Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Plays: 2Px6.

Famiglia is a card game in a very small box. It is by Friedemann Friese (Power Grid, Factory Manager, Fearsome Floors). I already have enough simple card games in my collection, so Famiglia never caught my interest. However Allen had bought a copy, and assigned homework to me - to read the rules so that I could teach him to play afterwards. After reading the rules, it seemed a little quirky, relatively simple, and nothing too surprising. However, upon playing the game, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Game

Famiglia is a 2-player-only game, where the players compete to collect as many gangsters (cards) as possible, with each gangster being worth a number of points. There are four suits, each representing a different gangster family, and each having a special ability. Gangsters are numbered from 0 to 4. There is a Street, which is a common pool from which both players can recruit gangsters. The basic way of recruiting a gangster is to show two gangsters of the same gang of value one less than this gangster. E.g. show two Green 1's from your hand to claim Green 2 from the Street. One of the Green 1's will become exhausted, i.e. played into your own playing area and unusable unless you are able to take it back into your hand. So, to claim the higher valued gangsters, you will need to work your way up the hierarchy. You'd need five 0's to get four 1's, which can in turn be used to get three 2's, which can then get two 3's, and finally the single 4 of that family. This sounds ridiculously hard, needing to get every card in the family to be able to reach the big boss number 4. This is where the family powers come in.

The Mercenary (green) family gangsters can be used as jokers, e.g. a Mercenary 2 can be treated as an Accountant 1, and thus paired with a real Accountant 1 to claim an Accountant 2. The Accountant (blue) family gangsters can be used to swap cards between hand (unused) and play area (exhausted), e.g. by playing an Accountant 2, you swap two hand cards with two already played cards. This means some good cards can be reused. Brute (yellow) family gangsters reduce the values of other gangsters, e.g. by playing a Brute 2, a Mercenary 4 gangster can be treated as a Mercenary 2 gangster, and thus becomes much easier to claim. Famiglia (red) family gangsters have no special power, but they are worth more victory points compared to their counterparts in other families.

0-value gangsters can always be recruited for free, and when there are no such gangsters on the Street, a gangster can be discarded to bring new gangsters onto the Street. This is how gangsters enter the Street, and how they are discarded. The deck is played through twice, and then the game ends. Players score for all their gangsters, whether already played in front of them or still in hand.

That's "toilet" written on the forehead of the Green 1 guy.

Game in progress. Used or exhausted cards are laid in front of you. At this moment, there is only one card on the Street, the Red 1 guy. The Street is the card pool at the centre from which players can recruit gangsters.

The Play

What surprises me about this game is it has more depth than I expected. I underestimated it. The family powers are tempting, because they are quite handy. However, every time you use a Brute power or an Accountant power, you are playing one gangster into your play area, and thus reducing the number of gangsters you have in hand. This can be dangerous if you do it too much. You'll be short of cards to use for recruiting. Also you really need to plan your path into the gangster families. In some games where I hadn't planned properly, I ended up with gangsters (in hand) that could not be paired to claim any gangster on the Street. I was stuck and could only hope to end the game as soon as possible to minimise my opponent's chances to recruit more gangsters. So long-term planning is important. Don't walk into a dead end.

There is also the consideration of which families to go for. This partly depends on which gangsters are available on the Street. You have to play by ear and grab opportunities that come up. Working up a gangster family tree takes planning and commitment. You also need to meddle with your opponent's plans, e.g. taking gangsters that he wants, or discarding them, thus disrupting his plans or simply denying him victory points.

Some aspects of the game are quite tactical; short-term opportunities oriented. However working up a family tree is a long-term commitment that you need to plan for and keep in view. You often need to react to what your opponent is doing, so the game is quite interactive.

I didn't notice my daughter taking this photo when my wife and I were playing. The numbers at the bottom of the cards are the point values.

The Thoughts

Famiglia is a fast and clever card game, and has some depth that is not immediately apparent. It is tactical, but also has some longer-term strategy. It is quite interactive. I enjoy working out clever uses of cards, especially combinations of card plays that result in big moves. I have now bought the game. I have not yet reached my self-imposed quota of 20 new games per year, but I didn't buying Famiglia just because I didn't want to waste a slot. I do like it enough to want a copy for myself.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).


Anonymous said...

I don't like Famiglia although I have it and it is one of the few games I get to play with my girlfriend.

Of course some thinking is needed but there is a lot of luck, and the green cards are really too powerful. The player that gets the high greens faster, will surely win.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have not really thought about which family power is stronger than others, but indeed one advantage of using the green power is you won't reduce your hand size by one.

I feel Famiglia requires significant skill to play well, and that's what makes it interesting to me. Naturally, if both players are at high skill levels, it is quite likely that luck will determine the winner. However in my opinion what's more important is the competition in skill during the game, e.g. by watching your opponent's moves you can guess what she is trying to do, and you know what to do to stop her. I enjoy the mental sparring, and I like the fact that skillful play rewards at least short-term gains (although not necessary the final victory), so I don't mind too much the luck factor. It's a card game afterall, so luck is hard to avoid.