Game Review - Family Business by Mayfair Games

Family Business, Mayfair Games, 1982/1995.

Family Business is a delightful card game of the "beer and pretzels" variety. The dark theme is the well-known American crime world, firmly rooted in folklore and Hollywood cliches. It is played by 2 to 6 players in about 30 minutes. More importantly, it can be learned in 5 to 10 minutes, thereby allowing it to fill the gaps in any game night, fitting neatly between larger games, at the beginning of the evening while waiting for other players, or at the end of the night when no one wants to start a long game yet no on wants to go home.

Courtesy of Mayfair Games
Each player begins the game with a gang consisting of 9 mobster cards. The mobster family is layed out before each player, and then a set of 5 action cards are dealt to each player. The action cards are of three sorts: attack cards, defense cards, and rescue cards. Typically on your turn a player plays one of the attack cards on another player's mobsters. These attack cards, usually contracts and special contracts, require that the enemy gangster be placed against the wall, a queue of gangsters waiting to be "hit." When the wall contains 5 or more gangsters, a mob war starts, and each player turn is preceeded by a hit, and the first gangster in the queue is removed from the game. "Lucca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes."

Of course, players do not watch peacefully as their gang is eradicated. Defense cards are played in order to thwart attacks. Usually a contract is thwarted with "Family Influence" or "Mob Power" unless one of the better contract cards explicitly forbids this. What is interesting about this game is any successful prevention of an attack changes the turn order. The successful defender immediately grabs the turn, often returning an attack with another attack. It's fun to watch your rivals engage in tit-for-tat battles.

The remainder of the cards bend the rules in other fun ways. Some cards allow you to rearrange the order of the hit list. Other cards accelerate or end the gang war. One of our favorites is the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" card which rubs out all gangsters on the hit list, many times accompanied by gutteral imitations of a Tommy Gun.

Proving its popularity, this game is now in its third edition beginning with the first in 1982 and most recently with the third in 1995. The cards in each family are illustrated with identical cartoonish mobster faces, but each gangster has his own true-life historical name, lending much color and flavor to the game. For future editions I suggest individual art or photographs for each gangster, perhaps including statistics and history on the back. I also suggest that each action card contain a rule synopsis. I own the second edition which has no such reminders, so I printed my own one page card summaries, which we use all the time. The first and third Mayfair editions have this useful summary printed on each card. Otherwise the card deck is good quality and stands up to many nights of beer and pretzels.

Don't expect the strategies to run too deep here. Much of your game is determined by the 5 random cards in your hand. One favorite strategy is to act meek and non-provocative, hoping that other players won't notice you, rubbing everyone else out first. However, this strategy falls apart, as the gangs are plainly visible, and everyone tends to attack the strongest gang. I suggest, when the gangs are down to 2 or 3 mobsters each, saving two or three choice cards to eliminate enemy players as quickly as possible. In other words, make sure your "Vendetta" or "Mob War" cards eliminate a player, or else they will certainly come back and hunt you.

As far as a game goes, this is about as good as it gets. The play is fast and enjoyable. The cards are full of twists and turns, but never are the rules strange or out of character for the game. The theme is great, and I've seen many full grown Jimmy Cagneys act out the diabolical nature of their part. For its modest cost, this game garners a high amount of play, excitement, and enjoyment.

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