Ever since picking up Deadfellas at Comic-Con back in 2012, I have brought the game with me to any sort of gaming or geeky event: Gen Con, Vegas Game Days, Wasteland Weekend, and various SCA Wars. It’s that good and is my backup go-to game for passing 10 or 15 minutes enjoyably. On a flight back from Gen Con I taught the guy next to me to play in under two minutes and soon enough horrible Italian-American accents were trading back and forth as we talked about whacking this mook or that one with cries of “Hey, I Know a Guy” and “Fuhgeddaboutit!” Exile Game Studio has a real winner with the Kickstarter-funded Dead Fellas and at only $19.99 MSRP, it’s a pretty good value. For its solid game play, fast pace, simple mechanics, and cool style I give it a 9 out of 10 on BoardGameGeek.com .
Ease of Play
When game artist Brian Snoddy explained the game to me on video at Comic-Con 2012 in about three minutes, he really covered 95% of the game. You get three random undead mobsters called Mooks. Each has a point value represented by a bullet icon, ranging from one to three. Collect 10 points of Mooks by whacking them and you win. In order to whack your opponent’s Mook, you need to equip one of your own with a blue Vehicle card, a red Weapon card, and a yellow Disguise card. Each of these pieces of equipment has its own strength (from 1-3) at the top. Add those together with your Mook’s strength and if you equal or exceed your target’s strength you win, successfully Whacking him. As a small price, you have to Ditch a piece of evidence, one of the three Equipment cards.
Gameplay comes down to Mook and Equipment management. At the beginning of every turn you draw a card from the Equipment deck, which also contains Special cards. You can play as many of your cards as you are able to and then you need to decide whether you 1.) draw another Equipment card 2.) do a Whack action on an opponent or 3.) recruit a new Mook. Special cards like Fuhgeddaboutit! allow a player to cancel a Whack action or another Special card, like an opponent’s Boost card, which could potentially allow the opponent to steal a piece of your Equipment. Another Special card called Dying Wish allows a player to keep his Mook’s Equipment cards if his Mook gets whacked
With three or four players, the game gets even better with more targets to whack. Just make sure to play up the bravado, add a little antagonism, and a lot of accents, and you’ll be in for a good time. I strongly suggest narrating every Whack and attempted Whack, to create an atmosphere of vendetta after vendetta. Let ’em know that “Big Dump don’t like seeing Joey “Coco Pops” Cotroni in his Boosted Monster Truck, so Big Dump’s gonna Whack ‘im wit’ da Rolling Pin…”
Dead Fella’s Theme: Zombies, Mafia, and… Tutus
I’m an unlikely advocate for Dead Fellas because apparently unlike the majority of Western males, I’m not a fan of the mafia or Tony Soprano. You could say that I’m Team Elliot Ness even. I’m also not particularly fond of zombies, but Brian Snoddy blends the two themes humorously well in his art for the Mook cards. My favorite Mook has to be the diminutive Bobby “Bug Eyes” Deluca who barely clears three feet on the lineup chart which serves as each Mook’s background. Most of Deluca’s criminal peers have eyes falling out or missing, cuts, gashes, and the occasional squid or mutation. Because Dead Fellas is such a good game, I can say without any reservations that both organized crime fans and zombie fans will get a kick out of this game, though what they’ll make of the other half of the game’s theme is beyond me.
What I enjoy the most about Deadfellas’ theme though is the absurdity of the Equipment cards. I still get a chuckle when I announce that Pauly “Bed Head” Bonasera disguised in his Tutu and riding his Unicycle is going to whack “Bug Eyes” with the Egg Beater. I have even foregone a more powerful piece of Equipment just for the delight of using the less powerful Biplane, Maid Uniform Disguise, or Sock Monkey. Again, without any narration, the humorous imagery of these cards is lost.
Deadfellas’ Few Choices Are Another Hit
Deadfellas also goes to show just how powerful using only a few gameplay mechanics can be when combined with quality artwork and a fun theme. While Deadfellas can play with anyone young or old, the tactical choices in it are so limited that it’s a good game for gauging how strong a grasp other players’ have of the game itself and board gaming in general with the following in particular standing out:
1. Equipment Dispersal and Disposal
The first choice any player will have in Deadfellas is which of their Mooks to Equip. There is the temptation to possibly bolster weaker Mooks with Equipment to make them less susceptible to weak Whack attempts, but it’s hard to argue with stacking 3-Bullet Weapons, Vehicles, and Disguises on your most powerful Mook to try to get as close to 12 as possible. This doesn’t reveal much about the player, but what they choose to Ditch does.
A player can have a Disguise in his hand already and choose to Ditch the existing Disguise from the Mook who just capped someone. If that Mook survives the round, it’s a simple matter of equipping the new Disguise from hand and repeating the beatdown. This is an effective tactic, but one which I have seen a number of opponents neglect.
The Special card Fugazzi poses its own choices, both in how to pronounce it (Brian Snoddy insists that it’s Foo-gay-zee, while many English speakers go for Foo-gah-zee) and how to best utilize it. The card takes the place of a piece of Equipment, but is a fake, having zero strength. After successfully Whacking an opponent’s Mook do you ditch the zero-strength Fugazzi because it adds no strength to resist opponents’ Mooks or do you ditch something more powerful because the Fugazzi is versatile and allows you to possibly meet the three-Equipment variety condition for a Whack action more readily?
2. Target Selection and Elimination – One of the few other choices in the game is which Mooks to target. Most of the time, this is a no brainer (which is fortunate for Mooks like Hugo “The Hat” Nitti): always try to get as many points from each Whack as you can. The exception is targeting a weaker Mook who has Equipment cards on him just to kill him preemptively and waste your opponent’s Equipment cards.
3. End of Turn While there’s nothing tactical about ending a turn, it’s another good clue to just how attuned a player is to the game’s rules. As soon as your opponent’s drawn a second Equipment card or a new Mook or performed a Whack action, he or she’s done. That’s it. Because of this the game’s designers were being quite generous when they list game length at 30 minutes. Cut throat zombie mafiosa can get it down to 10-20 minutes easy.
All card images are copyright Exile Game Studios and used without permission for review purposes.