Board Game Review: Bootleggers
Eagle Games has created a unique new boardgame about hooch, prohibition, and gangstas. Does the sexy setting translate into good gaming? Read Michael Eckenfels' review to find out.
Introduction & Background
Now, before you grognards go and get your Fruit-of-the-Looms in a wad, let me go ahead and get some things out of the way: first off, no, this is not a wargame. Second, yes, it is an attempt at a hybrid American/European mechanic-style boardgame. Lastly, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Gamers who get their thrills by sticking it to ‘The Man’ while selling (then) illegal hooch that’s as good in a gas tank as someone’s gullet, gamers who enjoy posing with a Tommy gun that holds a 50-round drum magazine while riding on the rickety wooden boards of an “a-WOO-gah” kind of truck while clanking down side roads to the accompaniment of clinking bottles of said hooch packed in crates in the back to make thousands in illicit dough while reading long rambling sentences, you’ll love this game as much as I did, so read on. (Breathe.)
My experience with Euro-style games has been limited to a few rounds of Mayfair’s Settlers Of Catan and some rousing observances of the Houston Gamers’ group playing Power Grid. It has, however, garnered within me a healthy interest in the streamlined, fast gameplay that is as much determined by skillful gameplay as luck. (Some would argue the ‘luck’ part, but that’s another article entirely.) After having grown up on years of Third Reich, World in Flames, Squad Leader, and anything with a CRT that resembles the GNP chart of a major world power, “fast” and “streamlined” gameplay has become something of an alien concept, much like using “SS Amerika” (by 3W) and “under six weeks” in the same sentence.
With that said, it is the penultimate interest of most 30-ish gamers (i.e., “20” to “80”) to have fun in a relatively short period of time, sort of the same mental stimulation as a roller coaster without the stomach-heaving 8-G turns or the jumping-off-the-tracks/stopping-upside-down parts. If it sets up fast, plays fast, and puts away fast, and most importantly makes it worth the effort of all three, it’s a keeper of a game. And these four points are all met with Bootleggers from Eagle Games.
For three to six players, Bootleggers puts them squarely in the wing-tips of a mob boss, looking to take advantage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, specifically, “Prohibition.” In 1918, riding the moral high crest of a wave that had its epicenter smack in the middle of millions of World War I casualties, bible thumpers and people with good intentions but short-range vision helped to pass a law that banned alcohol throughout the United States. While it seemed a good idea in the “take the dangerous toy from the child and they can’t hurt themselves” vein, people didn’t react too kindly. Taking spirits away from what amounted to a nation of blue-collar “Lunchbox Joe” types and stock-market scamming white collars was almost as much a disaster as that one Serbian pistol shot in 1914.
Demand was probably even higher for a drink once Prohibition was ratified by all the states, which in the spirit of economics meant a supply had to be provided – there was money to be made, after all, when a crazed demand rises up. Also, being told that they can’t have something tends to bring out demand in people who didn’t even want it in the first place.
In Bootleggers, the player gets to play on that demand by distilling, delivering, and reaping the benefits of a crazy Amendment. In the process, the first ‘boss’ to make 100 G’s (or, $100,000 to those not familiar with mob-speak) wins the game. Winning the race to make the most dough means outplaying opponents through careful planning, making wise choices, and not hesitating to use filthy under-handed backstabbing to reach that goal.
Eagle Games' components have always been of the high quality, 'cool bits' variety. Bootleggers is, however, not created and built up from the ground floor by Eagle Games. They're publishing this title for SDR Games. Does that mean any less of a decent product?
For SDR's part, they've created a game that fits into Eagle's mold of having nice bits that are fun to manipulate. The gangster pieces, used to mark Influence in the various speakeasies and to indicate which trucks are owned by what boss, show a typical perspective of a goon from that era down to the fedora, Tommy gun, and violin case at his feet. The trucks the goons 'guard' are nice, but represent three different sizes and have a number imprinted on the top of them to indicate their maximum payload.
The board itself is as remarkable as it is plain. There are no vibrant bright colors to catch gamers’ eyes. Instead, the mood of the board pools itself into a dark midnight blue that is indicative of the shadows just beyond the weak lamplights of the streets in the dead of night. Light pours from a small number of lamps and a lone truck. The whole thing is somber and perfectly indicative of the mood that a player should have…indulging in illegal activity all the while entertaining a vague notion that they should be glancing over their shoulder every few seconds, waiting for the cops or another gang to roar around the corner with guns blazing. That may not happen in Bootleggers per se, but setting that kind of mood is important.
The card art is decent, as are the tiny wooden blocks that represent the crates of illegal hooch that players are bottling in their distilleries (referred to as 'stills' from here on out) and carting to the thirsty crowds in the speakeasies. All in all, the components of this game are spectacular.