Cardboard Children – Sons of Anarchy

Hello youse.

You all know how I feel about the Spartacus board game. It came in at number one on my list of the 50 Best Games Of All Time. (It’s worth mentioning that Cosmic Encounter was so high on the list it hovered ABOVE the top spot, as the best board game of all time.) Now, Spartacus was based on a TV show that I’ve never watched. Regardless, it was a slam dunk from the first play.

Now comes Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem. Another board game from the same company who brought us Spartacus. Another game based on a show that I’ve never seen. Can Gale Force Nine do it again?

MEN OF MAYHEM

Three or Four players each take control of a gang of bikers. Apparently men on motorbikes are some sort of criminal gang thing in America. I don’t know. They’re Hell’s Angels or something. I have no idea. Anyway, their activities (and your activities) involve gun-running, drug-dealing, porn production and such. It’s a game for adults – let’s be clear on that.

The board is made up of location tiles that are dealt randomly at the start of the game, with the exception of a few always-there tiles like the Emergency Room and the Police Precinct. The point of the game is to send your gang out to these locations, take control of them, and then exploit them. You do this by issuing orders to your gang, spending little tokens that have shitty little mobile phones printed on them. They’re great.

In your bike gang (you call them your “dudes”) you have full members and recruits. Recruits can’t do much. They can help in fights and they can help you hold down areas of the board. Your full members are stronger in fights and each full member gives you an additional order token.

So what do these orders let you do?

RIDE: When you issue a ride order, you can move all your dudes from one location to another. Let’s say an opponent has a few recruits hanging around the docks. You can issue a ride order to send an enormous team of ten guys down to the docks to scare the shit out of them. That’s the kind of thing this game is about.

EXPLOIT: If you’re the only player with guys at a location, you can exploit it. Basically this means you can use the area’s effects. It’s some simple worker placement stuff. It’s how you gain all your resources. A gun factory will let you exchange cash for guns. The docks will give you contraband. The Police Station will let you lose Heat (we’ll get to Heat later). You can also spend an additional order to “boost” most locations, to use an additional effect. At the brothel, for example, you can spend an additional order to tell a recruit to have sex with a prostitute, transforming him into a full member of your gang. Mm-hm. You can.

THROW DOWN: This is how you fight. When you have dudes at a location and another player has dudes there too, you can issue that Throw Down order and start to rumble. Throw Downs are great. First of all you can issue additional orders to call in backup. This will send more dudes speeding to the location for the fight. Then you decide if you want to bring guns to the fight. You do this by taking however many of your guns you want (they’re hidden behind your player screen) and holding out a closed fist. Your rival does the same. It’s a game of bluff, all blind. You show the guns, and each gun you use will add 3 points to your strength total in the fight. Once you tally up all your bonuses (1 point for a recruit, 2 points for a full member, 3 for a gun) you roll a D6 and the winner takes control of the area.

Here’s what I like about guns – if you bring guns to the fight, people are going to the hospital. And I mean for sure. I like that. Even if you win and drive off the other gang – if they brought guns, you have guys going to the hospital, and then maybe the MORGUE, son.

RECRUIT: Simple one, this. A recruit order brings a new recruit to your clubhouse. After bodies get dropped, this is something you simply have to do.

PATCH IN: Those punk recruits? You need them to be full members as fast as possible. You can issue an order to do this at the cost of a dollar and a gun. Remember that every full member you have in your gang gets you an extra order. It’s a worthwhile thing.

SIT TIGHT: This is the “do nothing” order. This isn’t as weird as it sounds. Sometimes you just want to bide your time to see what other players are doing. You will probably use this order a fair bit. It can even be part of your intimidation mind games.

THE BLACK MARKET

After you do all your orders, you can sell contraband on the black market. This works beautifully. You decide how much contraband you want to sell, then hold it out in a closed fist. Everyone shows how much is being sold. The price is adjusted for that total. If there is a LOT on sale, the price drops. If very little is on sale the price will be much healthier. Man, there is a LOT to think about here. How much contraband do the gangs at the table hold? Will everybody go all in? How much heat is on your rivals?

HEAT

Heat KILLS you in the Black Market phase of the game. Heat, police attention, is gained by exploiting hot areas. It can be lowered by visiting the police station and exploiting your position there. The more heat you have, the less contraband you can sell on the black market. If you have NO heat at all, you can sell an unlimited amount of contraband. Heat is something you need to keep an eye on. It can easily hurt you in the end-game.

SPECIAL GANG POWERS

Each gang has special powers too. The Mayans don’t need to issue an order to throw down. They can just FIGHT. Another gang gets a cash bonus if they hold the First Player patch at the start of every round. These are rules unique to your gang that let you tailor your play a little bit. Your rivals know what you can do, and they can try to squeeze you in those areas.

ANARCHY CARDS

There’s more to this game. Anarchy Cards get flipped at the start of every round. These spring out events and additional opportunities. Maybe a gung-ho cop will arrive in town, putting heat on everybody. Maybe a Russian gun-running opportunity will open, allowing your gang to lock it down and sell a huge amount of guns for massive profit. Maybe you’ll get the opportunity to send a rival’s gang on some bullshit wild goose chase. Let’s look at a couple of cards in particular…

LEVERAGE: This card, if you send dudes there, lock it down, exploit it – it lets you either remove or add heat to a rival gang. Now, in this game you can make deals at any time (and break the deals too). The LEVERAGE card can be used to threaten a rival or to make an alliance. It’s an example of how beautifully interactive this game is. It’s hilarious, too. If you like to board game with a bunch of utter shitheels, this card will create a lot of laughs.

GANG WAR: Gang War is a card that gives a cash bonus when you send rival gang members to the hospital. If Gang War pops out, all of those guns at the table are going to start firing. You can convert violence into money. Bodies will DROP.

MONEY, BABY

All those guns you collected, all that contraband – it all means nothing if you can’t turn it into cash. The winner of the game is the person with the most money. The money MUST BE ON THE TABLE. You have a lot of guns? Cool. Great. You have a lot of drugs? Great. Where’s the money?

If you carry a lot of heat, you can’t sell your shit. If you can’t lock down certain areas, you can’t sell your shit. The game has you at each other’s throat at all times.

SUMMING UP

They did it again. Jesus. They did it again.

Sons of Anarchy is a fun, easy-to-play game. It’s real strength (similar to Spartacus) is in its focus on player interaction. The game IS other people. When you feel this game – when you feel the intimidation of a gang riding ten-strong into an area where you have a couple of recruits – you will fall in love with it. When you feel the rage of other players goading you into throwing down when you have next to no chance of winning, you’ll fall in love with this game. When you throw down just to prove that you will when pushed, you’ll fall in love. When you squeeze out an unlikely win? Love. When you lose but send about six of your friend’s guys to the crematorium? Love.

I need to play this game many more times. My early take is that this will be in the hunt for my board game of the year.

They did it again.

27 Comments

  1. webs1 says:

    Ah, I looked at your tweets today and hoped you would talk about the game here, Rab.
    If I ever get to play Spartacus (it’s been sitting around here for four weeks) and love it as much as Mr. Florence does, getting this here will be next. One thing that instantly looks like an improvement is the art style.It looks authentic and consistent with it’s topic in contrast to Spartacus’ sometimes cheap TV show style.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Joshua says:

    Sons of Anarchy is a good series too, actually. I do recommend it.

    • commentingaccount says:

      Oh, yes. It’s currently the best drama airing new episodes on American TV.

    • Jalan says:

      So… Sutter was really the source of talent on The Shield?

      • AUS_Doug says:

        I’ve been wondering that for a while, but I’m not entirely convinced; at least not if the implication is that Ryan is no good.

        Off the top of my head – I could be way wrong – but I think that Ryan wrote Family Meeting.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      The first two seasons were fantastic, exciting, propulsive storytelling. Then I guess they realized that they were chewing through story too fast, so they dragged their heels with a lot of filler with the whole “getting to Ireland” plot. Season 4 did recover somewhat, but not enough for me to continue subsequent seasons, especially after that maddening fake out in the last episode.

    • Mr.K says:

      What makes Sons of Anarchy a good series? I’ve always been wondering why the people who like it like it. I guess it should come as no surprise that I personally find it pretty terrible (even more so if you consider it drama). A bunch of glorified thugs that can get away with anything (mainly due to poor writing) plus a conveniently cute main lead with enough conscience to truly attract the female viewers as well. I would be inclined to complain about the acting only because the poor actors get too much screen time but I suppose most of the actors are at least decent, some even fairly good. However, the vast majority of the interpersonal conflicts and drama is pulled from such unbelievable background that it doesn’t feel real in any way no matter how well they play.

      Granted, I’ve only seen the first couple of seasons but surely I should have seen the attraction already? While I realize this post can be seen as an attack against the show and/or the fans of the show, it’s not meant as such. It’s not like I mind people liking the show (it’s still a serial show and popular serials are always better than popular episodic shows if you ask me), I’m just very curious because I never understood why anyone would like this.

      • Jalan says:

        Personally, performances matter a great deal (your claim of poor actors getting large parts of screen time is a bit off, but I’m not saying you’re wrong in the essential summation that some actors who’ve been on the show have had the presence of a wet beach towel). If this show had a shit cast delivering some of the most absurd lines ever written then it wouldn’t be worth watching as far as I’m concerned.

        I’m not going to be an apologist for it – I have always seen how people can not like it, for a variety of reasons no less – though. If you made it through the first two series (seasons, eh, whatever) and didn’t find something to compel you to keep watching then you’re definitely better off not bothering with it any further.

  3. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I feel like Gale Force Nine is actually some sort of game designer supergroup, where everyone is using fake names.

    I mean, Spartacus, this, the Firefly game – all of them are great fun, apparently, all of them embrace and love their theme. I feel like Vlaada Chvatil grabbed Knizia, beat some theme in to him, and they both found like 4 other designers, and just went crazy.

    It would also explain how they get the licenses.

    • Shadowcat says:

      I feel like Vlaada Chvatil grabbed Knizia, beat some theme in to him, and they both found like 4 other designers, and just went crazy.

      I’m imagining them on a drunken rampage, trashing hotel rooms, running naked through the streets, and causing general havoc.

  4. Dawngreeter says:

    I have an issue with this game. I have had this issue from the first preview pic I saw, and I thought that maybe there would be some way to explain it. Like, maybe there’d be no bikers there. But no, there they are, sitting right next to the goddamn gang identity card. Bikers observed, is what I’m saying.

    One-niners aren’t a biker gang, gods damnit!

    Edit:
    What? The fourth faction is Lin? THEY AREN’T A BIKER GANG EITHER!

  5. Michael Fogg says:

    I don’t really care about cardboard, but I really wish other reviews on the site were written with this approach/methodology. Great article.

  6. orangetruck says:

    Character advancement by having sex with a prostitute? That’s just stupid.I want nothing to do with this glorification of thuggish behavior and misogyny.

    • Rindan says:

      I haven’t played it, but theme is what Gale Force 9 does best in all of their other games. Firefly is kind of kitschy, cheerful, and makes great use of “Fireflyish” language. It is more or less uncompetitive. Spartacus has murdering and backstabbing people as you plot to steal/kill their slaves and gladiators, rig matches, and in general be as much of a bastard as possible without getting caught. Every game ends with some asshole slamming a knife in someone’s back and declaring themselves victor.

      Sons of Anarchy is about thuggish misogynistic people. Further, glorification isn’t exactly what it does. I got through 4 seasons and my impression the entire time was, while being completely entertained, that these people are thuggish misogynistic dumb fucks who systematically ruin their lives and the lives of the people around them, and should be avoided at all times. I would be disappointed if Gale Force 9 failed to capture that as well as they captured the themes of Spartacus and Firefly.

      If this game sounds even a fraction as good as it sounds, my hat goes off to Gale Force 9 for apparently putting for nothing but the best Ameritrash gold.

      • phuzz says:

        Weirdly, I’m entirely ok with the setting of Sparticus as a board game, but I wouldn’t be if it was a computer game, and after seeing the character art on the cards, I’ve no wish to watch the TV show.

  7. Enkinan says:

    I apologize.

    I didn’t finish the top fifty for some unknown reason. I loved it.

    Around that time a good friend of mine brought Spartacus to a game day.

    Wow.

    No clue it landed first but we LOVED it.

    This sounds like more of the same. Time for another game day.

  8. eggy toast says:

    The guy who created this show did a bunch of loud mouth interviews about how he was a progressive visionary because the character he plays on the show got raped (in a casual, pointless and gratuitous way, none the less)

    It’s really funnny to see positive words about one of the most backwards shows on TV on a site that normally goes so far out of its way to be so forward looking

    • webs1 says:

      How exactly are “based on a show that I have never seen” positive words? In case you haven’t noticed: the article is about a game, not the show.

      • JB says:

        As webs1 says, it’s not positive words about the show ( a show Rab hasn’t watched, at that.), it’s about a boardgame.

      • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

        Perhaps eggy is referring to commenters which are praising the show?

        Personally I haven’t watched it, and Horace help me, from the sparse awareness I had of it I was convinced it was a reality show…

        • webs1 says:

          If so, he
          1.should have posted under those comments to make the reference clear.
          2. seems to assume that RPS is responsible for the comments, which would be quite stupid.
          In addition, imo in chosing the words “on a site that normally goes out of its way to be so forward looking” he made quite clear that he didn’t mean the comments, hence the “normally”.

          I haven’t watched either Spartacus nor Sons for suspicions of juvenilism, but the games sound like a lot of fun.

    • J.Scheisse says:

      Re: Diplomacy
      The guy who created this world war did a bunch of loud mouth interviews about how he was a progressive visionary because the Kaiser he plays on the show got his friend the Arch Duke murdered by a Serb (in a casual, pointless and gratuitous way, none the less)

      It’s really funnny to see positive words about one of the most backwards wars of history on a site that normally goes so far out of its way to be so forward looking

  9. bath taxis says:

    Board games easy one but we spend more times with that game…
    Bath Taxi

  10. Perkelnik says:

    Sons of Gemma, as it is known nowadays…

  11. Gothnak says:

    Tries to hit ‘like’ on this review, can’t, decides instead to say it in the thread. Good read, it is now on my want list, much like Spartacus is now a favourite after your 1st review last year.

    Like….