(2013 – Dice Tower Games, Game Salute)
Tom Vasel is no stranger to BGG or the board gaming community in general. From Dice Tower podcaster, to video reviewer, to now game designer, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has contributed more podcasts, more reviews and worn more bad ties as Tom. In 2012, Tom along with fellow designer, Steve Avery, announced a Kickstarter campaign for a mafia-themed game they’d created entitled Nothing Personal, which successfully met its funding in November of the same year.
In Nothing Personal, players take on the role of one of the five families vying for control over the city’s Mafia. These families will attempt to influence, bribe, and hire gangsters to do their bidding, ultimately gaining respect (the game’s victory points) along the way and moving up the ranks in order to try and control the Capo of the entire organization. Alliances can be made and broken all in the same move, backstabbing, deal-breaking, name calling…Everyone will turn on everyone at some point in the game, but like it states, it’s nothing personal.
Nothing Personal blends a wide array of mechanics into a single entity. Negotiation, bidding, area control, action selection, card hand management, dice rolling, card combat, just to name a few, can all be found within the confines of the game. The designers focus however was not spent entirely on how many mechanics one could fit into a game, but how well could they all interact together. Let’s take a look.
– Nothing Personal Game Board
– Player Boards
– Gangster Cards
– Influence Cards
– Family Influence tokens
– Neutral Influence tokens
– Money ($10, $5, and $1 tokens)
– Blackmail Coins
– Omerta Coins
– Action Dice
– Round markers
– Gangster markers
– Capo Ring
The game board is made up of multiple positions in the mafia business hierarchy. Before the game can begin, the initial hierarchy of gangsters need to be set up on the board. Every game of Nothing Personal will start with the “Killer” Mac Pheeto gangster in the top Capo space.
Each gangster card in the game includes a number of different mobster characteristics that are relevant to that particular gangster and are listed below the gangster’s name on the card.
– Conman characteristic (Hat icon)
– Gambler characteristic (Poker card icon)
– Hitman characteristic (Gun icon)
– Thug characteristic (Brass knuckles icon)
You’ll notice that the current Capo, “Killer” Mac Pheeto contains all of these characteristics. Players will then fill the spaces below the Capo in descending rank order, starting with the Underboss (8th position) and then moving to the Counselor (7th position) and so on. The first 4 of the these placed gangsters (positions 8 through 5) must contain at least 1 of each of the 4 characteristic types. When a gangster card is drawn from the deck and placed in one of these positions during setup, if it does not contain a characteristic type that is not yet represented in positions 8 through 5, then it is discarded and another gangster card is drawn until all 4 of these spaces contain at least 1 of each of the 4 characteristics.
For instance, gangsters have been placed in the 8th, 7th, and 6th positions. The Conman, Hitman, and Gambler characteristics are present among these 3 gangsters. All that is needed in the 5th position is a gangster that includes the Thug (brass knuckles icon) characteristic, since there has yet to be a gangster that includes this one. The next gangster drawn from the deck is “Honest” Rob Searana, whom has the Hitman characteristic, but not the Thug.
This card is then discarded and the next gangster drawn is Geoff “Brain” Engelstrini, whom does have the Thug characteristic. Therefore, Geoff is placed into the 6th position.
Once these first 4 positions have been filled, the remaining positions are filled with gangster cards in descending order of rank (positions 4 through 1) without the characteristic stipulation needed for the first 4 spaces.
The three associate spaces to the right of the mafia hierarchy are also filled. These are gangsters that are the next in line, should a gangster in the hierarchy die or go to prison (and they will).
The remaining Gangster cards are them placed onto the appropriate space of the game board, and will make up the Gangster deck. Players will also shuffle and place the deck of Influence cards face down in the space above the Gangster deck.
Each player also gets a player board, a set of 25 Influence tokens, $5 dollars, and a Gangster marker that matches their particular family. Throughout the game, Influence tokens will be placed on the hierarchy of gangsters on the game board in order for a player’s family to gain control of them and use them for various actions.
Players will attempt to gain Respect (Victory Points) using these actions and the player’s Gangster marker will represent how much Respect a player’s family has gained throughout the game, referenced on the Respect track at the bottom of the game board. All players begin the game with 0 Respect.
Next, players will receive a set of 4 Influence cards to begin the game with. These Influence cards are mostly used in order to place Influence markers on particular Gangsters, however they also have some special abilities that can be used during the game. I’ll discuss how these work in more detail a little bit later.
Players will determine the start player, and that player will receive the Capo Ring. The player that owns this Ring during the game will always go first during the Round as well as break any Influence ties amongst players for controlling a particular Gangster. Starting with the Capo player and moving clockwise, each player will take turns placing 1 of their family’s Influence token on any Gangster card in the current mafia hierarchy, as well as on any of the 3 associate Gangsters. This continues until all players have placed 3 of their Influence markers on the board.
When a player has a majority of Influence tokens on a particular Gangster, that Gangster is considered controlled by that player. During setup (and throughout the game), if at anytime during the placement of Influence tokens, a player takes majority Influence on the Capo position, that player immediately receives the Capo Ring.
There are 5 full Rounds in a game of Nothing Personal, each made up of 6 Phases per Round. These Phases are listed on the top left portion of the game board, and a Round marker is placed on the Commission phase space to begin the game. This marker will be moved with each Phase of a Round until it reaches the Bookkeeping Phase. Once all 5 markers have reached the Bookkeeping Phase area, the game ends.
After all Gangsters have filled the various positions on the board, Influence cards have been distributed, 3 Influence markers from each player has been placed, and the Round marker placed on the Commission Phase space, the game is ready to begin. A set of Neutral Influence tokens, money, Action Dice, Blackmail coins, and Omerta coins are placed near the game board for easy access. After setup, the play area should look something like this:
Throughout the game, players will use Gangsters they control in the mafia hierarchy in order to gain Respect, gain Money, and take various special Actions according to the Gangster’s personal special ability (if any), or the Gangster’s rank ability. As mentioned above, Nothing Personal is played through a series of 5 Rounds of which are broken up into separate Phases: the Commission phase, the Crew phase, the Fence phase, the Feds phase, the Family phase, and the Bookkeeping phase.
1.) Commission Phase
During the first phase of each Round, players will play Influence cards from their hand in order to place Influence tokens on different Gangster cards in the attempt of bringing them under their control. Each Influence card contains a number in the top left corner indicating the number of Influence tokens that the player can place, as well as an icon representing the type of Gangster they can be placed on. In some cases, Influence tokens can be placed on multiple types of Gangsters, while in other cases they’ll be placed according to the rank position.
For instance, Player A chooses to play the Influence card to the left. By doing so he can then place 2 Influence tokens on any Gangster that has the matching Thug icon. He chooses to place his 2 Influence tokens on Ingo “Belladonna” Baccarat in the First Guy position.
This particular Influence card also gives him the option (instead of the regular action) to place only 1 Influence on a Thug and draw another Influence card from the draw deck.
If he choose to, he could instead have played the Influence card in the middle and placed 2 Influence on any Gangster with the Gambler icon and 1 Influence on any Gangster with a Conman icon. Or he could have played the card on the far right and placed 3 Influence on the Gangster currently positioned as the Underboss. If he plays this card however, he must also allow another player to place an Influence token on any Gangster.
Each player is allowed to play 1 Influence card for free during the Commission phase. Once all players have played a card and play returns to the Capo player, he may choose to play another card by paying an ante. Any player that wants to play another card must meet this ante or spend a higher amount of money to raise it. Otherwise the player must pass. Once a player has passed, he can no longer take anymore turns during the current Commission phase. Technically, the Capo player can choose not to pay an ante and therefore play his 2nd card for free, but by doing so he also allows the next player to play theirs for free. The Commission phase continues until all players have chosen to pass.
It is now the 2nd set of turns during the Commission phase. Player A (the Capo player) decided to play an ante of $3 in order to play a 2nd Influence card. After placing his Influence, Player B chooses to meet the ante and pay $3 in order to play another Influence card himself. Player C chooses to pass, thus ending his turn for the Commission phase. Player D decides to raise the ante to $5 and plays his 2nd Influence card. Play now returns to the Capo player. He can choose to either pass or play another Influence card by either meeting the $5 ante or raising it again.
2.) Crew Phase
During this phase, players will gain Respect and Money based off of the Gangsters in which they control, as well as be allowed to take various special Actions with these Gangsters. Starting with the Capo position and moving downwards in Rank, each Gangster will earn the controlling player a certain amount of Respect and Money by combining the amounts on the Gangster card and the amounts listed on the game board at that position.
For instance, Player C controls the current Gangster (Gusto “Little Devil” Mattelio) at the Racketeer position since he has the most Influence tokens there. When resolving the Respect and Money portion of the crew phase, Player C will earn 5 Respect (3+2) and 3 Money (2+1).
After the controlled Gangsters earn Respect and Money by resolving them from the Capo position (9th) downwards to the Third Guy position (1st), actions can be taken by the controlling players beginning with the 1st position and moving upwards to the Capo position. Each controlled Gangster can take a single Action, and there are 3 main Actions that a controlling player can choose from. He can:
– Take the Gangster’s personal Action (listed on the bottom
– Make a move on another Gangster
Make a Move:
When a player chooses to make a move on another Gangster, he must choose a Gangster that is directly connected along the hierarchy to his own Gangster. There are arrows on the game board which reference which Gangster positions can make moves on other Gangster positions. When a player decides to make a move, he will choose the position he wishes his Gangster to try and move to and will take the black Action dice. The player succeeds if his die roll and Respect number on his own controlled Gangster card (not adding the Respect amount listed at the position, only the amount listed on the card) combines to be higher than the position number in which he is trying to move to.
If this player succeeds, he gains 4 Respect and switches his Gangster’s position with the Gangster he is moving to. All Influence tokens remain on the two Gangster’s being switched, their positions are the only things that change places. The player that controls the Gangster being switched also loses 4 Respect, since his Gangster has been demoted amongst the ranks in the mafia. If however the move fails, the player controlling the Gangster that attempted the move will lose 4 Respect. When rolling the dice, if the facing ever lands on the Capo Ring icon, the player succeeds no matter what number was needed. At the same time, if the knife icon is rolled, the player not only fails, but that Gangster dies in the process and the card is placed onto the “Sleepin’ wif da fishes” discard area.
Player C decides to make a move from his Racketeer position with Gusto Mattelio to the connected Counselor position. The Counselor’s position is ranked 7th and the Gusto Mattelio gangster card has a Respect level of 3. Therefore he would need to roll a 5 or Capo Ring icon in order to succeed. He rolls a 3 however and fails, thus losing his family 4 Respect. The game does allow a player however to reroll any dice for a cost of $10. Therefore, he could pay the $10 and attempt the dice roll again before determining whether he has succeeded or failed.
If successful, Gusto Mattelio would switch and move into the Counselor position, with his player gaining 4 Respect and the opponent player losing 4 Respect.
Whacking a Gangster:
Some cards along with the Third Guy position will allow a player to attempt to whack another Gangster, thus eliminating that Gangster from the hierarchy. When taking this Action, the player will pick any Gangster on the board, pay the required amount of money needed to take the Action (attempting to Whack the Capo costs an extra $10), and roll the red Action dice to see if you succeed. All gun icons and the Capo Ring icon count as a success, the “X” icon counts as a miss, and the knife icon means the hit has backfired and the gangster attempting the whack has died.
If the player succeeds, he will gain 4 Respect while the player of the controlling Gangster that has died will lose 4 Respect. If the player fails (“x” or “knife” icons), the player attempting the whack will lose 4 Respect. Unlike making a move where the two involved Gangsters switch positions, when a whack is successful, the Gangster that has been whacked is moved into the “Sleepin’ wif da fishes” space and his previous position on the game board is left empty for now.
Player A currently controls Drago “Roulette” Cuppertoni in the Third Guy position. When taking actions with this Gangster, the Third Guy position allows the player to pay $10 to attempt a Whack on another Gangster.
He decides to attempt a Whack on Player B’s controlled Gangster in the 4th Bean Counter position since he feels that Player B will attempt to use his gangster’s Action to steal $3 from him later on in the Round.
By paying the $10 required, he rolls the red Action dice and rolls a gun icon facing. He has successfully killed the Gangster at the Bean Counter position, therefore this card is removed from the hierarchy and all Influence tokens that were on it are returned to the appropriate players. Player B earns 4 Respect while Player A loses 4 Respect.
It should be noted that during the Crew Phase, it is very possible for ties to occur when resolving which player controls a particular Gangster. As mentioned above, the player that currently controls the Capo will always be the player that decides how ties are broken. The Capo player may ask for money, special favors, etc when making this decision. An agreement is never binding however. The Capo is allowed to accept money and lie about supporting that player, only to screw him over after taking his money. After all, it’s “nothing personal”.
3.) Fence Phase
During this phase, players will be able to gain more Influence cards depending on the number of Gangsters they currently control in the mafia hierarchy, as follows:
– If a player currently controls 2 or more Gangsters, he will draw 2 Influence cards.
– If a player currently controls 1 Gangster, he will draw 3 new Influence cards.
– If a player currently controls no Gangsters, he will draw 4 new Influence cards.
After all players have drawn new Influence cards in this way, they may choose to draw additional cards by paying $10 per card. Each player may only take this Action once in the phase, therefore they must choose how many cards to take before paying the total amount. They are not allowed to pay $10, draw a card, look at it, then choose to pay another $10 for another card.
4.) Feds Phase
During the game, the more attention (Influence tokens) placed on a Gangster, the more likely they are to gain notice from the Feds. During this phase, (resolving in descending rank position) if any Gangster has met or exceeded the minimum amount of Influence tokens needed to attract the Feds, that Gangster is removed from the mafia hierarchy and placed on the Prison space. The minimum amount of Influence needed is dependent on the number of players in the game:
– In a 4-player game, the minimum amount of Influence is 10 tokens.
– In a 5-player game, the minimum amount of Influence is 11 tokens.
5.) Family Phase
During the Crew and Feds phase, it is possible for Gangsters to either die or go to Prison. Because of this, some of the positions will become available as rank promotions for remaining Gangsters. When any position spaces remain open by the time this phase begins, these positions will be filled, starting with the Capo position and moving downwards.
Each open position space references which Gangster will be in charge of deciding which lower ranked Gangsters are promoted into the new position (the Capo position is always filled by the highest ranked Gangster remaining on the board). Gangsters considered “promotable” for the new position are ones whose current position is linked by the arrows on the board. If however, there are no Gangsters directly linked to the position, the player can choose to promote any Gangster of a lower rank on the board.
Using the previous example, the Underboss position is now open after Dan “Smiley” Yarringtoni was imprisoned during the previous phase. As the Underboss space references, the Capo position is allowed to appoint a new Gangster to the Underboss position.
Player C controls the current Underboss and has the option of appointing the current Counselor, Enforcer, or Racketeer to the Underboss position.
Since he currently has the most Influence on the Enforcer ranked Gangster, he chooses to promote him. The Enforcer position is now open and Player C has the opportunity to appoint again, since he now controls the Underboss.
Players continue to fill positions until all 9 are completely filled. The 3 Associates are used to fill in the lower ranked positions. New Gangsters will be drawn from the deck to place out new Associates before moving to the final phase of the Round.
6.) Bookkeeping Phase
This phase consists of nothing more than making sure to move the Round marker to one of the bottom spaces on the Round tracker. Then a new Round marker is placed on the Commission Phase space to start a new Round. Once all 5 Round markers have been placed at the bottom Bookkeeping phase area, the game is over.
Blackmail & Omerta Coins:
There are two types of coins that will be used based off taking particular Actions in the game. When an Action allows a Blackmail coin to be placed with an Influence token, that coin will be placed beneath the token on a Gangster card.
No matter who controls the Gangster, they will not be allowed to take an Action with that Gangster unless the player owning the Blackmail coin allows it. Of course the Blackmailing player will probably ask for some type of favor or money in return of allowing the player to take their Action.
The player controlling the Gangster at the 2nd Guy position is allowed to place an Omerta coin on any other Gangster (except for the 3rd Guy), thus negating that Gangster’s Action that Round.
At any time during the game, no matter what Phase or player’s turn, any player can choose to discard a card and gain $8. This adds an additional bonus to acquiring Influence cards and deciding whether to use them for their card actions or for selling them for Money.
At the end of the last Round, players will gain Respect (not money in this case) for any Gangsters they control. Next, players will sell all of their remaining Influence cards that were left unplayed for the normal $8 per card. Finally, players are allowed to purchase a Respect for every $10 they have. After these steps have been completed and all end-game Respect has been added to Respect gathered during the game, the player with the highest amount of total Respect wins the game.
One thing I believe that makes Nothing Personal somewhat unique is the flexibility of its mechanics. At its core, Nothing Personal can be cutthroat and flat out nasty-hearted at times. But, it doesn’t have to be. It really all depends on the game group and how they wish to interact with each other throughout the game. Players can dish out high antes during the Crew phase to weed out certain players and keep them from playing more card, but this mechanic is altogether optional. Players can purposely make deals with other players with the full intention of lying and breaking them, but again, this type of gameplay is not required. Nothing Personal can be as light-hearted or mean-spirited as the game group wants to make it, and that’s not a common trend.
As far as presentation is concerned, Nothing Personal contains some of the highest quality components you‘ll find in a box. The Capo ring, custom action dice, overly thick cardboard tokens, not to mention the hard, metal blackmail/omerta coins go beyond what was needed for the game to work, but helps to give that extra nudge that almost all gamers can appreciate. And for those that keep up with all things boardgamegeek, you’ll probably recognize the faces and names of many of the designers and podcasters in the industry found on the various gangster cards.
Nothing Personal is a culmination of many different game mechanics. Yet instead of overloading the gameplay, they all seem to come together and blend in a way that works smoothly and adjusts comfortably according to the types of gamers sitting around the table. Mix this with an enormously impressive set of components, and Nothing Personal may “knock off” a few other games on your shelf. I know, know….sorry.