Board Game Review - An Arresting Evening with Nothing Personal
I will start off by saying that games of game negotiation are not my go-to form of entertainment. It's not that I'm particularly bad at negotiation (at least in a board game setting) - I would rate myself as "fair." But what it comes down to, in terms of revelations about control, is that you are essentially attempting to control the other players, and people are notoriously hard to control.
Now, if you go to games for interesting social experiences, then you will obviously find a wealth of those in negotiation games and Nothing Personal in particular. And that totally top banana for you.
I will also say that the game of Nothing Personal I played was a 5-player affair and I only really knew one of the other guys, so the negotiation aspect of the game was a little...dry.
But that's okay, though, because what else I will say is that there is a really solid game underneath all the potential for wonderful, backstabbing player interaction. Even though the game was mostly approached from a formal, calculating perspective, I still had a good time playing it.
The rules are pretty straight-forward. You are a family in the mafia, attempting to gain influence over members of the hierarchy to earn money and respect. You just draw some cards and then play them to place influence on various mob members occupying different positions, then once everyone's played the cards they can, they go through the mob family tree top-down to collect money and respect (victory points), then bottom-up to perform actions of either the position or the mobster in the position for the player that has the most influence on each mob member. Some actions may kill other mobsters, and after everyone in the tree has taken an action, those with too much influence on them are sent to prison, and everyone move up the tree to fill up the empty spots.
So there's a lot of good stuff that comes from having the most influence - money, points, actions, decisions on breaking influence ties of the mobsters below you and deciding who replaces them if they go to prison or get whacked. The game just becomes about controlling the right characters at the right times and out-maneuvering your opponents to do so.
Even though the rules are simple, the rule book is pretty terrible at conveying some of the finer nuances, though. Oh well.
But anyway, it was really easy to pick up and get all the important concepts right off the bat. The biggest mistake I made was that the total number of influence tokens you have to distribute is limited and after the first 2 turns went really well for me, I got overly cocky and spread myself too thin trying to control half the board. I ended up with influence tokens on, like, 6 different guys but I only had control of one of them, which wasn't so great. Luckily some of the duds I invested in went to prison and I got my tokens back and managed to keep the early lead I gained in the beginning to win by a comfortable margin in the end.
The bad part about always being in front, though, was that do one wanted to negotiate with me. Sure, if an influence card forced me to give something away to another player, I could usually get someone to pay me for it, but if there was a decision on which player won in a tie, it always went to the other guy, even if I started throwing money at the deciding player. At least they didn't take my money and then decide against me anyway...
So, like most social games, you would be best served by playing this game with the right group - people who love to negotiate and backstab. Even without that, though, I still had an entertaining time playing Nothing Personal because the mechanics were very solid and kept me engaged. I still felt I had control over my own fate even if the other players weren't cooperating with me, and I think we can attribute that to some overall elegant design.
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