The Game of Mob Vengeance!
For 2-6 players, Ages 8 to adult

Family Business is a classic card game by Mayfair Games. Up to six players each take control of a mob from Prohibition-era America; the winner is the last player left with any mobsters alive. All the best-known mobs of the 1920s and 30s are represented - the Capone mob and their rivals the Moran gang, Bugsy Siegel's New York Mob and so on.

Eschewing the fuss of organising such petty criminality as robbery and extortion, Family Business centres instead around the process of murdering your opponents' gangs, mostly by taking out contracts on their lives. A Contract (the most common card in the game) puts one of your opponent's mobsters up against the Wall; as soon as a mob war breaks out, the gangsters on the Wall start dying one at a time. This happens automatically once there are six mobsters on the Wall, or it can be initiated deliberately by someone playing the Mob War card or an Ambush or Vendetta, which kill two every turn. A Contract can be blocked by Family Influence, whereby a gang uses filial connections to finagle their way out of it, or Mob Power, which uses brute force to see one of the contractor's mobster hit the Wall instead.

Much of the fun of a multiplayer game of Family Business comes from the diplomacy and backstabbing involved. Some players prefer to tread lightly, discarding their Contracts rather than stepping on too many toes - at least until they have the power to defend themselves. Others will throw caution to the wind, murdering their opponents with gleeful abandon for as long as people let them get away with it. With some cards - like Double Cross, which puts one of each opponent's mobsters on the Wall, or Vendetta, which puts two of each opponent's mobsters on the Wall and immediately a double hit-rate mob war - will harm everyone, but by putting certain players' people at the back you can make it seem like you are doing them a favour. Other cards, like St. Valentine's Day Massacre (which kills everybody on the Wall instantaneously in a sudden, brutal bloodbath) or Federal Crackdown (which immediately gets everyone off the Wall), can be extremely powerful - potentially turning the whole tide of the game and forming or breaking many alliances at once - but only if played at the right time.

When my brothers and our friends went through a phase of playing it almost every day I found myself actively seeking out gangster films for the first time, just to find out more about the characters I was playing with. Although the gangsters are all the same as far as the rules are concerned, players often prefer to protect their favourites and occasionally for added offence someone will target the leader of somebody's mob or those close to them - so it helps, in a way, if you know a little of the history.

Family Business is probably my all-time favourite game; the mechanics of play are perfectly balanced, so that even a two-player game can be tense and deeply involving despite missing out on all the fun of the vicious enmities and capricious alliances that you get with more players. The rules are simple enough to be grasped quickly, and new players stand a fair chance against seasoned veterans - although that's not to say that there isn't plenty of skill involved in playing. It might be a bit on the vicious side for some, but there is no faulting Family Business for its learning curve or its pace. Genius.

Family Business is available from
A company called Spielfreaks Ltd. also makes a version, under licence, but the artwork is vastly inferior.

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