The Godfather Corleone’s Empire – A Gangsta Board Game
Straining your voice to mimic Marlon Brando’s “make him an offer he can’t refuse” line from The Godfather is an American pastime. With CoolMiniOrNot’s The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, you can now pull this off while playing a board game—and a pretty good one at that.
High-quality tabletop games based on licensed intellectual properties are on the uptick. It’s no longer correct to assume that licensed properties will result in a mailed-in effort with some stylish artwork thrown on a box. Game designer Eric Lang (Chaos in the Old World, Blood Rage) has said that The Godfather is his favorite film, and his dedication shows in this new release.
The production is outstanding. Each player wields a small mob of uniquely sculpted miniatures. Little metal suitcases with hinged lids hold money you’ll squirrel away throughout the play. Artwork consists of gorgeous oil paintings from the talented Karl Kopinski. The only stumble here is the lack of image diversity in the job deck, but that’s a minor quibble when compared to the exceptional table presence the rest of the components possess.
At its heart, this is a light Euro-style game of worker placement comparable to the popular Lords of Waterdeep, but it’s mean in a way befitting its pin-striped source material. As opposed to re-enacting specific moments of the titular film, Corleone’s Empire is all about evoking a similar feel. Players become competing families looking to fill the enormous shoes of the expiring don. With his health on the decline, jackals are stalking the streets and carving out slices of territory to pick clean.
This 90-minute game is played across four acts that track key moments from The Godfather storyline. Each act serves as a round where you place your thugs on the board, grab and spend fistfuls of dough, and toss your enemies into the Hudson River. On each turn, players perform a single action until they run out of their gun-toting miniatures.
The majority of the time, you’ll be placing one of those thugs on the board. Figures come in two types: henchmen who carry out the more mundane grunt-work, and family members who influence multiple adjacent areas of New York City.
Henchmen are placed on square spaces of the board to shake down the fronts of commercial entities. Many of these business tiles are randomized, and new opportunities appear during the course of play. You’ll gain alcohol, weapons, and blood money. You’ll gain jobs – narrative missions that require those resources be spent. And you’ll even gain straight up cash, which is the measure of victory in the game.
Family members are placed on circular spaces that lie on the borders between areas. The spaces allow you to shake down the rear of each business on adjacent spaces. This gets you lots of resource cards, which means players will fight to take these limited positions first.
Your hand consists of money, jobs, resources to complete those jobs, and allies you’ve acquired during play. You’ll stuff your grimy palms during each round—but you’ll then need to carefully discard down to five cards and make some tough calls. Like Lang’s other designs, this is a simple game, but it consists of multiple subtle layers that interact. It’s engaging, and as Michael Corleone said, it keeps pulling you back in.
Blood money and drive-bys
Two aspects really elevate the game beyond its peers. First is the inclusion of an area control element. In addition to exploiting spaces for resources, it’s paramount that you wrap your brain around the breakdown of the city. The player with the most miniatures in a location at the end of an act gains a control marker there. This adds an entirely new dimension to strategy as you weigh economic gain against territory control. Whoever owns the last control marker placed on each section is awarded kickbacks when henchmen shake down businesses in their area. This powerful effect feels quite fulfilling when you receive a handful of bonus goods, and it’s a direct representation of the power that comes from ruling a local criminal hierarchy.
Adding additional weight to the area majority layer is an end game payout. The player with the most control markers in each area receives a shiny $5 bill (a significant award, since a fiver went much further in the 1950s setting of the game). This creates a push-and-pull element that constantly has you weighing the different strategic vectors and tackling difficult decisions. What’s remarkable is that it’s accomplished with little overhead.
These layered mechanics are supported by the game’s job system. Many of the contracts you complete allow you to gun down enemy thugs—you physically toss those scumbags onto the Hudson River portion of the board—thus freeing up board spaces. All of this adds a degree of direct and brutal interaction that’s typically absent from Euro-style games. Corleone’s Empire definitely has teeth.
The second key component is those metal suitcases. The winner of the game is the person who has stuffed their container with the most bills. The twist here is that you can’t simply place money from your hand into your tin. You need to take “suitcase actions” on the board, making the process of earning cash and then funneling it away for safe keeping more labored and more strategic. It’s thematic ‘money laundering takes effort’ and it never feels like busywork. The system is simple but effective and delivers a more nuanced action economy.
Standing on its own
While The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is a thematic design, ties to its namesake are understated. You don’t see specific characters from the film nor partake in the same events. The setting is a backdrop for players to forge their own violent identity.
Ally cards pop up between rounds and are auctioned off. Players bid money from their suitcases, effectively giving up victory points for special powers they can execute each act. These allies are generalized representations of different elements from the films, such as paid-off law enforcement and government corruption.
Then there are drugs. Narcotics are not available until the second arc of play as special businesses appear with the illicit goods on offer. Drugs function as a wild resource; they provide flexibility in completing jobs.
Deciding to break away from the restraints of scripted events allows for a more open experience, and it lets the game breathe. It’s much easier to deliver a strong piece of design when it’s wrapped around feeling and atmosphere as opposed to a pre-ordained narrative.
Corleone’s Empire is an exceptionally solid release. It uses interaction and nuanced multi-layered mechanisms to produce a streamlined game experience with depth. It may not perfectly recreate the events of its namesake, but it presents a compelling strategic playground for players to vocalize Tommy guns and perform terrible Marlon Brando impersonations. I’ll take that every time.
Watch how to play below.