Buzzworthiness: Famiglia

Today, a review of what I see to be an underrated two-player game:

image by BGG user Henning
image by BGG user Henning

Famiglia is a 2010 game designed by Friedemann Friese and published in the US by Rio Grande.  It’s a two-player game where you are trying to build the best gang of mobsters.  There are four different families, each with their own abilities.

The game comes with 60 cards, numbered 0-4 in four different colors/families – blue for the Accountants, yellow for the Brutes, green for the Mercenaries, and red for the Famiglia.  Each player starts with four cards, one zero per color.  The start cards are labeled on the back with a 1 or 2, depending on whose hand it is.  Six cards are laid out in a row between the two.  This is the Street.

On your turn, if there are no zeros in the Street, you can discard a card from the Street and draw a number of replacement cards equal to its value.  So if you discard a 3, you would draw three new cards to replace it.  You may continue doing this until there is at least one zero.  You can at any time take one of the cards from the Street.  A zero may be taken for free.  Any other card requires you to play two cards from your hand that are the same color as, and a value one lower than the one you are taking.  So, if you want to take a yellow 2, you need to play two yellow 1s.  One of the played cards remains in front of you in your play area, while the other and the card you took from the Street go back into your hand.  Cards in your play area can’t be used to claim future cards.  Once you have claimed a card, your turn ends.

Before claiming a card, you may play a card from each family for their special ability.

  • An accountant can be played to trade cards between your hand and the play area.  Each accountant has a number that may be traded (1-4).  You can take up to that many cards from your hand and replace them with an equal number of cards from the play area.  This is the only way to get previously played cards back in your hand.  The played accountant is not part of the trade, and goes into your play area once the trade is complete.
  • A brute can be used to frighten cards in the Street.  Each brute has a threat value (1-4).  You can reduce the number of a card in the Street by up to that number.  So, if you play a yellow 1, you can reduce a red 3 to a 2, then claim it with two 1s rather than two 2s.  If you reduce a card to zero, you can take it for free.  Played brutes go into your play area.
  • A mercenary is used as a wild card.  They all have ranges like 0, 0-1, 0-2, or 0-3.  The numbers in the range are what the cards can be used as.  So you could use a green 1 as a zero and pair it with a yellow 0 to claim a yellow 1.  You still get to choose which card returns to your hand, so you can keep the green or the yellow card you played.  You always must pair a mercenary with a card of the color you are attempting to claim – you can’t use two green 1s as red zeros for a red 1.
  • The Famiglia has no special ability, but are worth extra points.

Once you have gone through the deck once, you reshuffle all discards and the rules change slightly.  Now, cards are discarded to the bottom of the deck, and you only get one discard per turn.  There are no more zeros at this point because they are all in play.  If you can’t or won’t take a card, you must pass.

Once all cards are out of the draw deck and into the Street, the endgame is triggered.  Each player gets an equal number of turns.  Then you add up all points in your hand and play area to get your final score.  The player with the most points wins.

image by BGG user EndersGame
image by BGG user EndersGame

COMPONENTS: The only thing in this game is the 60 cards.  They are not standard sized, but rather are 4 inches long by 2.25 inches wide.  All cards have the same back, though starting cards have a 1 or 2 on the back.  Each card has a different illustration for their gangster, and there are a number of jokes to be found in the illustrations – two of the red zeros are named Mario and Luigi, for example.  Additionally, if you lay out all of the cards of a family in a continuous line, the background makes a single picture – I love it when artists sneak that in.  All the information on the cards is easy to read, and the cards are pretty good quality.  The box is designed to look like a cigar box, which is also pretty cool.  So I give the components here a thumbs up.

THEME: The theme here is not strong.  You have a mafia game, but really, it’s all about the numbers.  The names and illustrations on the card give a bit of extra fun and flair to the game, but you’ll hardly notice them during the game.  The abilities are thematic with their families – it makes sense that the accountants are moving resources around, that the brutes are threatening others and making them weaker, and that the mercenaries can be used for other tasks.  This is a case where the theme is there just to make sure you don’t have a completely mechanical experience.  I will say that it is nice to not have a super-violent mafia theme.

MECHANICS: This game is an interesting mix of a set-collection game and a deck-building game.  You are trying to collect sets of cards so you can then collect more valuable cards later – you need 1s to get 2s, 2s to get 3s, etc.  There’s a drafting system in place with some strict rules that do make a lot of sense when you think about them, even though they might seem weird at first – draw a zero if you can’t take anything else, discard and draw if you can’t or don’t want to take a zero, use lower valued cards to claim higher valued cards.

The pyramid setup is a cool aspect of the game – there are 5 zeros of each color, as well as 4 ones, 3 twos, 2 threes, and 1 four.  Theoretically, this means that you would need all cards of one color to have a hope of getting the 4 since two cards are used and one is returned to your hand.  However, each player has a zero of each color in the beginning, meaning that there’s no chance of getting a 4 without using special powers.  The powers are very useful in their situations – accountants bring cards back to your hand, brutes make cards in the street easier to collect, and mercenaries act as wild cards to get you more.  They are fairly well balanced, though I think someone who gets a lot of mercenaries is going to win a lot of games.

The game flows very well once you know what you’re doing, and while new players may stumble quite a bit as they’re getting used to how it all works, I think it’s a pretty smooth game.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The key to the game is figuring out how to best use your powers.  Here’s an example of a puzzle posted on BGG by user EndersGame:

How can you claim the red 4 in this situation?
How can you claim the red 4 in this situation?

I won’t spoil the solution for you.  You can get the red 4 in this situation without having a single red 3, but you do have to do some maneuvering with special powers.  Building up options is a big help in this game, and while red cards are going to get you the most points, you really need to have lots of ways to claim cards.  It really is a puzzle that you’re playing, but you can plan for the future with what you take and when you choose to play your cards.  Yes, luck plays a factor – if your opponent is getting all the cards you want, it’s frustrating.  But there’s usually another direction you can go.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is really a next-step game.  There’s a lot of odd things going on in the game, and it takes a few plays to really understand everything.  I played it several times on Yucata.de and liked it despite not really knowing what I was doing.  It all clicked for me when I got my physical copy, but it has taken a few plays for others to get into it.

REPLAYABILITY: This has some pretty high replayability.  The variance of cards coming out into the street changes every game.  You may be pushed into new strategies as you go, and need to adapt.  I think it plays pretty well in repeated games.

SCALABILITY: This game is for two players only.  There’s also an official solo variant that I have yet to try out.

INTERACTION: There’s not a whole lot you can do to interact in this game, other than taking or discarding cards the other player wants.  If they’ve been taking blues, maybe you want to use your discard to get rid of a blue card, that kind of thing.  Cards in hand are not really open information, but you see everything someone has been taking, so you can work out what they have if you need to.  The Yucata.de implementation just has hands open.

FOOTPRINT: For this game, you just need room for the street and play areas.  Probably a smallish table will be fine.

LEGACY: Friedemann Friese is a wonderfully quirky designer that always comes up with something new that doesn’t feel like other stuff he has done.  I actually got three Friese titles this Christmas – Fearsome Floors, Friday, and Famiglia – and not one of them feels anything like the others.  And of course, there’s Power Grid, Copycat, and a bunch of other games in his catalog, all feeling unique.  So it’s hard to place Famiglia in the canon of Friese games.  I think it’s a very solid, quick two-player game with unique mechanisms and a fun mental challenge.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like it a lot.  It’s quick, unique, fun, and I’m glad it’s in my collection.  On my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, I give it a

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

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