Review: Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem board game

 

soa

Based on the hit TV series, in Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem players take the role of rival gangs out to control territory, accumulate contraband and reap the monetary rewards of illegal enterprise.

With each turn, gangs must attempt to control a range of sites by assigning gang members and resources to claiming, defending and fighting for money, contraband and guns. However, other players can challenge the right for territory, which will lead to conflict! Negotiate, threaten and ally with rival gangs when it serves your needs, but be wary of the inevitable knife in the back. This game is about making and breaking alliances, and only the gang with the most money at the end of six rounds wins.

My wife and I have binge-watched every episode of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix (flinching through more and more parts, particularly in seasons 5-7), and we were completely caught up if for no other reason than we couldn’t look away from the constant train-wreck this show represents, episode after episode. Though we watched like addicts, we were glad when it finally ended.

Gale Force Nine has managed to bring the theme of the show to a board game in a way that doesn’t feel “pasted on” nor does it feel trite. Players order their crew (workers) around with “burner phones” to the various location cards where they can buy or sell guns and edge out the competing clubs.

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Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can be played in two different variants – the High Octane that adds special gang abilities conferring different strengths based on the club, or the vanilla mode where all the clubs are equal. I suggest you go immediately into High Octane, as the vanilla mode simplifies things but the game isn’t that complicated to begin with.

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The board is based on a number of tiles that resemble drink coasters, randomly drawn and placed to make the board, turned over to make them available locales as the game goes on.  Being the only gang occupying a location means you get the benefits on the card, such as getting money, guns or contraband, or selling guns or contraband. While it’s possible to stay out of one another’s way, being aggressive is the only way you’re going to get ahead in this game. While the throw-downs can be done without guns, having guns definitely skew winning the fight in your favor. It means you’ll bring down more heat on your gang – possibly even needing one of your members to “take the fall” and be taken out of play to be sent to prison. Using guns can also send your rival’s members to the emergency room and possibly the morgue, diminishing that club’s power. Turns are quick but still demand consideration as timing of the actions your gang undertakes is important.

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The game brings out the TV show’s theme of a biker club’s illegal enterprise and exploitation combined with those of rival clubs competing for the benefits offered by specific territories. At the core of SoA, it’s an area control game with direct player conflict.

And regarding the player conflict, called throw-downs in the game, it is resolved simply. 2 points for every member at the site and 1 point for every prospect. 3 points for every gun, and add the roll of 1d6 – the largest sum wins. Each side using guns gets a heat token and if guns were used, the loser has a guy go to the emergency room and possibly die.  There are a finite number of members and prospects each player can have, so this forces early conflicts. 

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As for the fights, they are in your face. There is no, “Oh, look! I took up all the spaces on the ship so you can’t sell anything this turn,” passive-aggressive nonsense. Nothing is casual or side-bar. It is a straight-up attack every time and you may get warning it is coming but often won’t.

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As for game components, they are solid. Plastic minis of bikers, prospects, bags of contraband or guns are well done. The location tiles are all thick cardboard, as are the tokens for money, burner phones and heat. The cards are standard size and the card quality is average.

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Summary:

The game is not complex but has some interesting decisions to make each turn. Because of the theme and aggressiveness, it’s not for everyone. If you and your gaming group enjoy games where players attack each other outright, you will probably enjoy this game. Takes 60-90 minutes to play, and is best at 4 players or more (5-6 players with the expansions), because when having a bloodbath, the more, the merrier.

Personally, I like Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem a lot. It captures the general theme of the TV show but doesn’t require that you know anything about the show to enjoy the game.  There is a sense of consequences in the game.  More than that, it gets players at the table involved, making alliances and breaking those alliances at times, and that is what I enjoy so much about board games – the negotiations, game-talk and the occasional back-stabbing move that just might win the game. 

Yeah.  Let’s play.

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