Updated: Aug 4, 2020
In this game from Mayday, players are Mob bosses in the era of Prohibition. They bid for turn order and then, in order, choose one of the Thug cards on offer. These give various different benefits including recruiting more hoodlums (referred to in the rules with unthematical dullness as ‘influence markers’), expanding your still so that it produces more booze, and stealing other players’ trucks.
Players send their hoods out to the various speakeasies with the aim of securing markets and the best price for their whiskey. One speakeasy is almost always open, will buy all the booze its offered but pays the minimum price; other speakeasies pay more but are only open if they have attracted at least a certain number of hoodlums. The mob boss with the most such ‘influence markers’ has a majority stake in the speakeasy and decides on the order in which whiskey is bought if supply (the number of crates delivered) exceeds the demand (determined by dice). If a mobster has more goons in the speakeasy than all the other bosses combined, then he has a controlling interest and will additionally reap a profit from every crate bought.
Given the theme, this is inevitably a game that was bound to incorporate ‘take that’ mechanics - with players able to trade with, bribe and threaten each other, and with ample scope for theft, betrayal and sabotage. It does, however, require a degree of co-operation. Players need to persuade their rivals to join them to open up a speakeasy, and they may find themselves producing more crates of booze than they can sell. Crates cannot usually be carried forward to the next turn, so players will want to get some return by selling them on to rivals or they may offer to hire a rival’s truck so that they can make deliveries.
Bootleggers is an enjoyable easy-to-play romp. Despite the lapse over ‘influence markers’, the theme comes through strongly and few players will be able to resist spouting lines from gangster movies as the game progresses. My favourite is the line apocryphally attributed to Al Capone: ‘You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.'
Eagle-eyed viewers may spot a Boardwalk expansion in the photo. Echoing the plot of Godfather II, the expansion offers mob bosses a route to going ‘legit’. With the expansion in play, bosses can abandon their stills and strongarm tactics and instead pour their cash into opening Casinos. In either version, the game is won by the player who makes the most money. As Capone claimed, ‘All I do is give people what they want. I’m a businessman.’