(Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, a feature that explores the intersection between movies and tabletop gaming. This column is sponsored by Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy in Austin, Texas.)
Back in 2016, we first learned that CMON (formerly Cool Mini Or Not) was making a board game based on Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather. Now, after over a year of designing and playtesting and tweaking and playtesting and playtesting (as is the board game way), the Godfather board game is about to hit shelves. And as a new trailer reveals, it looks cool. Really cool, even. Maybe even “day one purchase” levels of cool.
But does it actually look like The Godfather? That’s the question, isn’t it?
Watching the trailer gave me flashbacks to Electronic Arts’ 2006 video game take on The Godfather, which took the plot of the 1972 film and retold it through the eyes of a new character who just so happened to be just offscreen for every major moment from the original movie. It was a bastardization of everything that made the movie great, a celebration of violence, Grand Theft Auto with fedoras. And I played it for dozens and dozens of hours. It was a blast. It was The Godfather in name only, but I’ll be honest: I had a card time getting too worked up about that because it was so much fun.
So a board game titled The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire that borrows the iconography of the films while seemingly sidestepping everything makes The Godfather and its first sequel stand out from the rest of the gangster movie pack? Been there, dealt with that. If it’s a good game, that probably won’t matter too much, right? Yeah. Sort of. Kind of.
It certainly helps that CMON is a publisher known for quality control and that game designer Eric Lang is one of the best guys working in the business. I’ve yet to play a game published by CMON that didn’t look and feel amazing on my table, and I’ve yet to play a game designed by Lang that wasn’t stuffed with unique mechanics and fascinating ideas. If The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire was just called “Gangster Town” (or something, you know, good), I probably wouldn’t be hemming and hawing right now. I’d be all-in. Instead, I have to temper my excitement ever-so-slightly. After all, this game promises tons of explosive gangster action and brutal confrontations – but the Godfather name promises something a little bit more than that.
And while I know for a fact that I’ll be playing The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire (and will probably take a much closer look in a future edition of Cardboard Cinema), I have to wonder what a tabletop game that truly feels like The Godfather would play like. I imagine a trailer for such a game would have less focus on plastic men fighting each other on a board. I imagine there would be a lot more focus on negotiation, discussion, avoiding conflict, and arranging violence encounters that completely blindside the victim. A perfect Godfather board game would pause every round or so as everyone settles in for a family function and makes a great pasta sauce.
It’s easy to scoff and say “Do you actually expect a board game to honestly feel like the movie it’s based on?” And I’d respond with “Yeah.” While licensed board games based on films and television shows used to represent the bottom of the barrel of the industry, things have changed in the past decade. Companies have started trusting more interesting publishers and more talented designers with their titles, resulting in board games that share a famous title while also evoking the feelings associated with that title. A tabletop game based on a beloved movie can now be an extension of that film, not a cheap cash-in.
And if I’m going to be honest with you, a pretty great The Godfather game already exists…it’s just not called The Godfather. Gale Force Nine’s board game adaptation of the FX series Sons of Anarchy is the best crime-based tabletop game I’ve ever played, and I don’t even like the show it’s based on! Don’t let the ugly graphic design fool you – this game is a ferocious, slumbering beast.
Here is a game about controlling a gang of criminals and moving illegal product and earning money that makes conflict sound like a poor decision at all times. Much like the characters in The Godfather, players in Sons of Anarchy don’t want to fight. Fighting is costly. Fighting has an element of random chance. Fighting can lead to grudges and wars that would wreak havoc across the board and leave everyone unhappy. So the design encourages players to talk, to negotiate, to avoid going to the mattresses until they absolutely have to. Every game leaves me feeling exhausted in the best possible way. Running a criminal empire is hard…and more about using brute force as a threat than anything else!
To be perfectly fair, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire could very easily value negotiation over violence and discussion over open conflict. Past Eric Lang designs have emphasized conversation as much as furious dice rolling and area control. I only wish this trailer offered Godfather flavor beyond the obvious…and I hope the final game evokes the movies themselves while delivering a terrific tabletop experience.
The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire should hit shelves on July 28, 2017. Preorder now on Amazon.
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