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Review: Nothing Personal

3

The Capo is old.  Old enough anyways.  Time for the old fellow to move along and make room for a new leader.  And who better to be that leader than yourself? After all, haven’t you done enough for the family? Haven’t you put your own desires behind you long enough? Haven’t you earned the respect and fear of every gangster in this town?

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Just remember; it’s just business.  It’s Nothing Personal.

How it Plays

Nothing Personal is all about respect; earn your way to the top of the heap by influencing the right people and whacking the other suckers.

The game consists of five rounds, and each round follows the same steps. First, players take turns playing Influence cards that allow them to place their own influence tokens on various gangsters on the board. These gangsters represent money, respect, and special abilities depending on their position in the family and the abilities of the gangsters themselves.

Influence cards often require players to choose other players who also get to place their influence. Commence bribery, negotiation, and extortion.

Lots of extortion to be had here!

After everyone finishes playing cards, players are then awarded respect and money based on the gangsters they can control. Each gangster provides a certain amount of each, and each position adds a modifier to that amount. If players are tied for control over a gangster, the player who controls the Capo (and thus the Capo ring) decides who gets it. Commence bribery, negotiation, and extortion.

Once respect and money have been divvied up, players then get a chance to take an action with each gangster they control. Many gangsters and most positions have an action tied to them, such as whacking another gangster, moving influence tokens around, or stealing money from other players. Gangsters can also attempt to “make a move” upwards in the famil and if they succeed will improve their position, steal respect from another gangster, and prevent that gangster from taking an action.

In the next phase, players recieve new Influence cards based on the number of Gangsters they control (more control nets you fewer free Influence cards) and can pay for additional cards as well.

Finally, any Gangsters who have too many influence tokens piled on them are sent to jail, and all the empty positions must be filled, usually chosen by the player controlling the position above them in the family tree.

After the 5th round, respect and money is awarded one last time, and then whoever has the most respect is the winner!

Who will climb the ladder of respect the highest without falling down?

Throughout the whole game, players are free to exchange money with each other for any reason (you know, bribes), make deals (not officially binding of course), negotiate, make allies, and of course backstab each other at key moments. It’s a winner-take-all world, friends. It’s just business. It’s Nothing Personal.

Is it REALLY just business?

I have to admit, while the premise of this game definitely caught my attention, I was skeptical. While game reviewers often have a handle on what makes a game good or bad AFTER the fact (in case you didn’t realise, this game was co-designed by Tom Vasel of the well known video-review site the Dice Tower), when they make a go at game design this expertise doesn’t necessarily work from the front end. It’s far easier to critique an existing game than create a good one from scratch, but there’s always a little overconfidence there. So, yes, I was skeptical, but I also know that Tom’s tastes in gaming are generally very similar to mine, so I was looking forward to giving it a go.

Plus I was bribed to play with cold hard cardboard…

I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. This game is unique it that in combines euro sensibilities with heavily american/thematic ones.

There have been a few games that have made an attempt to cross that gap, but most of them are epic space games that tend to skew a little more economic in order to satisfy our euro brethren – Eclipse is a prime example.

But something is different about Nothing Personal. If you look at the board it’s definitely eurostyle in nature.EXTREMELY eurostyle. The game mechanisms are pretty euro, through-and-through. This is sort of a weird mix between area-majority, worker placement, and… I dunno. The point is, it’s all about managing the placement of your limited resources, not to wipe out your opponents but to out-influence them in the actions you need or desire, primarily for the spots that provide a boatload of money and respect, but for actions too. Heck, the Influence cards themselves have thematic titles but no one ever notices them, perhaps because the graphic desiggn causes the title to register as background art but also because in classic Euro practice, the theme just doesn’t matter… for the influence cards.

There are many ways to influence.

Yet the thematic elements are genuinely there, and in a big way. You could say there is a lot of spite – you can esaily target gangsters that are controlled by specific players. You can argue and bribe and forge alliances. You can make moves to steal respect, you can help or hurt other players, and you can definitely go out of your way to make life miserable for person.

Obviously some players will just NOT enjoy this. IF you are a hardcore euro-ist, you will not like the fact that someone can bribe the Capo away from making the obviously “right” choice, that no points are totally safe and that a game may be won or lost on a bad die roll.

It’s for the family.

But something about the theme makes the spite factor a little different than other spite-factor games. You see, it’s NOTHING PERSONAL. It’s just business. I can’t tell you how many times my group got a laugh out of someone doing something that clearly hurt another player and saying that line. Laughter eases the tension; the euro elements often show that yes, that move really was business, it was the most effective way for that player to score more points at that moment. Feelings just don’t seem to get hurt as much. In one game I decided to ally with one particular player the whole time. Near the end I had a possible move that would give me some points, but it would require me to go against my ally. Now, this guy does NOT like to be betrayed and will often recklessly attack you the rest of the game if you make him mad. So, I decided to go for it, and when I did I said the line. We all laughed, and play continued on. In fact despite this “betrayal” we continued to be allies.

More or less?

I guess my point is, it really is just business. The euro-ness of the game keeps everything tempered, the bribery and negotiation keeps everything exciting, and the theme keeps everything fun. The core “economic” mechanisms of the game prevent ttotal chaos, and while it is possible to attack players directly by indirect means (technically, you’re always attacking a gangster on the board, never targeting a player), you can’t just go all out against someone.

I guess the point is that, despite the fact that Nothing Personal, at it’s core, is not really the type of game mechanisms that really appeals to me, the designers have succeeded in creating a funny, interactive experience that still has a thinking man’s game inside it. Euro purists will definitely be turned off by the thematic elements but this game will bring laughs and excitement to the table while still allowing players to plan and calculate their STRATEGY. No, seriously, there is a strategic layer to this cake that allows multiple approaches to help circumvent the nefarious wills of your opponents.  Go all out trying to influence the biggest, most rewarding gangsters? It could work.  Subtly weave your way on to as many gangsters as you can, ready to react to nab the best points at the key moment? It’s an option.  Snag a couple low-level associates worth nothing, then methodically destroy or imprison all of the gangsters above you until your guys are in a power position? Check!  The point is, your well laid plans may or may not work but it is very possible to see them through long-term, in spite of the fact that others can mess with you here and there.

These guys can mess with you too. Or me. Mostly me.

If I have one complaint about the game, it’s that it seems a little long. I don’t mind playing long games, but there are Long Games, and there are games that last too long for what they are. With a full complement of five players, you’re going to be pushing the three-hour mark, and that’s a little much for influence-placement, even with the arguing and bribing and negotiating. That’s the main reason this game won’t be hitting my gaming group’s table too frequently, but many game tables will have plenty of room for it.

The components are functional.  Extra thick cardboard is everywhere, so the game certainly has heft to it.  The capo ring is metal, as are the blackmail coins–it’s just too bad blackmail doesn’t get used extremely frequently. I suppose it all depends on the luck of the draw. The cards are a decent stock, by the way, although as I mentioned the card titles just register as part of the background art and are very easy to overlook. The game comes with many tuck boxes designed to hold tokens for each family, which wasn’t entirely clear when I unpacked the box. The last thing worth mentioning is the board, which has arrows depicting the promotional path of any particular gangster permission–these arrows are very light and can be hard to see, but they’re only used in one part of the game, so it’s not a deal breaker.  There is also a few misprints on the board, but Game Salute will provide free stickers to cover up the errors.

The “bookkeeping” is useful AND thematic!

What is most disappointing is the rulebook. Filled with errors, lacking diagrams, missing information, and some very confusing sections all adds up to one hot mess. There is an FAQ on Board Game Geek that pretty much clarifies everything I ran into, but you have to find that, and games should not require such hefty FAQs to be playable.

The final word; Nothing Personal is an odd mix of the Euro and American styles; it is filled with strategy, yet draws heavily on negotiation and bribery. There is plenty of interaction and competition, but it’s all indirectly through the gangsters on the board. It’s a colorful theme (although despite the animated-looking art, not necessarily family friendly) and a fun premise, and while some purists will not enjoy the crossover of styles, this game will definitely find a home on many gaming tables.

 


iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Game Salute for providing a review copy of Nothing Personal.

Summary

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros

  • Fun theme
  • Interactive AND Strategic
  • Many paths to victory
  • "It's Just Business..." lightens the blow of betrayal

Cons

  • Runs a little long for what it is
  • Some cards feel more powerful than others
8 Very Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion3 Comments

    • well… not EVERY FFG game ever…

      actually most FFG rulebooks, even though they aren’t great, still have more accurate information and get you closer to playing their games than this one.

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