The Only Time You Lie Is When You Are Afraid - Mafia De Cuba Review

2015 seems to be the year for the hidden roles genre, assuming such a genre actually exists. We've already had several releases this year and Essen is about to chuck us a lot more. It was never a category that I thought was running low on games in general let alone good ones. One Night Werewolf was in my Top 10, Spyfall was in my Top 50, The Resistance and Coup are still going strong (even though I can't stand the latter), Good Cop Bad Cop is serviceable and New Salem only just got released recently, which I've yet to try, but I'm hearing mixed opinions. I do generally like these types of games, they are always strong in bluffing, deception and player interaction and genuinely result in many laughs and stories being told long after the game has concluded.  

Well here's another one to add to the ever-growing mix. Except unlike most other games you actually get to pick your hidden role beforehand, well to an extent anyway. Our chosen theme for today is Mafia gangsters and as a special twist, the box is actually used for the purpose of the game. In addition one person is put on the spot as the Godfather even though he does have some loyal people on his team, because he doesn't know who anyone is to begin with. Such a situation reminds me of the Spymaster in Codenames and the Spy himself in Spyfall (that's a lot of spies), which are my favourite roles to play in those respective games. You've got me intrigued, so let's play!   

Designer: Philippe des Pallieres & Loic Lamy (2015)
Publisher: Asmodee/Lui-meme
# of Players: 6-12
Ages: 10+
Time: 10-20 Minutes
Rank/Rating: 7.13 / 4418
RRP: £18.99


I Thought We Were Like Family 


Picture the setting. The Godfather has taken his favourite minions out for a huge dinner, but is suddenly called away for an important phone call. Prior to leaving he leaves his treasured cigar box with the gangsters for them to help themselves. However hidden beneath the cigars in a secret compartment are highly valued diamonds. When the Godfather returns and retrieves his box, he's infuriated to discover that some diamonds have gone missing and seeks to inflict harsh and swift judgement on those who betrayed his trust.

That essentially sets the game up. Players will pass the game box around which contains a number of diamonds and role poker chips. When a player takes the box, they will choose whether to take a role or to take any number of diamonds. Their choice will dictate what winning condition the player is aiming for be it for the good of their team or for themselves. The thieves will attempt to bluff their way out of being eliminated and end up with the most diamonds, the loyal gangsters will try to root them out, the drivers collaborate with whoever's on their right regardless of their status and the agents are aiming to get routed out for a solo win. On top of this, there may be a street urchin among the group who is siding with the thieves, but doesn't care if he's eliminated.  

The Godfather then questions the players as to what they did with the box and negotiations ensue until eventually he points at a player to empty their pockets. Recovered diamonds are a good sign, however he has to find them all. Falsely accusing a loyal henchman will result in a loss, however you get multiple tries with larger groups. Picking an agent is very bad though as an agent wants to get singled out and will earn a solo victory if this is the case. Play continues until one of the above endgame conditions is met. 



Nothing Personal, Just Business


Mafia De Cuba plays out like most other hidden role games. You don't know who anyone is for certain, lies and truths will run rampant in heated discussion and you have to use what information you get to make an informed decision as to who is who. Of course this is always good fun and there's no turn waiting either, everyone is involved from the minute the Godfather gets that box back and it doesn't let up until the end of the game. There's a slight memory aspect that is required from everyone however as if you're going to stand any chance of winning, you need to keep tabs on how many diamonds and tokens were in the box when you received it and take note of what others have said before and after you. Not everyone realised this on the first game so be sure to give new players a heads up in advance. This does mean that a lot of the questions will boil down to asking "how many in the box" to begin with, but after repeat games you'll start to change it up a bit.

So if it's like most other games in the genre, why concern yourselves? Well there's a unique selling point which got me interested to begin with. In most other hidden role games you are dealt your role randomly at the start and have to stick with what you've got. It took me 8 games of The Resistance to become a bad guy and I've never been a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica or even a traitor in Shadows Over Camelot. It's highly frustrating as I love to play those deceptive roles (relax I'm very trustworthy in real life, honest!). 

Here however in Mafia De Cuba, you have a choice and I don't know any other hidden role game that has that (feel free to enlighten me as I'd like to check it out if I'm wrong). Occasionally depending on your seating some choices won't be available to you, but most of the time you will have at least 3 different options available, usually some diamonds and 2 different roles. This gives you a lot of flexibility to chop and change between games and if you like picking a particular side over another, then usually you can on a regular basis, though be careful as every gamer will use the meta game to their advantage when it suits them! Allowing a player a choice of who they want to be is a big factor in role based games, if you foretold that in One Night Werewolf for my next 20 games I would never end up as a Werewolf, I'd be hesitant to take it off the shelf again. Don't get me wrong I love the game as a villager role as well, but let's face it, werewolves are better right?

What Do I Pay You People For? 


Either I'm not a very good Godfather (which is not beyond comprehension) or the difficulty in Mafia De Cuba is slightly skewed towards the thieves and agents rather than the loyal team. As the Godfather you have very little information to begin with, simply how many diamonds you began the game with and how many you received back. A lot therefore depends on your faithful gangsters and sometimes the drivers to lend a hand in figuring out who's not on your side and if they don't pull their weight, you're going to have a hard time winning. I don't find this to be a problem as it adds to the challenge, but it certainly appears that way so far. This is balanced a bit however by the unique winning condition for the thieves where the most diamonds stolen is the overall victor. Suddenly this creates an amusing scenario where the thieves are trying to rat each other out so that they're the only ones left.

The agents tend to actually win the most from what I've experienced, especially when there's two of them. A crafty player will make it very hard to distinguish himself from a thief and so you're always on that edge when you're not quite sure where it's ended up. If you thought the Tanner in One Night Werewolf gave you a headache, this is the next level up. I like the concept of the driver who not only has to help his team win, but has to figure out which team he's on in the first place by identifying who the person to his right is. These small tweaks to each role come together to create a fun and lively dynamic in the group, though I still would rather pick a non-loyal role any day for personal preference. There is also a bonus role of The Cleaner with an itchy trigger finger who can help to balance out the Agents a bit, but I don't recommend him until everyone's comfortable with the game.


Verdict


Mafia De Cuba is a great addition to the genre and hopefully will stand out in the long line of contenders. Whereas I don't think it quite measures up to the likes of One Night Werewolf or Spyfall, this definitely overshadows Good Cop Bad Cop and The Resistance in my opinion, and I'm raising the shields to defend from the repercussions of saying that. One of the best aspects of this game is being able to choose your role yourself which all of the rest of the aforementioned titles don't do. Do you prefer to play the bad guys, well then be my guest! Loyal to the bitter end, then stay with me! Granted, you won't always get the role you want, but with people shifting seats in between the quick games you're going to get it at some stage.

The group will be heavily involved in what's going on and if they are not, it's by their own doing. There are no turns, no scripted questions, etc, it's all free-form and smooth flowing. It's not as crazy and chaotic as some other titles, but there's enough uncertainty to make every piece of information count as it's certainly not an easy game to beat for the loyal team with the limited jokers available. Naturally like most of these games it's better with more players, but it seems to scale fairly well at all player counts.  

It's easy to pick up, quick to play and has you pointing the finger constantly never knowing for sure who's on your side and who isn't. Definitely worth checking out if you like this style of game, just remember to check everyone's pockets before your pack it away! 

If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store -http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like bluffing, deception and hidden roles - that's where Mafia De Cuba lies. 

You get frustrated by never getting to be the role you want - here 90% of the time you have a choice. 

You want to engage a large group of players easily. Doesn't take any additional time to explain everything.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You only play this with a max of 6-7 players. It's fine at that level, but definitely shines more in a larger group.

You are bored with the amount of choice in hidden role games - aside from choosing your own role it's not offering much new material.

You don't join in the discussions - this goes for most heated negotiation games really though. 

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