The Godfather and Breaking Bad are two of the most acclaimed crime dramas of all time, both telling the stories of men who become ruthless criminals and the effects their decisions have on their families. Two new board games, CMON's The Godfather: Corleone's Empire and Asmodee's Breaking Bad, are letting players step into those worlds, showing off the differences in the works that inspire them even as they both provide the thrills of being a villain.
The Godfather: Corleone's Empire
Francis Ford Coppola famously insisted that his film be shot on location in New York. CMON also wanted to immerse players of its board game in that setting, so at this year’s Gen Con the company ran demos in a large space made up to look like an Italian restaurant run by costumed staff. The game itself is just as stylish, its rulebook filled with full-page pictures of New York and portraits of characters from the film.
The Godfather asks two to five players to jockey for power by taking control of different areas of the city, squirreling away money and performing jobs that often involve messing up other players' legitimate business operations. Each player takes on the role of a different crime family who pay tribute to Godfather Don Corleone, but who also want to be in the best position to take over should something unfortunate happen to him.
“This is a 'thug placement' game,” said the well-heeled gentleman leading my demo in his best Italian-American accent.
The board itself is an elegant affair. The map of New York is divided into neighborhoods like Chelsea and the Upper West Side, each populated with businesses players can shakedown for money, booze and other key resources. Family members and thugs have differently shaped bases corresponding to spots on the map where they can be placed, with the family members unsurprisingly capable of exerting more influence. Tokens killed by other players are knocked into the river to “sleep with the fishes.”
Like fans of the original films, this is a game that cares about its history. Which faction runs an area is marked by stackable colored tokens. While there are benefits to controlling an area on any given turn, the person with the longest claim to it is the one that gets credit at the end of the game.
The Godfather’s award-winning designer, Eric M. Lang, brought high production values to the game. In the game players will stash their money away and also secretly bribe public officials. Rather than using envelopes to conceal cash, each person gets a metal suitcase stamped with a port of entry decal indicating the origins of their crime family. The prop looks great and allows for a dramatic reveal — flipping open the lid you show others at the table just how much you're willing to pay to control the mayor for the next turn.
Beaking Bad: The Board Game
In contrast, Breaking Bad: The Board Game is a much scrappier affair so far. That’s in part due to the fact that it’s still in the prototype phase.
Asmodee had a huge presence at Gen Con this year, including a massive storefront right on the show floor. But demos for Breaking Bad were spread across two tiny tables that barely had enough room; the game plays up to eight.
In motion, Breaking Bad features four asymmetrical factions based on different organizations from the TV show. The game seems designed with four players in mind, but you can also pair up to control each faction. Three groups of drug dealers win by having the most methamphetamine in their stash or, alternately, by killing everyone else at the table. The fourth faction is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) which needs to shut down the dealers’ production labs and either kill or arrest the criminals.
While there is murder in The Godfather, it's mostly a game of long-term strategy and outthinking your opponents. Breaking Bad on the other hand is about making sure you're the one who knocks.
The game bucks current design trends by allowing for players to be eliminated. Killing your competition might mean an early night for someone at the table, but protecting your partner in crime proved to be significantly more relevant than building your meth stash. Drugs can be stolen or seized, and having too much on you at one time makes you not just a bigger target but more vulnerable to powerful cards. Having devastating attacks that can only be played once criminals have gotten too powerful and attracted too much attention nails the feeling of TV show’s escalating stakes.
Since the game hasn't been released yet it's unclear if the physical components will change, but I hope they don't. The use of the blue plastic crystals found common to many tabletop games to represent stashes of Blue Sky crystal meth is absolutely perfect.
Breaking Bad is also more character driven than The Godfather. Each player takes on the role of a different person from the show with representative special abilities or stats. For example, Walter White, who takes up cooking meth when he's diagnosed with cancer, has a lower health score while hitman Mike Ehrmantraut has an easier time shooting at other players.
Each faction also has its own decks with a mix of general and specific actions keyed to their characters. Each is accompanied by key art from the TV show. While it might not actually be the best card in the game, the one that reminded me I’d “Better Call Saul!” was my favorite. Modeled after the shady lawyer's business card, it can get your character out of a jam and negate the actions of the DEA.
Who knows? If the Breaking Bad board game is successful enough, maybe Saul Goodman will also get his own expansion. A release date has not yet been announced.