Design by: Michael Rieneck
Published by: Kosmos / Mayfair Games
Players: 3 – 6
Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Lemmings are adorably cute rodents that primarily live near the Arctic and other extremely cold locations. There is a popular myth that portrays them as suicidal, prone to leaping to their death off tall cliffs. While this is a myth, it persists and seems ingrained in popular belief. The wildly popular Lemmings video game challenged players to prevent a group of these migrating rodents from marching to their deaths. Now, these cuddly creatures have marched their way into a board game.
Lemming Mafia is quite the departure for designer Michael Rieneck, who is better known for his deeper strategy games such as Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Released by Kosmos and Mayfair Games, Lemming Mafia is more of a light-hearted family game. The theme is a bit strange: gangster lemmings bet on which of six of their fellow rodents will be the first to leap off the pier into the chilly water. However, their gangster tendencies emerge as they conspire to fix the race, even attempting to encase some lemmings in concrete and send them to “swim with the fishes.”
The humorously illustrated board depicts a serpentine path leading from the gangster lair to the sea. The path is divided into sections containing two-to-three spaces. Most of these spaces will trigger an event. Lemmings will move along this path until one reaches the sea or all but one are concreted out. The components are top quality, including cards, two lemming dice and one regular die. The best, however, are the six large plastic lemming miniatures, which are nothing short of adorable. Depicted as diminutive gangsters complete with a large fedora and matching tie, these buck-toothed rodents steal the show. There are even holes in the bases in which the concrete “shoes” are placed.
The six lemmings begin at the poker table in the gangster lair. Each player receives a hand of betting cards, one for each of the six lemmings. In addition, players receive three mission cards. These cards list specific objectives that, if met, will reward the player with the indicated number of points. Examples of these objectives are:
- Red finished before pink
- Gray finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd
- Gray and/or Pink get “concreted out”
- No more than one lemming gets concreted out
One objective is to fulfill as many of the three mission cards as possible, hopefully discarding those you feel you cannot fulfill before the game ends.
Players alternate rolling the two lemming dice, and moving one of the lemmings depicted on the dice rolled. A lemming is moved to one of the available spaces in the next section on the board. If there is not an available space in the next section (they are all occupied), the lemming moves into the following section. If there are multiple spaces available in the section, the active player decides to which space the lemming will move.
There are numerous possible spaces upon which a lemming can land, most of which have a specific effect:
- Concrete Mixer: A concrete marker is added to the lemming. If a lemming gets a third marker, he is sent to swim with the fishes and is out of the game, being placed on the last open space in the sea. Since players will have various mission cards, many will be trying to concrete out certain lemmings. A player can only hope that his opponents are not trying to rub-out the lemmings he wants to save.
- Jackhammer: A concrete marker is removed from the lemming.
- Getaway Car: The regular die is rolled and the lemming is moved forward the corresponding number of spaces. While the space provides the opportunity for a lemming to make a significant jump, he must suffer the effects of the space upon which he ultimately lands. A further danger is that if the last space is occupied, the lemming is returned to the Getaway Car space and receives a concrete marker.
- Bookie. When a lemming lands on this space, each player has the opportunity to play one of their betting cards face-down. They are betting that this lemming will be the first to leap off the pier. The twist is that the betting cards should be played in reverse order of how you anticipate them to finish. For example, if a player feels the blue lemming will finish last, or be concreted out, he should play his card early. If he feels the red lemming will be the first to leap off the pier, he should hold his card until later in the game and play it last. If the game ends before the player has played the card matching the lemming who leaps off the pier, no points will be scored. So, in addition to the gambling element of guessing correctly, there is a timing element involved. While there is not a lot of control in determining the ultimate winning lemming, the process is still fun.
- Mafia Boss. This space gives all players the opportunity to discard a mission card they feel is too risky or can no longer be fulfilled. Unfulfilled mission cards still in a player’s hand at game’s end result in a loss of two points apiece.
Players will alternate moving lemmings and executing the special actions until one lemming leaps off the pier. That lemming is the winner. At this point, all players turn their stack of played betting cards over, so the card they played last is now at the bottom of the stack. Each player counts down to the card matching the winning lemming, and scores that number of points. So, if the red lemming wins the race and a player played his red lemming betting card fourth, he scores four points. So, the longer a player can hold out playing the card matching the ultimate winning lemming, the more points he will score. But, there is a significant risk of waiting too long and being unable to play the desired card.
Further points, ranging from 1 – 5, are scored by successfully fulfilling the requirements of mission cards. Unfilled mission cards cost a player two points apiece. As with the betting cards, there is a temptation to hold onto the cards until they can no longer be fulfilled. However, opportunities to discard them could be few, so holding onto difficult-to-fulfill cards can be risky.
Lemming Mafia is certainly not a deep strategy game that will be touted as the next Puerto Rico. However, while it is aimed squarely at the family market, it still has enough decisions and gambling aspects to keep adults interested. There is challenge in attempting to fulfill your mission cards, and gambling in the play of the betting cards. No doubt, more control over one’s fate is lost as more players participate, but the game is still fun even with a full contingent of six players. The relatively short playing time of thirty minutes or so is another plus, as it doesn’t overstay its welcome and children will stay entertained. I was pleasantly surprised by the game, as I expected much lighter and sillier fare. I also applaud the theme, which although wacky, is also quite original. Lemming Mafia succeeds on numerous levels and should prove quite popular with families and in social settings. You won’t have any qualms inviting these rodents into your home.
Other Opinions from the Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Yu’s Opinion (2 plays): I’ve played the game twice now, and I think that it’s a fun family game. The thing here is that like many games of this type, you never have quite as much control of the pieces as you’d like. As a result, it’s hard to take it too seriously – because trying to do any sort of advance planning is hard to do unless you have uncanny dice rolling control. The scoring mechanic using the betting cards is quite nice. I am less enthusiastic about the mission cards but I think this is because I like to have more control over things… When I look at it thru the prism of a family game – it’s a perfectly fine way to have players score points and it does give the players secondary motives for moving the lemmings. At least with the extra cards, players are worried about more than the overall goal of getting the right lemming to “win” the race. This is never going to be a group for hard-core gamers, but it is a good choice for a light filler or to play with my kids. I like it.
Joe Huber’s Opinion (4 plays): It’s worth noting, first, that the name of the original German edition is Nichtlustig Lemming Mafia. The game is actually one of a series of games based upon the German comic Nichtlustig (“not funny”). Apparently the lemmings are recurring characters in the comic; the theme isn’t quite as out of left field as it would seem. Having noted that, I actually found it refreshing to have a lemming game in which the lemmings _don’t_ go wandering off a cliff, but instead are killed of by rival mobsters. Lemming Mafia is a family game, and a well constructed one; it’s not a favorite of mine, but my eleven year old son enjoys it and I’m happy to play it with him. Probably not a good game to pull out with “serious” gamers, but a fine choice for fans of fluffy games.
Ratings summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! (0)
I like it. (3) – Greg Schloesser, Dale Yu, Joe Huber
Not for me… (0)