There have been a few games published recently about Prohibition and various alcohol-related activites.
I fully endorse more of that! *hic*
One of the ones that looked really cool but I never pulled the trigger on buying it was Speakeasy Blues.
When the pandemic hit and I was looking for stuff to play with my wife, this popped up on one of my boardgame store sites and I took a second look, finally deciding to pick it up.
Speakeasy Blues was designed by Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews with art by Heiko Günther, Don Whitson. It was published in 2018 by Artana Games.
I’ve always wanted to run a speakeasy. So what’s held me back?
A couple of things.
First, my business sense is horrendous.
And secondly, booze isn’t, you know, illegal anymore.
Does the game make you feel like you are, though?
Let’s take a look.
Speakeasy Blues is a dice-placement game where players are running their own speakeasies during Prohibition, trying to turn theirs into the most prestigious by the end of the game. They will do this by buying expensive Collection items and attracting the most prestigious High Society figures as regular customers.
Who knew celebrities liked to break the law like this?
You will also be trying to curry favour with the Police (so that they don’t shut you down) as well as two crime families (these are collectively known as “Crime” in the game)
The hooch will flow!
The game board consists of various areas that will let you get the Collection items, Society figures, Jazz tokens (which will let you do some special things), Crime cards as well as somewhere just to get some money and get Favor from one of the three Crime areas.
Why does getting Favor also get you money? Maybe you’re getting a loan from them or something?
I’m not sure.
Anyway, there are 5 pairs of coloured dice, each pair a different colour.
These dice have symbols which tell you where they have to be placed in order to take an action.
You start out the game with three of the five colours of dice being rolled and placed on the board based on their symbols.
Then you’re ready to start!
The turn sequence is pretty easy.
The player whose turn it is has two colours. They choose another colour from the board and take those dice and roll them.
You now have a dice pool to choose from (three colours).
Choose one colour and place the two dice on the board based on the symbols. You do this one at a time, taking the action of the space you placed the die on immediately before placing the second die.
You can also spend one dollar to reroll all of the dice in the dice pool. This can happen if you don’t like any of the colours and what symbols are rolled for them, but you can only do this once on your turn.
Some of the places (like Jazz tokens above or some of the secondary spots if the first spot is taken) will cost you a reputation in order to do the action. If your reputation is already bottomed out (much like me after a bender), then you can’t do that action.
You have a pretty big choice of actions, though they are dictated by the dice that you are placing.
You can buy a Collections card that will help you score points for having a bunch of them.
You can maybe attract a Society person to your Speakeasy and have them give you points (or maybe even an action that you can use!)
You can also get favours from the Crime families or the Police, as well as get Hooch or Jazz tokens that will make future actions even better.
When you get cards, you have to put them in one of the columns of your speakeasy. This will always cover another card, which sometimes isn’t bad but sometimes it is.
The front-most card of each column, if it has an action, will let you do a “Speakeasy Action.” This basically means that you spend one Hooch and, instead of doing the action where you placed the die, you can do this person’s action instead.
However, if you place a new Collection/Society card on top of it, that action is no longer available.
Also, any end of game scoring (like the Fitzgeralds above, where each Society card in your Speakeasy will give you a point) only comes into effect if that card is on top at the end of the game.
Thus, it’s pretty strategic where you are going to place new cards.
You are also collecting favours from Crime families and the Police that will potentially score you points at the end of the game.
For each Crime or Police person in your Speakeasy, plus the number of favours you’ve obtained, you will be compared to the other players. Whoever has the most will get some points and the lesser amount will be scored based on how many players there are.
At the end of the game, you score all of the favours (plus Crime/Police people in your Speakeasy) as well as the top-most collections in your Speakeasy and your celebrities if they have an endgame scoring as well.
In addition, each round there is a new event which could be a contest.
These contests are also endgame victory points, based on how many of a certain type of card (or Hooch or whatever) you have.
The Event cards are your timer for the game. You will always see the next two cards so you can prepare for them.
Once the final one has come into effect, the game is over and you total up all of your points.
Whoever has the most points is the winner!
There are a few things I didn’t cover above, but them’s the basics.
Is Speakeasy Blues a wonderful joint to listen to good jazz and have some good booze? Or is it a place where all of the tables are caked with grime and the primary musical attraction is Gilbert Gottfried?
I have to say that I really enjoyed my plays of Speakeasy Blues, but they all have been 2-player games and I think this game would shine much brighter with more players.
While it plays fine with 2 players, I didn’t have as much fun with it as I think I would have with more. We’ll see when I finally get it to the table when we can do a game night with others!
That being said, the presentation of the game is very cool.
The little plastic Hooch bottles are really nice but they are also small and they roll off the table really easily. They’re not the most practical but they are still cool.
There are also not that many of them so if somebody is collecting them, you may run out. We came a little bit close in a 2-player game, so I can imagine this being a problem with more players.
Another issue with the game is that the iconography can be a little dense.
There is a guide in the rulebook but I still found myself wondering about a couple of them. A cheat sheet would be nice.
Another thing the game is missing is a scoresheet!
That’s one of the most annoying things about many of these types of games where you are totaling up points from various sources.
Many of the West Kingdom games suffered from not having a scoresheet, even to the point where Garphill Games has created a scoring app (and the expansions often have a scoresheet as well because the base game didn’t).
Speakeasy Blues is another game in this vein. You get points from a whole bunch of things but for some reason they don’t include a scoresheet! I had to download a fan-created one from Boardgame Geek.
Other than those minor criticisms, I have to say that I greatly enjoyed the game.
As I said above, the game really needs more than two players, so I may be projecting my feelings a bit after playing only with two players.
As a two-player game, the game goes really quickly and it almost seems like it’s over before it begins and you didn’t really have time to think.
The dice on the board stay a bit stagnant sometimes, especially if you don’t roll the dice pool very well.
Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate everything in the game, from the Society cards to the Collection cards and even the dice pool.
You can always pay money to wipe the cards for a section or to reroll all of the dice in the dice pool. This greatly helps.
The fact that only the top cards in each column of your speakeasy also makes for some interesting decisions.
As a free action on your turn, Andrew Mellon will let you rearrange two cards in your Speakeasy. The other cop will let you spend two dollars to get a reputation or lose a reputation to get two dollars.
Cover them up with a newly-acquired card and you can’t do that action anymore.
Also, at the end of the game, Metropolis will get you points for each movie you have in your collection…but only if it’s the top card in its column. Cover it up and all of those movies are useless (unless you cover it up with another movie card)
All of this makes you have to think about what you’re acquiring and what you want to be able to do (or score at the end of the game).
It also makes the rearrange action very powerful.
You also have to watch your reputation, as some things (like getting crime cards or favours from criminals or even Jazz tokens) will cost you a reputation. If your reputation is bottomed out, you can’t take that action. Good reputation will also get you endgame points so you want to maximize it as much as you can.
Speaking of Jazz tokens, these are very handy items to have and can come in very handy. One lets you do an action twice where you place a die. So you could get two Collection cards or Society cards, or even do two Soirees!
The other one will let you change a die to any face and it will also give you two dollars.
Not bad for the cost of one reputation.
Because Jazz is just like that, you know?
The Contests are also interesting endgame scoring that you have to keep in mind and I like how they’re mixed up with the events (and also that you can see the contests and events that are coming up in the next two rounds).
All in all, I really like Speakeasy Blues and feel that it is an excellent game.
However, I don’t know whether it works that well at two players. We enjoyed our games, but they just didn’t really seem that meaty.
I think the game needs a bit more chaos with more people moving the dice around and taking cards, competing for the contests and also performing criminal acts on the other players.
While it’s a bit muted as a two-player game, I think it could sing like Ella Fitzgerald with a larger audience.
And isn’t that really the way with speakeasies and jazz clubs to begin with?
The music is awesome, but it’s enjoying it with more people in the crowd that really makes the experience a memorable one.
So one could say that Speakeasy Blues is just like its namesake, eh?
(Edit – 9/12/21) – Played our first 3-player game of this and I definitely like it better with more players. More variety, more card movement, and more dice movement as well.
This review was written after 3 plays (all at 2-player)