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La Famiglia: The Great Mafia War

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

La Famiglia, from Feuerland and Capstone Games, represents the war between rival mafia clans in Sicily in the 1980s. It's a strictly four-player game - no more, no less - played between two teams over four rounds, tho' the game can end sooner if one of the teams achieves the victory condition early.

The game is played on a board representing a map of the island of Sicily divided into 12 regions, known as Mandamenti. Each region contains three districts. To control a Mandamenti, you need to control a majority of the districts, which means having your Soldati units in at least two of the districts. A team wins if one of its members controls five Mandamenti or if the team have six Mandamenti between them. La Famiglia then is an area control game but it is unlike any other we've played before because Maximilian Maria Thiel has designed the game around an intriguing Planning phase.

Tho' in each game you'll use only four mafia clans, the game comes with six clans to choose between. Each is asymmetric but, from our plays at Board's Eye View, their relative strengths and weaknesses feel well balanced. You'll each have a dual-layer board with tokens on it that unlock enhanced abilities when a token is deployed - a mechanic that will be familiar from other games; for example, Scythe (Stonemaier). Deploying tokens will also unlock 'order tokens' to add to the 'basic' orders that each player starts off with. It's these tokens that let you order your soldati to attack or bomb those in a neighbouring district.

Core to the game is the Planning phase. This is played on a central board divided into six columns. At the start of the game there's at least one neutral marker in each column but players in turn place one marker in any column of their choice so that players each have two markers on the board. They may subsequently add markers to the planning board when triggering actions that take them from their individual board.

In turn, players move a marker down to take any of the initially three sets of actions at bottom of the column. You aren't limited to moving your own markers: you can move any marker, including one of your opponents' markers; moving your own or a neutral marker is free but if you use another player's marker (including one from your team mate) you must pay 1 Lire coin to the owner of the marker. Some of the actions pay out money, but some will cost you money before you can take them. Money can be in short supply, particularly early on in the game so players may well go after the income generating spaces. Players keep their money behind a screen so only they and their teammate can see how much they have, but you can't prevent opponents from keeping a mental note of how much you've taken in and how much you've spent. Such calculations may well influence the choices players make over which actions to take and which to lock opponents out from taking.

Among the other actions available, you'll be able to place out soldati, build drug labs, place out cars or speedboats, place order tokens (play one face down in a district you control) or remove markers from your individual board. You also have the option of using all of the markers in a column to take the multiple actions at the top of the column but this can be expensive as you have to pay an additional amount for this plus 1 Lire for every marker in the column. Drug labs add to a district's defence and will boost your income on some action spaces. Cars can be used to add to an attack or to hit an adjacent district with a car bomb. Speedboats can be used to enable an attack between non-adjacent coastal districts and they can be chained with those of your team mate so that you create the equivalent of a convoy in Diplomacy (Gibsons/Avalon Hill).

It's only after all the markers have been actioned that players move on to the Encounter phase. This is where all the order tiles are flipped face up and actioned. It's crucial to note that the orders are actioned strictly in ascending order of the initiative numbers on the tiles. Orders that relate to supply are actioned first: typically these involve adding more soldati to the board. Initiative order is particularly important in resolving attack orders; if your order tile's initiative is high, putting them late in activation order, you could find the board state has changed to frustrate your plans before you have a chance to implement them! You might even find the soldati you intended to use in an attack have all been wiped out due to a car bomb attack. It's not personal, it's business!

Note tho' that there's no luck element in this game: the movement, attack and defence strengths of soldati, and the destruction caused by bombs, are dictated by order tokens and the modifiers unlocked on players' individual boards. There are no dice and no randomising card draws, altho' players each have an identical set of three cards they can play face down as a 'bluff and choose' combat modifier.

There are rule-changing bonus abilities that you can select when you take control of a Mandamenti, and there are more of these 'control tiles' than you'll use in any single game - so play can differ from game to game not just with different combinations of factions but also with these control tiles.

Feuerland have done a great job in the production of La Famiglia. It uses art from Weberson Santiago and the iconography is refreshingly clear. We had a couple of rules queries - particularly over whether and when markers could switch columns on their planning board - but the rulebook is well laid out with helpful examples. We chuckled tho' at the 1 Lire coins. From memory, 2400 Lire in the 1980s was worth about £1 GB, so 1 Lire would've been worth less than 1/10 of a US cent. We've assumed therefore that each 1 Lire is shorthand for 1 million Lire.

(Review by Dale Page)

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Carol Howard
Carol Howard
Nov 05, 2023

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