Even if you have no experience with the Sons of Anarchy television property, the game’s themes of illegal enterprise and exploitation combined with those of gang rivalries leading to explosive violence should appeal to anyone interested in the entertainment of bad people doing bad things to get ahead. However being big fans of the show we enjoyed the opportunity to preview it at Gen Con, and having gotten the chance to play it since we returned, still think it was one of the best purchases we made at the convention.
Perhaps the most engaging crime-themed board game you might ever come across, the team at Gale Force Nine has managed to strike a perfect balance between strategic resource management and the players forming alliances of convenience as they thrash it out with the other gangs for control over the “streets.” Players order their crew around with “burner phones” to the various location cards where they can skim money from the local business, otherwise buying and selling guns or drugs as they develop their gang’s resources all the while trying to keep from accruing too much heat from local law enforcement.
However because the locations can’t be exploited until the table has come back around to your turn, another gang might move in some muscle to block you. While it’s possible to stay out of one another’s way, this game functions at its best when you’re threatening your rivals with retaliation if they don’t respect your territory or give you a cut of their action. Messing with the other players is the very reason that you have to wait until after you’ve moved onto a location before exploiting it. Being aggressive is the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this game. And when the violence does erupt you want to make sure you’ve brought some guns. While it does mean you’ll bring down more heat on your gang – possibly even needing one of them to “take the fall” and be taken out of play having been jailed for the crime – sending your rival’s members to the emergency room and hopefully shortly thereafter the morgue is the surest way to curtail their expansion plans.
The game’s design also lends itself to a lot of replay having included more locations than get used on the table, and a stack of event cards from which fifteen “complications” are layered over the rounds while also providing a mechanism for counting down the game so that it only lasts approximately an hour when the last of these cards is flipped. Turns become quick paced, but still demands consideration as there can be a great deal of strategy in the timing of the actions your gang undertakes. Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can also be played in two different variants that add special gang abilities conferring different strengths and bonuses to create a seemingly endless range of possibilities for game play.
Overall it’s a lot of fun, and if it can get someone like Nicole who otherwise despises resource management games to rave about it, then it’s a must have.