, or draw three cards from the deck (maximum hand size of twelve cards). Either way, after the deal or taking cards, play passes to the next player. When a player decides to “make a deal”, negotiations begin! The top card of the deal cards shows how much each share is worth, from $2 million a share to $5 million a share. Each deal has a prerequisite number of investors (and possibly specific ones needed) to complete the deal.

“The Boss” (current player) is in charge of the deal and will get the total amount of money the shares are worth, if the deal is successfully concluded. To do so, he must have the required investors “in play.” The player’s own investor(s) are automatically “in play”, and he can elicit the help of other players to let him use their investors. The Boss (or other players) can also play “Clan cards” - family members of the investors who can take the place of that investor to meet the requirements needed for the deal - in front of himself. When making deals with the other players to get the cards he needs, the Boss can only promise them money from the completed deal (which he MUST give), nothing else. Players can also play other Influence cards during a deal to affect the proceedings.
- Recruitment cards: These must be played in groups of threes, or are worthless. When playing a triplet of them, a player can permanently steal another player’s Investor card.
- Travel cards: A travel card can be played on an Investor or Clan card, putting it out of play for that deal (Clan cards are discarded, the Investor card is only temporarily set aside for the deal; either way, the travel card is discarded). Most travel cards target a specific Investor family, but a few are wild cards.
- Boss cards: A player can play an “I’m the Boss” card, taking over the deal. They are now in charge (all previous negotiations made this deal are negated), and everyone must now deal with the new boss. Multiple cards of this type can be played, causing the position of the Boss to change several times over a deal. The playing of this card also changes the turn order, as the next turn will start with the person who is to the left of the current boss.
- Stop cards: These cards cancel recruitment triples, travel cards, and boss cards.
When playing a card, a player can affect their own deal, or any deal; even one they have no stake in.

After all negotiations are finished, if the Boss can successfully complete the deal, they announce that the deal is closed and receive the amount of money that deal is worth. They must then give to other players the amounts promised during negotiations. The deal card is flipped over and placed on top of the space the dollar sign is on, showing that the deal is closed for the remainder of the game. (The space is skipped when rolling the die). If the deal is unsuccessful, none of this happens; and play passes to the next player. Either way, all players take back into their hand any Clan cards they have played, with all other cards discarded. After the tenth deal up to the fourteenth deal, a die is rolled immediately. If the number rolled matches the number(s) on the back of the deal card, the game ends. The game automatically ends after the fifteenth deal. When the game ends, whoever has the most money wins!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game comes in a very large square box; perhaps larger than it needs to be, but the huge, colorful board is very nice. The fonts on the board are a bit smaller than I’d like, but at least the investor names are color-coded, which makes identifying them a bit easier. The cards are very nice, with easy to read symbols (the letters identifying the Investors are plastered all over the Investor and Clan cards). The colors and art are also nice, producing an atmosphere not too dissimilar to that invoked by a detective novel. All of the cards are of good quality, and I enjoyed how the backing of the cards showed a marionette being pulled by the strings - nice invocative theming. I really liked using cards for money over paper money; and even though game play wouldn’t be affected as much if the denominations were thousands rather than millions, there’s just something enjoyable about playing with millions of dollars every once in a while. The deal cards were made of thick cardboard, and each was a variant shade of blue, depending on the value of the shares - not necessary, but a subtle nicety that I enjoyed.

2.) Rules: The rules were written well, although I had to jump back and forth in the booklet (seven pages) a couple times to clarify things. There were a few rules that I thought were underneath the wrong heading in the book. I found that while the game is not too difficult, that it was extremely easier to teach the game by playing it, rather than a lengthy dissertation on the rules. Once people saw an example of a deal in action, suddenly everything just clicked! The types of cards were few and the options small, which helped simplify the game; as people didn’t have to constantly refer to what each card did.

3.) Negotiations: This is the core of the game, and the part that made it so enjoyable for me. Determining how much money to ask for the use of your Investors or Clan cards was a lot of fun and underbidding others got fairly nasty (in a fun way) several times. Sometimes people would ask for the lowest cut, and the deal would be close to completion, when suddenly there was a new boss who changed everything! Having everything you need, and suddenly having some of your Investors and Clan members take trips can frustrate the most carefully orchestrated deals! And deal remembrances could last the entire game. I saw some people get screwed out of deals, because of the way they acted in prior deals, or because they didn’t let that person help them, or because they played the “I’m the Boss” card, taking a large chunk of the money. One thing I did find interesting, however, was that most deals DID finish. Maybe it was just those that I played with, but somehow, in some way, the deals were made. Often the deals were hard fought battles, and people accepted terms that they weren’t totally happy with, but that seemed more acceptable to folks than a busted deal.

4.) Strategy: The rules suggest building up a hand of cards at the beginning of the game, and I heartily agree. A small hand full of cards that you don’t need can really kill you, and an I’m the Boss card played at the correct time can win you the game. Some have complained that people with better memories can do better, as they can remember how much money everyone has (money amounts of players is secret), but I don’t see how that is a problem any more than it is in other games, such as Acquire. The later negotiations are usually much more important, as the money starts to get really big. At this point, the negotiations can get frenzied, and I’ve seen people who started the game in a sedate way go totally berserk by game finale.

5.) Fun Factor: All of this frenzied negotiation just screams fun, and it is! I can see how, with a couple of sore losers or people who take games too seriously, how the cutthroat negotiations could go over like a wet blanket. But with most folk, the game can really get intense, especially when there are multiple domineering personalities. But even the introverts can get quietly stubborn, demanding a huge chunk of the profits because they have the only available card of an investing family that you need. I’m the Boss is a noisy game, and noisy games almost always scream fun. One thing I liked was how that it was never very easy to pinpoint who was winning, and sometimes (except for those with perfect memory) the winner can be a complete surprise!

6.) Players: There are variants for playing the game with only two players, but I haven’t and probably won’t try them. The game was made for six players, and I recommend that as the best way to play the game. The deals are more intense, and no two players can set themselves up as an aristocracy. I played the game with two other couples, and the family ties were gone for that game; every spouse was conspiring against the other!

I highly recommend I’m the Boss, as it is my current favorite negotiation game. With a full compliment of six players, it can be a very intense, fun experience. The game doesn’t last long; the mechanics force it to conclude after a reasonable sixty to ninety minutes; and during that time, each player will find themselves fixated on the game, as there is virtually no downtime. Rarely is a player in such a bad position that they cannot participate in a deal, and no player can get a runaway lead. Everyone involved will have a good time, and you will find yourself talking about the game long after it has been put back on the shelf; and that, my friends, is the mark of a great game.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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