Travel back in time and place to 1930’s Chicago where you’ve just received a tip-off that the Untouchables, an incorruptible police squad, are speeding towards your warehouse to seize your contraband booze. There is only one thing left to do: ditch all your bottles and deny all knowledge!
Omerta is a card-based memory race game for 3-5 players, designed by Adrien Dumont and Timothée Rignault (the latter also contributes artwork alongside Florian Bellon) and published by Helvetiq, who have carved out a strong reputation for quality card games in compact packages.
Each player owns a ‘warehouse’ of four face-down cards, of which two are known to the player and two are not. Cards will be ‘Bottle’ cards of value 1-10 or character cards with values of 0-20; the latter balanced by special powers to influence gameplay. Each turn players may draw a card from the draw or discard pile, either swapping it for a card in their warehouse or discarding it without swapping. If a character card is discarded, its power is activated. If a bottle card is discarded then quick-on-the-draw gangsters may discard one of their own bottle cards of the same value. Additionally, there is a corporate ‘Safe’ for storing contraband.
The end of the round is triggered by a player calling out 'Omerta!' (which paradoxically means 'code of silence') when they believe that they have reduced their bottle count to 7 or less, at which point all players flip the face-down cards in front of them and count up their value. The winner (the person who has the lowest number) is rewarded with zero points. All other players score the sum of their card values. Be warned tho', calling Omerta prematurely - easily done if your memory fails you and you lose track of which four cards you have face-down in front of you - will earn you a 20-point penalty! The whole game ends after a number of rounds equal to the number of players
Omerta is a fairly pacy game with a relatively high level of player interaction to set it apart from games with similar mechanics. Our feeling was that, despite these welcome additions, it did not escape the sense of bluffing blind – especially when some powers entitled players to shuffle and randomly swap other’s cards. This game favours players who have either good memory recall or quick hands, which seems like a needlessly arbitrary combination, and certain character cards seemed somewhat overpowered. Further to this, scoring is brutal on the losing player, with gaps of 100+ points easily developing; effectively disenfranchising many players halfway through a game.
The setting, styling and colour palette is refreshingly uncommon, and the speed and simplicity of the game is nice. If hand-management, memorising and 'take that' interaction is your thing, you’ll enjoy Omerta.
(Review by Michael Harrowing)