Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 23 August 2019

The Game Shelf Previews:- Gangsta!

Game: Gangsta!

Publisher: Schmeta Games

Designer: Yves Rosenbaum

Year: 2019

Gangsta! is a competitive card game where each player starts out as a mafia boss, recruiting additional gangsters into their gang with the necessary skills to complete all sorts of crime. The rewards for your crimes might be reputation, but of course, there's also money involved as well as the power to get one over on rival gangs or recruit new gangsters based on your prowess and notoriety.

However, being a mafia box is no joke! You'll have to arm up to come out on top in gang wars as well as outwitting police snitches to ensure that your gang doesn't start to lose power.

Gangsta! is a 2-4 player card game coming to Kickstarter in August 2019 and we've had a chance to take a look at the prototype.


Gangsta! takes place over 3 rounds, during each of which you will be performing bigger and more rewarding heists as your gang gains renown and power. At the end of the game you will score points received from completed heists and recruited gangsters.

While the 3 rounds increase in difficulty they are mechanically identical. On you turn you first refresh (untap) a number of used gangsters equal to the number of unused characters with the leader skill you have, perhaps paying money to ready more if need be. You then choose one of two actions. The first is to recruit a gangster, by paying money to the bank and adding them to your tableau. There are several skills and each gangster has a different combination of cost, skills and victory points. Customising your gang to be right for you is a big part of the game.

Alternatively you can perform a heist. To do this you tap gangsters that match the required skill until you have matched every skill symbol required. You then receive the card and any instant benefits as stated. This is how your gangsters become tapped, it's important not to overstretch, especially your leaders. However if you manage to have all your gangsters tapped at the start of your turn then you can refresh them all for free!

Once someone recruits enough gangsters then you will progress from one chapter to another. This triggers a special effect. At the end of chapter 1 the players with the least skilled gangs get some bonus money, while at the end of chapter 2 there is a gang war, so you'd better stock up on gun symbols! During the latter chapters snitches will appear, killing off gangsters if you haven't recruited enough police protection. The game will end either when someone recruits enough gangsters, or 3 snitches appear in chapter 3.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Gangsta! is an impressively clean game, or at least it starts as such. In chapter 1 there are very few shenanigans that can go on, you are simply recruiting gangsters, earning some money and getting yourself established. The most complex actions that start to appear here are things like gaining a free recruit action as a reward for a heist. But as chapter 2 and 3 appear new mechanics come with them, you start seeing snitches who will arrest one of your gangsters unless you have enough corrupt officials (one of the skills) on your team. You also start to see heists that let you use rival gang members in exchange for giving them a cut of the reward. While this can be beneficial to them, exhausting their good gangsters before the turn begins can be a particularly nasty move! With this gradual increase in complexity the game actually manages to tutorialise itself, which is a rare thing in a card game.

Not that Gangsta! ever becomes a complex game - while chapter 3 adds some more twists the gameplay retains its simplicity. The only problem that arises from this is symbology. Most of the game does extremely well with symbols needed on heists matching those printed on your gangsters, it's all obvious. But the later rounds start adding in rare abilities as rewards which are advertised only via a symbol, you'll find yourself checking the rulebook as the game goes on to know what that new card does.

The 3 phases of the game brings a ramping up in the game's difficulty, but also in the player interaction. As you enter chapter 3 there will be a shoot out, potentially killing off some gangsters, and also heists that offer chances to assassinate members of rival gangs. Combined with the snitches this can result in a players gang getting weaker and weaker, unable to compete in the big league heists. While thematically great, it isn't much fun when you find yourself in a downward spiral, barely getting by. Fortunately, you are usually able to stay ahead of this unless the other players are ganging up on you. Overall Gangsta! is a wonderfully thematic tableau building card game. Some may find the mechanics a little too simple, but in return this leaves the game easy to learn and pick up.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Gangsta is not your typical mobster game. You're not holding up guns in each others faces, or bribing, roleplaying and being really rather mean to your opponents. As a result, it's one of the only games in this theme that I've ever really enjoyed.

Gangsta is a simple tableau builder. There's no combos or hugely exciting tricks to pull like you might fins in Race for the Galaxy or Everdell. It's just a simple system of collecting gangsters of specific symbols to allow you to fill the symbology needs of the available crimes. There's definitely a place for tableau building games that work as cleanly as this. This alone would certainly be too simple for us, but fortunately Gangsta! adds a few twists.

The activation mechanism that only allows you to re-activate your gangsters under certain conditions can create a delightful little puzzle at moments in the game as you figure out whether you can pull off a nice clean re-activation without wasting any time. You might be able to chain a couple of crimes together to have a really good turn if you just plan it all correctly. The three phases of the game also add a nice arc to it, with a certain objective to collect gun symbols or police insiders as part of your gang during different stages of the game. This also gives you some insight on how you can play not only for yourself, but against other players.

I'm not 100% sure that the game is at its best for two players because the gang war and snitches can be very punishing, but with a larger group, I think Gangsta! is a nice alternative to other games of similar themes and a great introduction to tableau building.

You Might Like...
  • Gangsta! is tableau building with an obvious purpose.
  • The artwork has a broad range of representation.
  • The game is language independent, with really clear symbology.
You Might Not Like...
  • Getting stuck in a rut of being the only person caught by snitches can be a negative spiral.
  • Paper money (if its in the final game) might not be everyone's first choice.

The Verdict
Gangsta! is a mobster themed board game that isn't all about take that and chaos. It's a pretty thoughtful tableau builder, that's nice and simple to pick up and teach. The three phases give a great structure to game and add a focus to your tableau building that helps you to carve out a strategy. If you want the theme without the arguments, then Gangsta! could be a great one to check out on Kickstarter.

Gangsta! was a prototype kindly provided to us by Schmeta Games. It is on Kickstarter from 23rd August 2019.

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