August 5, 2017 - Oliver East -
Road to Infamy is a gangster themed bidding board game from the aptly named Road to Infamy Games. Designed for 2 – 4 players, the game combines hand management of bid card and risk taking. Bidding drives player interaction and in turn determines whom will come out on top. Everything happens simultaneously which means it is a game with no downtime. However, will this be a non-stop experience you’ll enjoy or one to avoid? Let’s find out!
At the offset of the game each player takes a gang board. There are 4 unique gang boards each offering a 2x multiplier for a different contraband type. The bandits favour jewels, the cartel goes for Chemicals, the rebels signature contraband type is Weapons and, last but not least, the hackers are mostly after Credit Cards. Despite having favoured contraband types it doesn’t matter what players collect, everything is going to score Infamy points. It’s just more effective if you can obtain more of your gangs favoured type. To start the game off flowing nicely each player receives one contraband token of each of the four types. This sees each player start with 5 victory points (3 tokens scoring 1 point and 1 scoring 2 points).
Setting up the board is nicely kept to a minimum. This speed is a necessity for Road to Infamy as between rounds players must clear the cards from around the board and re-setup the board itself. The only differences between the initial setup and between rounds is, at the offset, the cop marker is played neutrally and the Gangster cards are shuffled. These aren’t just shuffled 100% in a normal way. There are three special Gangster cards, denoted by stars, which indicate they are the most powerful. Two of these special gangsters are shuffled into the deck as usual, while the last is placed at the bottom of the deck so it is the last gangster of the game.
As each round starts the top most gangster card is flipped and two contraband tokens are randomly selected from the bag. Each player is initially dealt a full hand of six bid cards and the game is ready. Bid cards are split into three colours Red for Gangsters, Green for Contraband and Blue for Cops. Each card has a value from 1 – 5, with the lower cards featuring abilities. By getting six random cards you could have all of one colour in your starting hand. Resulting in players needing to be flexible. The game is broken into rounds which are sets of three turns. Each turn players simultaneously choose a bid card to play and trigger any abilities. After three bids, it is determined whom won each colour category via the simple process of highest points wins.
The player with the highest cop score is exempt that round from the cops. All other players, unless they played a card with a specific ability, must discard one contraband token matching where ever the cop marker is. Then the cop winner has the option whether to move the cop token to a different contraband type or not. Whomever won the gangster bid takes the on show gangster card. Gangsters can give ongoing buffs such as: permanent +2 to your cop bid, the ability to always win brawls or additional Infamy points at the conclusion of the game. Whomever has the highest contraband score takes the two contraband tokens and places them on their player mat. Finally, each player draws back up to the full hand of six cards and the board is reset, bar the placement of the cop token, for the next round.
If two, or more, players draw on one of the three colour types they enter a brawl. There are 4 brawl cards numbered 1 – 4, these are shuffled and each brawling player chooses a card. Whomever picks the higher card wins. Play continues until all gangsters have been won. This allows players to remove a few gangster cards if they wish for a shorter game, without noticeably affecting the balance of the game. Infamy points are now calculated, including any bonuses from Gangsters, and the winner is crowned.
The text on the Bid cards did seem to daunt some whom don’t often play board games. Thankfully, even these new players within a few rounds were fully up to speed. The text is also a necessity for adding depth to the game. Otherwise, soon players would simply lose interest in just trying to play the highest cards. The cards with text can often modify the rules. Sometimes you don’t want to have played a 3, 4 or 5 as they would be discarded. One devastating effect that has thwarted my efforts numerous times is Bust. This card sees bid scores totally 8 or more being disqualified. When you have just played two 5 pointed contraband cards in an attempt to guarantee victory to have someone pull out bust it is a painful experience. Being on the other end of this is naturally great fun though. Especially seeing your opponent’s look of realisation at what you’ve just done to them.
The Road to Infamy board is designed perfectly for up to four players to fit around it. Each player taking an individual side of the board. The only issue with this is a lot of people will play this across a lounge table or dining room table and then you’ll effectively be unable to sit perfectly perpendicular to the board as needed. It isn’t a huge issue but the idea behind the board is solid to neatly separate players’ bids but it seems a tad impractical when actually playing. This doesn’t detract from the gameplay it is just something to be aware of. Many games stumble at this, it is far from being an Road to Infamy only issue.
Going into the game I feared that there may be an individual Gangster card that was somewhat over-powered, while others we left unwanted. Aside from the three cards with stars, that are known to be stronger, the Brawler, being able to instantly win Brawls, seemed a high contender for the best gangster. The more you play, the more you see the opportunities of other cards and how they too can be powerful. On top of this, on average only one or two brawls occur in games with less than four players. Even with the full player count there being only a couple of brawls in a game isn’t uncommon. Some certainly seem stronger than others but none were useless, making them always something players wanted to win.
Road to Infamy is an interesting take on the gangster theme. While most games focus on other aspects such as mob violence or gang territory, this game focuses very much on the bribery aspect of the culture. It runs nicely throughout the game with nothing attempting to break the illusion. The concepts of bidding and bribery go hand in hand and enable a simple mechanic to flourish. As with similar games the theme does dive deep into lore but it isn’t needed. The solid gameplay is what will entertain players.
Due to the simplicity of Road to Infamy’s core mechanics the game is easy to get to the table, with gamers and non-gamers alike. The card abilities add enough to make the experience varied and entertaining. At times reducing the overall length of the game seemed to result in players eager to play again straight away rather than just the once per game night. Experienced gamers will see Road to Infamy firmly fall into the filler game category but quick fun is not to be shunned. It is certainly worthy of the time spent playing, especially after the singe minute it takes to learn, and has earnt its place on my gaming shelf!
[Editor’s Note: Road of Infamy was provided to us by Road to Infamy Games for review purposes.]