Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Markus Erdt
Family Inc. is another one of those simple Knizia designs that is quick to learn and play and a filler between meatier games. It re implements an earlier design by Knizia known as Cheeky Monkey. I have never played Cheeky Monkey but it is clear that game was targeted at a younger audience. A quick reading of the rules for Family Inc. indicates that this game was redesigned with a slightly more mature audience in mind as the theme is a bit hard for young ones to appreciate. The rule tweaks also made the game more slightly more strategic. However, at the end of the day, the game is still simple and can be taught in less than a minute to young and old alike.
If you are familiar with another Knizia design – Circus Flohcati, then you already know Family Inc. This is a push-your-luck type game with players flipping over tiles to secure loot. There are 10 different tile values from 1-10 with values 1-5 having 16x copies while tile values 6-10 having only 11x copies. To start, these tiles are all mixed very well and placed face-down in the middle of the table. In each player’s turn, a tile is flipped and placed in a personal tableau. If a duplicate tile is flipped, the player busts and is out of the tile drawing phase. If this happens early enough – within the first 3 tile draws – the player is compensated with a gem. Get 3 gems and you can exchange it for 50 points on the score board. At any point after the first tile is drawn, one can choose to stop drawing more tiles. If that happens and a player chooses to stop, they then steal tiles from other players that share a similar value with the tiles just drawn. This applies for all tiles in the tableau as you can steal from multiple players. All stolen tiles of the same value are then combined into a single stack. In this way, there can only be one stack of tiles for each value at any point in time. As players steal from each other, the pile grows larger assuming players do not bust.
The key for this game comes in the timing for scoring. After stealing and consolidating your tableau, you don’t score these tiles in front of you until the next round when your turn starts again. This means, while you may have a nice pile of 10s sitting pretty in front of you, other players will still have an opportunity to steal from you if they draw a 10 and choose to stop. This is where the tension comes from. You don’t want any player to draw a 10, and if they do, you encourage them to be greedy in hopes of busting. There is a lot of hooting and hollering going on when it is not your turn. You essentially hope to survive an entire round before getting a chance to score the tiles in front of you.
It is true that games like these have an overwhelming component of luck. There is no way around it. You also don’t have many ways to mitigate luck. If someone draws a tile and steals away your stack, there is not much you can do. What you can do, is to decide when to draw and when to stop. To the extent that you want to be greedy, you must also realize that your chances of drawing duplicates are quite high. Yet, the decision to draw or stay must also depend on how much you can steal from others and how high the current stack of tiles. Heck, if there is a healthy stack of of 8s, 9s or 10s, then it is probably prudent to stop and gain control of the piles. Like all Knizia-designed games, the game feels very different at different player counts. The strategies employed must also be tailored for different player counts. With more players, the decision to stop must take into account the increased likelihood of other players stealing your piles before your turn comes around. This is less of an issue at lower player counts where I think one can take more risks. LAMA is another game from Knizia that feels vastly different when playing with 2 or with 5 players.
Funny enough, the idea of being unlucky and busting out early and taking a gem is also very potent. If you are unlucky and bust out early, you get a gem for which you can exchange 3 for 50 points. That is half way on the score track and also half way to victory. A single victor will be crowned when a player reaches 100 points. So while you cannot control when you bust out, you can most definitely plan to push your luck and I have seen comeback victories from folks who have cashed in their gems and win the game unexpectedly.
This is a decent game and one that doesn’t overstay its welcome. How can it really? The game is short, easy to pick up and with loads of replay value so long as you don’t play it each and every nigh. You might say that this game is not really needed if you have Circus Flohcati. I can’t argue with that except to say that there is a visceral pleasure in flipping tiles instead of cards, and also going through these mini emotional states each time a tile is revealed and finding out you can steal a large stack of 9s’ from a player sitting right beside you who is about to win the game. Circus Flohcati with the set collection and calculating end game points feels more cerebral compared to Family Inc.
“Boom! It’s a different tile. Boom! It’s a different tile… Ah ha! Your stack is MINE! All MINE!”
Initial impression: Good
7 years 7 months: She likes this one. Lots more luck, but also the action is quick and there is a certain amount of gratification in performing each action. As I mentioned, the easier card games from Knizia are usually a hit for her not only because there are fewer rules and less metagaming involved, she also gets instant gratification. The gems she steals or earns are very visual and immediate. Longer victory point-scoring games usually tire her out before it reaches the conclusion. Cascadia is one such game where she was bored to tears. Not so with games like Family Inc. She actively seeks this one out. This is a good buy, but one that might be hard to find outside of continental Europe? I don’t think it is printed for the international market. I just decided to make my own copy with wooden tiles.