Top Of The Table – The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire
Dozens of tabletop games over the years have alluded to the mobster world of The Godfather, and a few have even offered an actual licensed take on the classic film of New York mafia, with its devastating betrayals and family intrigue. But until Corleone’s Empire, I’ve never played a game that so perfectly captures the mood and themes of that memorable movie. Designer Eric M. Lang has been behind some of the most thematically rich and rewarding tabletop games of recent years, and publisher CMON has an eye for stellar production values. Add in some truly evocative art from Karl Kopinski, and The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire nails the setting and tone of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, while simultaneously offering a rousing and fast-paced game of strategy and sudden, devastating treachery.
Corleone’s Empire is a game of worker placement and area control. Two to five players each take on the role of a New York crime family, working to shake down businesses across the boroughs, complete jobs like extortions and backroom deals, and bribe allies into cooperation with your nefarious activities. Don Corleone looms over your criminal projects as the Godfather of organized crime in the city, and you must be careful to launder and hide away your money, as the excess will go in tribute to him at the end of each act. Along the way, it’s your acquisition of illegal goods like guns, booze, blood money, and eventually, narcotics, which fuel your illicit affairs. Turf changes hands all the time, new businesses open for exploitation, and minions are murdered in violent car bomb explosions and drive-by shootings; figures regularly move from the board spaces into the Hudson River after they meet an untimely end. The theming is richly imagined and appropriately tied up in crime and sudden dramatic turns of fate that reshape the contours of the session.
CMON has established a reputation for its great miniatures and top-notch art, and both are in full evidence throughout Corleone’s Empire. The rulebook and cards are filled with brooding character art of the city’s mid-20th century criminals and civic officials. Individual uncolored miniatures are detailed and varied, offering up different visuals for each family Don, Consigliere, and Heir. A horse-head token indicates first-turn status. Every player even has a literal metal suitcase that holds laundered money away from prying eyes. And the New York board map is thoughtfully designed and attractive, appropriately appointed without ever feeling crowded, even in the game’s later busy turns. Everything reinforces and recalls the film. I’m also a big fan of the board’s use of shapes tied to the bases of individual minis and components; even newcomers to the game can quickly grasp where each piece should be played, from hexagonal control markers to square spots that match your family’s thug minis.
Corleone's Empire supports two to five players, but plays best with four or five
The clever nods to the movie would be for naught without a solid game framework. Behind the mafioso concept, smartly structured and briskly paced gameplay unfolds. Split into four roughly similar acts, the game layers on complexity through the gradual introduction of new figures, businesses, allies, and resources. Reach Act II, and your Consigliere mini joins the team. Bid more than your opponents, and perhaps you can lure the Mayor to aid your family in Act III. Risk entry into the dangerous world of narcotics in the late game, and you’ve got a new flexible resource that can help fuel any job.
In the most important phase of each act, players take turns deploying their miniatures onto designated spots across New York City, shaking down businesses like the Barbershop, Korean Laundry, and Gun Dealership, and acquiring the designated resource. Have the most figures in an area, and you gain control of that borough in the subsequent turn, meaning you get a piece of the action every time a player hits up that business in the future. Gathered resources let you complete jobs, which usually offer both concrete rewards and a way to screw over your opponents; you gain money (or launder it) while potentially killing off opponent pieces in key locations across the board. Your own carefully laid plans can be shattered by an opposing player’s machinations. If that sort of messing with each other angers you, Corleone’s Empire is likely to frustrate almost constantly. For me, the sudden changes in fortune communicated a delightful nod to the precipitous and dramatic turns of the movie. In the end, it’s a combination of acquired money, control exerted around the city, and jobs completed that determine the crime family that will rule New York and win the game.
For a game with so many interlocking systems of resources, control points, and different paths to money and victory, I’m impressed by the ease of play. Down time between turns is very low, as each figure’s placement on the board has a clearly marked consequence and acquisition. In my experience, the game is at its best with four or five players, as interlocking webs of alliances accrue, and players in the lead are suddenly ganged up upon by other players who feel threatened. The abrupt and disastrous falls from a hard-won lead are painful, but bearable since the game completes in a moderate playtime; a two-hour session is enough to finish one game, and for most player groups, that might even be enough to try a second run on the same evening of play, allowing new alliances and grudges to form.
Each player called a small tin "metal suitcase" to store their money and completed job cards
Strangers to The Godfather may be stymied by the constant references to the movie. But it’s clear that’s a sacrifice that the designer is willing to make, foregoing overt explanations about things like the taking or leaving of canolis, for instance, and instead letting players recognize narrative flavors and moments wherever they can find them. The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire does justice to its inspiration, and the dip into gangster fantasies is a welcome change of pace from more fantastical settings.
If Corleone’s Empire sounds like a good fit for your friends, you won’t have long to wait to track down a copy; pre-orders are available now, and official launch is July 28th of this year. If you’re looking for something of a different flavor than tommy guns and restaurant assassinations, make sure and click on the Top of the Table banner below and check out some other recent recommendations. If you’d like some additional personal recommendations or advice on tabletop games, feel free to drop me a line via email or Twitter – I’m always happy to share some suggestions to find the perfect gaming fit for your group.