Publisher: Hazgaard Editions, Asmodee Editions
Designer: Sébastien Gigaudaut, David Rakoto
Playing Time: 60 Minutes
Retail Price: 39.99
Category: Mafia Card Game
It’s funny I just noticed they called him “Johnny Gota” on the publisher’s website but on the game board his name is “Joe”. Perhaps they thought in the English version it was just too close to John Gotti but let’s face it that’s who it’s suppose to be right? Not only that but in Nostra City you are playing a member of the family who is working on clearing (as I’ll call him) Joe’s name and getting him off the hook. See Joe got pinched and is on trial. It’s your job, in addition to keeping the business running of course, to grease the palms of the jury to help them see clearly how innocent Joe really should be found. That’s right I’m telling you this is a mafia themed game and we are all part of the same family with the same goal. Don’t you worry your head sweetheart a co-op game this is not.
Nostra City is played over the course of 6 months as the trial of the century is being held to determine if the boss is going to go down or be set free. Each month is conducted through 4 phases which are all pretty simple relatively speaking. Phase one is called “The Business” where players do what they can to raise money. This might entail running a racket in one of your turfs or trafficking an illegal activity such as drugs, prostitution or gambling. This is the mob after all they aren’t out there selling fresh cut flowers now are they? The type of business you choose to conduct however is important because let’s say you choose to traffic drugs. You get to draw one cash card for every drug card on the table that means in front of you and your opponents…errr I mean fellow family members. As they are family members and drug runners as well you have to give them one of the cash cards for each drug card they control. On the other hand if the cash cards are all particularly large bills you might not want to pay them. If you decide to cheat them, which you can do, they get to draw a vendetta card for each bill they should have received.
The next phase is called “The Meeting.” On the board are 4 cards in the streets. These cards represent new opportunities to grow the business and at the meeting phase players get the chance to bid on the card(s) they’d like to get. Nostra City being the screw you over at every possible turn kind of game it is, that’s not all there is going to be to it. You use your wiseguys, at least the ones who aren’t already busy from having done business last phase, to place the bids for you. You decided which card(s) you would like to control and give the wise guy your money for the bid plus a location card numbered 1-4 that corresponds to the location in the street of the card(s) you wanted. All locations get revealed, then one by one the amounts are compared. If you happen to be the only person to have sent a wiseguy to a particular location he will pay only 1 of the cash cards allowing you keep the remainder of your bid for yourself. If more than 1 wiseguy goes into a location and the bids are tied both players lose their money but neither gets the card and it remains until next month. If a wiseguy has more cash than the others he wins the card but the others still lose the money they bid. Yeah it’s nasty out there in the streets. The only solace is if you sent a wiseguy to the streets and lost money but did not win a card you get to draw a vendetta card.
“The Trial” comes next and this is the opportunity to bribe the jury and clear Joe. In this phase if you have any wiseguys who are not busy from having run business or working the streets then you can use them to give a single bill each to the corruption pile. On the bills are thumbs up and thumbs down numbered from 1 to 3 depending on the value of the bill. At the end of both the third and the final rounds these cards will be shuffled and tallies counted. For the thumbs up Joe’s guilt marker will move towards the side of his freedom the number of spaces equal to the value of the thumbs. His guilt will be raised for each thumbs down card played to the pile so it’s a tug of war marker on the guilt track. Wait a second? Why would anyone throw a card to make Joe guilty when we are trying to get him off the hook? That’s got to do with those vendetta cards I keep talking about but more on those in a bit.
“The Reception” is really just a clean up phase nothing of real importance happens here except for that thumb tally after the third and last round that I spoke of. You reseed the board and discard cash cards down to 6 things like that. What you just read is nearly the entirety of the game that gets repeated 6 times and the game ends. How do you win you ask? Well some of those cards you can bid for give you respect points. If at the end of the game you are still a loyal member of the family and Joe is found innocent you win by having the most respect. If however you have turned snitch for the cops then you now want to make sure Joe is found guilty. One more twist to the game, there can be up to 2 snitches so again at end of game if Joe is guilty the snitch with the highest respect is the winner.
Now let’s talk about those vendetta cards shall we? Two of them are good for you, a turf and a wiseguy. Other than those 2 cards all but 4 are really nasty cards that you get to play on other players. Most of these are designated with a switch blade knife on them to let you now it’s a card used to stab another player in the back with. With these cards you can do things like rob money from a player, steal turfs, kill wiseguys or take away respect. The last of those 4 cards however are anger and snitch cards. If you get one of these 4 cards you hold them for the whole game and can not get rid of them. Anger cards have no function what-so-ever except to show other players you have a card you are not playing. This naturally makes them think you have a snitch card. A snitch card turns you from a loyal family member into a snitch who wants to see Joe sent up the river. There are a couple other small rules I didn’t cover but for the most part that is Nostra City.
No expense was spared when it comes to the artwork in this game that is certain. It has some seriously beautiful art that is unique on each and every card. The board is filled with engaging art and flows well It even has a circular coffee stain on the calendar at month 3 reminding you to tally the cash cards in the corruption pile.
This is a very fun little game that delivers it’s theme splendidly through clever design. As mentioned each wiseguy you have has to be made busy to do any of the actions but each wise guy has a distinct power that triggers during one of the 3 action phases. Your strategy will be based around the wiseguys you have in play in front of you and really who doesn’t like variable player powers like this? The heart of the game though is getting and properly playing those vendetta cards without generating enough malice that you get retaliated against.
I’ve been able to play this one with both 4 and 5 players and it’s my opinion that it plays best with 4 players. In 5player games the vendetta deck can be easily depleted and has to be resfuffled to make the cards available again. The rulebook did not say to do this and feels like they should not be reshuffled. If you don’t though, then there is no penalty at all to cheat players during the business phase so you’d always keep all the cash cards you draw. In 4 player games this doesn’t happen as easily and it just feels right. There also seems to be a bit of a shortage of turf and wiseguy cards in the 5 player game yet not in a 4 player game. It’s still tense bidding in the meeting phase as the turfs and powerful wiseguys are still important. I don’t think I’d even try this game at 3 players. I feel there would be too many cards for the game to work out and keep tension high but to be honest I can’t say I obviously have not played it 3 players. Towards the end of the game most players (I played with 7 different people) were stating they felt the game was over staying it’s welcome but not horribly and we obviously finished it.
Do I love this game? No, but I like it a lot. Face it this isn’t a game that has some new ground breaking approach to gaming. If it did it would have rocked through the game world a couple years ago when it was first released. It does however marry interesting strategy game design with take that mechanics very nicely and I’m always pleased to find hybrid games that work well. You can not be non-confrontational in this game and if that’s a concern for you stay very far away. Further it is a game about profiting off illegal activities and that may not suit you and your game collection either. However if you want to play a mob themed game that feels like a mob themed game, this is it.
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