Get ready to pull a gun on your family. Get ready to threaten, coerce, bribe and pay off these same people and be prepared to actually make those threats a reality when push comes to shove. Get ready to lead your gang of bad-ass bikers in a knock down, drag out war for dominance. In the world of Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, each player is out for themselves and there is no room for niceties when you have guns to run, Contraband to sell and cash to stack.
Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, by Gale Force Nine, is based on the FX Sons of Anarchy show and pits 3-4 players against each other in a race to see who can gather the most cash before the game ends. Having seen the show is not mandatory to enjoy the game, as I haven't seen a single episode, yet the game, and its theme, drew me in immediately.
That theme, which pits each player in control of a motorcycle gang, or Club as the game calls them, is un-apologetically adult, from extreme violence and drug running to porn studios and brothels. Anyone who takes objection to the theme or is looking for a game to play with kids should give Men of Mayhem a pass while everyone else should look forward to one of the best bang-for-your-buck games on the market today.
Each player takes control of one of the game's four Clubs, each with a unique ability and different starting assets. Players will be using their Club's Dudes to carry out actions, take control of locations and fight other players. Dudes can be either full fledged Members or Recruits, who are weaker than the Members, and can be Patched In to the Club to become Members themselves. It is to each player's benefit to have as many Members as possible, as they are better in Throw Downs and also give that player more Orders to issue each round. What starts as small groups of Dudes moving around the board can morph in to large numbers of Dudes bumping heads and getting into bloody fights as the game progresses.
Essentially a worker placement and area control game, Men of Mayhem's biker gang theme is what really makes the game shine. Every aspect of the game feels gritty, criminal and rugged. Placing workers on a space in order to take that space's action is made far more interesting when the space is Irish Freddy's Tattoos and you are Exploiting it to buy Contraband and get one of your Recruits a Tattoo in order to initiate them as a full Member of your Club. Competing for a location against another player's workers takes on a much darker tone when the workers are gangs of bikers going toe to toe and someone decides to pull a gun, sending a Dude to the Emergency Room and drawing Heat from the cops.
[caption id="attachment_47146" align="aligncenter" width="797"] The board is made up of individual tiles. The game comes with many more than you will use each game which increases re-playability significantly.[/caption]
The mechanics and the theme encourage players to interact off-board as well as on it. The number of locations available each round means that players will inevitably bump heads while trying to compete for those actions. This leaves a huge amount of room for players to bribe, threaten, coerce and make deals with one another, which, in turn, leads to a huge amount of tension and fun as there is almost always at least one double-cross during a game. At any time a spark can turn the smoldering tension in Men of Mayhem into an all out bloody conflagration between players. The theme plays well to these interactions and encourages players to be devious, dishonest and behave like criminals. It is incredibly fun to be able to step into the shoes of a criminal with a devil-may-care attitude and be as low down and dirty as you please. Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem not only encourages players to do this but actively rewards them for it.
Further playing to the game's strengths are the facts that the game is played over only 6 rounds and that each player's Contraband, money and guns are hidden behind their player screen. This means that players don't have time to sit back and avoid conflict if they want to win. It also means that players can bluff one another when making threats and deals and players can never be quite sure if their opponent is going to pull guns in a Throw Down. Pulling off a successful bluff feels exquisite, while being called on a bluff when you can't back it up can be hilariously disastrous.
A note on player count: Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can be played with fewer than four players although the game just gets better as more players are added. Currently there are two Club expansions out that each add an additional Club. Each Club expansion increases the total possible player count as well, and I highly recommend picking at least one of them up. Game length does increase directly with each additional player but the amount of added tension and fun more than makes up for any downside that additional length might introduce.
A note on “chrome”: The components in Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem are great. Each Club has their own custom D6 in their color and with their club symbol etched on the '6' side of the die. The money, guns and contraband pieces are really fun to play with and the location boards are made of very thick cardboard. The price to component quality ratio of this game might be the best on the market.
The bottom line:
Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is amazingly fun. The theme and mechanics mesh flawlessly and the game presents a tense inter-player struggle from the very first turn. The theme is intended for adults only, so kids and players that take issue with taking part in the game's criminal activities should stay away from it. Players who embrace the theme, especially players who enjoy games like Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, will have a wonderful time with the game. Often going for less than $30, Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is a steal for players who like competitive, thematic games.
Get this game if:
You want to feel like a criminal bad-ass.
You love direct player conflict.
You love games that let you wheel-and-deal as readily as back-stab and coerce.
Avoid this game if:
You hold grudges easily.
You dislike games that encourage high amounts of confrontation between players.
Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can be purchased via Amazon here.
Rules for Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can be found here.
The copy of Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem used for this review was purchased by the author.