The Godfather movies are so entrenched in American culture that, often, even people who haven't seen the movies know at least a bit about it. It's comfortably familiar. The Godfather: A New Don is a game on the lighter end of the spectrum that is incredibly easy to learn and teach and, coupled with that familiar theme, makes for an amazing gateway game. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a gateway game is a game that can be easily taught, understood, and enjoyed by people who don't normally play hobby board games. They have a simpler ruleset and can generally be set up and played rather quickly. A gateway game is a game you reach for when you are playing with someone who's idea of boardgames begins with Monopoly and ends with Risk.
The Godfather: A New Don is a great gateway game, but it's also a great hobby board game. Don't confuse simple with boring here, as the simplicity of the game is one of its strengths. The theme is on the thin side, but it contains just enough that hooks it into the gameplay to encourage the types of player interactions that make the game so much fun, as the Tattaglias, Straccis, Bochicchios, Barzinis, Cuneos, and the infamous Corleones compete to take control over New York City.
At its core, A New Don is a dice allocation, area-control, and worker placement game. Other than a screen for each Family/player, and a board, that's all of the components the game has—dice, and workers—but it uses those limited components to great effect. Each turn, players roll their dice behind their screens and try to come up with combinations of dice that match those listed on the different spaces of the board in order to take control over those areas and score points at the end of the game. Roll dice, place workers, score points—that makes up about 90% of what you actually do mechanically in the game. The soddisfazione of the game comes from how those basic mechanics gel with the other 10%.
In every round of the game, one player will be the acting Godfather. The first thing the Godfather does each round is roll the three oversized Vegas dice, awarding them to any player who controls a matching space in Vegas. Next, each player, including the Godfather, rolls their dice behind their screens. Then, each of the other players have to offer the Godfather tribute, in the form of one of their dice. The Godfather can either take that die as the number that was rolled, or they can make the player An Offer They Can't Refuse. The Godfather can shun the die offered and ask for a different number. The other player must then reveal their dice and, if they have a die matching the Godfather's request, they must hand it over. The player then sends one of their Soldiers to Sleep With the Fishes on a space matching the number of either their initial offer or the number the Godfather requested.
Once the Godfather has accepted tribute from or made An Offer to all of the other players, the Godfather spends their dice to take control of any spaces in the city that match their dice. The higher numbered zones are more lucrative and offer more points at the end of the game, so the Godfather will often try to grab higher numbered dice from the other players. On top of going first each round, the Godfather starts each round with the most Muscle and can use that advantage to Muscle other players out of any zone that they can match their dice to. Just like with the Tribute, a player's Soldiers who were pushed out of an area go to Sleep With the Fishes, providing them a bonus that they can use to manipulate their dice.
The other players, in clockwise order, follow suit. They have some additional options during their turns, though. First, they can activate the special ability of any space that contains one of their Soldiers that is Sleeping With the Fishes. Each of the first five abilities allow players to alter their dice in some way, while the sixth ability allows players to choose whichever of the other five they'd like to use. This means it can be advantageous to offer up higher numbered dice to the Godfather, even if it means decreasing the likelihood of initially having the multiples needed to take control of higher value areas. This extra bit of player agency and control over the dice is awesome and contrasts against the Godfather's dice advantage very nicely.
Non-Godfather players can also spend dice to gain Muscle, which not only allows them to push other players out, like the Godfather did, but it also determines who will be Godfather on the next round. These players can also send their Soldiers to Vegas and can claim a space in the hopes of getting their hands on one or some of the Vegas dice in future rounds. The Vegas dice, when claimed, can either be locked to the number that the Godfather rolled or re-rolled by the claiming player. Claiming spaces in Vegas is fun and is a great outlet for players who run out of options on their turn. While the reward is delayed, and there is never any guarantee that your numbers will come up, it's a nice bonus to pick up a few extra dice on a future turn.
The game plays out, round on round, until all of the spaces in one area of the board have been filled. Points are scored based on majority control, and the winner is the player who ends with the most points. The board state is constantly shifting, so it can be difficult to tell who will get the best score in each area, which is a good thing, and there is enough strategy available and options for dice manipulation that players can try to formulate and execute plans. The luck of the dice is always a factor, but far more often than not, a player who plays smart and uses all of the dice manipulation options available to them is going to come out ahead of a player who just blindly grabs any land that they can.
The Godfather: A New Don also succeeds in keeping players engaged, even during other players' turns. From the fun interaction of trying to convince the Godfather player that their Tribute is worth taking, or, as the Godfather, trying to guess if the player has what you really need, to players out-Muscling each other in order to bump each other out of high-value areas, the game encourages fun interaction, and each of the offensive actions results in a bonus action for the affected player, softening the blow and giving them more options to use on in the future. The turns are quick, and players tend to pay attention to what their opponents are doing because it both matters if another player wrestles away your hard fought territory and if someone takes a juicy piece of land that you've had your eyes on. Even though this is a great gateway game, there is enough meat on A New Don's bones to keep seasoned boardgamers entertained.
A note on “chrome”: The components in Godfather: A New Don are really good. The meeples aren't consistently shaped, but that only becomes obvious when they are stacked next to each other, and it doesn't effect gameplay at all. The coloration across the meeples and dice is consistent, although some of the areas on the board can be difficult to tell apart because they are so similarly colored. The rulebook is well-written, if a bit complex for the rules that it presents, although the white text on black background is a nice, thematic touch that is easy to read.
The bottom line:
The Godfather: A New Don is great. It plays quickly, can be taught in about 5 minutes, and provides a surprisingly high amount of player interaction and player choice considering the low component count and simple, straightforward rules. This game has absolutely solidified a spot in my collection and is my new go-to gateway game of choice. A New Don is awesome for more casual game nights, but it fits into a hobby boardgame rotation seamlessly, especially when you want to belt out your favorite movie quotes and talk in an overblown accent. If you like high levels of player interaction, and even remotely like the theme, you'll almost certainly enjoy this game. If you've been looking for a game to play with people who may seem gun-shy around more complex games, or are put off by some of the wacky themes that hobby boardgames have, look no further. Not only will those people be more willing to play this game, but you'll actually want to play it with them.
Get this game if:
You like games that let you coerce and make demands.
You enjoy worker placement and area-control games.
You like dice games that let you directly effect the outcome of your dice rolls.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer Euro-style games over games with high player interaction.
The copy of The Godfather: A New Don used for this review was provided by IDW Games.