The gangster world continues to enthrall board game designers, and the world of Al Capone is no exception. The infamous mob boss was reputed to have said that you can get far with a smile and a kind word, but you can get a lot farther with a smile and a gun. Did he actually say it? Only the ghosts of Alcatraz know.
But you don’t have to geaux to Alcatraz to find a good board gaming experience set in the mob world. I was lucky enough to meet and game with Jon Vallerand, a designer out of the French speaking part of Canada, way back at Dice Tower 2017. We’ve stayed in touch, and Jon was kind enough to send us a preview copy of a new project that he designed with art by Justin Lanjil. With A Smile & A Gun is coming out soon on Kickstarter.
With A Smile & A Gun is a tense two player area majority game with a cool theme of two gangsters in the Prohibition era trying to dominate the mean streets of the big city, using the police to raid your opponents businesses and thwart their efforts. Players will roll a gigantic pile of dice, then use those dice to take actions on a three by three grid of city streets.
Some area control / area majority games rely on complicated rule sets and tons of special powers to heighten the experience, but designer Jon Vallerand eschews complexity for simple mechanics and depth in strategy instead.
Players will set up a three by three grid laid board in the center of the gtable, and then place the player’s meeples as well as The Shadow meeple at the starting block. The players will randomly choose a Shadow card (which is a special power of the ‘hidden enemy’ that each player has to deal with) and an Infusion card (the special rules for the players in each game). The players will then place random control tokens across the board, and then start the first turn.
Game play is fairly simple. (Note, I am looking at prototype rule sets, so some of the rules may change as the campaign kicks off.) Once the control tokens are set out, players will then start battling out for the different areas of the city to win those tokens. The tokens represent Hats, Gambling, Weapons, Drugs, and Infusion.
The players will roll 13 dice to create a pool of actions, then each takes turns grabbing two dice from the pool (with one left over at the end.) The pair of dice will determine how far your player token moves, as well as the action that you take that turn. Players will move their token around the edge of the board, and which ever row / column that they face once the dancing stops, those are the areas of the board they will add influence cubes. Which cubes they add depends upon that second die they chose. The higher the number, the more powerful the action.
Once one player finishes with their choice of two dice, the other player takes their turn, continuing on until both players have had three tries. Whichever die is left over determines how far the Shadow moves that round, and that will determine how the Shadow Card affects the players and the board. Likewise, the amount of “action” you take affects how the police will “lean” on the players. The players will add the pips of the three action dice together, and whichever player had the least amount of pips (i.e. were a lot quieter in their actions) will receive a bonus move of adding police cubes or one of their own player cubes to any district in the city.
Finally, as any good mobster knows, it is time to “settle the score.” Players will check each district, and count who has the most cubes. Whoever has it gets the control token of their choice — but watch out! If the police have more, they will steal a token right out from your nose and confiscate it as contraband or evidence or whatever they call it when the police jack around the mob.
After three rounds of setting up, moving around the city, putting on (and taking off) influence, and settling the score, the players total of up their control markers and any bonuses from the Infusion or Shadow cards, and the highest score wins!
I cannot say much about the production itself, as I was playing on a well made prototype, so we will have to see how the Kickstarter project presents the game.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
Board gamers have enjoyed a run of amazing two player games lately. I count With A Smile & A Gun in that list because it has the theme, delicious decisions and relatively short time play that should make it stand out in a crowd. If you like games that look like abstracts but have a great thematic overlay that makes sense, you should check out With A Smile & A Gun when it hits Kickstarter soon.
There are a number of unique twists from other types of dice selection, area majority games, that I really enjoyed. First, it has that “watch out for the leftover dice” mechanic, as Jon provides you with an uneven number of dice to roll at the start of each round. Whatever die does not get chosen is going to be used by the police to wreak havoc with the player’s plans. But plan accordingly, as you can see what die will probably be chosen as the field narrows.
Second, he added in one additional ghost player, called “the shadow”, which I pretended to be some kind of mastermind behind the whole sinister gangster goings-ons, and the shadow has actions that take place and really change what happens.
Third, the players themselves have to contend with special actions that change each game, and the varied combos of the Shadow and players powers makes each game unique. We had fun exploring the different combinations of cards and powers for the Shadow and player powers. Each combo makes for a completely unique experience, upping the replayability.
Finally, the actions by the players themselves come from two choices — one die you choose determines movement around the board (and consequently, the three city blocks you will influence) and the second determines the special action you can take (like moving influence around or adding police tokens).
If you are looking for a tight, fun, two player game that gives you a chance to scheme against your opponent, and changes every game based on the special cards in play, you should check out With A Smile & A Gun. We’ve enjoyed the tug of war that comes with the turf battles trying to dominate the city streets, and can’t wait to see what the Kickstarter project reveals.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo