Mafia themed turn based strategy with a knife-sharp focus.
Set in The City of New Shore in 1930s prohibition America, the turn-based tactics of The Commission: Organized Crime Grand Strategy makes running a criminal empire an accessible, addictive numbers game. But there’s more going on than the simple board game layout suggests.
New Shore is split into boroughs, and in each borough are different neighbourhoods, all with their own unique identity and vices. Playing the role of Don of one of the five families, you assign your Caporegimes to districts, then your Soldatos to neighbourhoods. Once established in a neighbourhood, it’s time to make money by running some of the many illicit rackets available.
A great aspect of The Commission is how the in-game writing guides the player without just telling them what to do. Reading the descriptions of each neighbourhood gives you a better understanding of what rackets would work best – and which would instantly flop. Dock workers in industrial neighbourhoods aren’t going to flock to a casino, but they’ll probably feel at home in a seedy gambling den, for instance.
You also have to pay attention to the traits of your underlings. A Soldato with the ‘butterfingers’ trait isn’t the best choice to run a robbery racket, while an enforcer is perfect if you need some quick muscle to squeeze out the competition. As a game that demands your attention – especially in the early stages – it’s incredibly rewarding to build up profits by making shrewd decisions, knowing other families are trying to do the same.
Since the last build I playtested, developer 302 Interactive have put in the time to make the turn-to-turn gameplay of The Commission much easier to understand. Some smart quality-of-life additions – such as key events showing up as alerts on relevant neighbourhoods – make asset and man management much more digestible. It’s easier now to keep track of your territory, with most of the necessary info available at a glance at the beginning of each turn, instead of hiding away in the UI.
I found that these improvements also made it easier to embrace the numerous mechanics in place. The gang warfare ‘conflict’ system becomes vital in the mid-game as New Shore only gets more crowded as time goes by. Having current conflicts flash up on neighbourhoods – accompanied by a new entry in the game ‘report’ section – lets you feel more in control of the action.
In preview builds I missed battles entirely, then wondered where all my henchman had gone. Now, I can react immediately and figure out when to push back, defend or pull out during specific encounters.
As a game goes on and your power level increases, you gain more men and have to dole out more responsibilities. After a certain point it gets tough to keep track of everything, and you will be punished for not paying full attention. This can leave your Capos and Soldatos arrested, killed or disillusioned. But if you do keep your cool and find that rhythm, then seeing your profits grow and your territory increase is gratifying.
But to what end? My main – and basically only – gripe with The Commission is lack of a clear goal. As far as I can tell, there isn’t really a win condition, other than making money and avoiding death or arrest.
In my longest game, after a lengthy rivalry with the Donano family, I finally gained enough interrogation points to attempt an assassination on their Don. Interrogation points are gained by beating other families in conflicts, and the Donanos were always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Eventually, I took my shot and successfully whacked good old Don Donano. What a rush. I’d planned this for a while, kept patient and managed to build power without neglecting all my other rackets and responsibilities. But, one turn later, the dead Donano Don was replaced by one of his Capos, the family was still in play and things just… carried on.
That put a downer on things. Would I just keep going for eternity, seeing Dons come and go? Would the fight for New Shore be an infinite one? Maybe it’s a statement on pursuing a life of crime – apparently it doesn’t pay – and all the money I was making and the neighbourhoods I’d invested in would always be up for grabs.
Whatever the case, it’s not a devastating mark against The Commission, really. I felt satisfied after pulling off my hit and being in a rich, powerful position. And in every game I’ve played, it’s definitely been a case of ‘one more turn’, but there is a point where you can run out of steam.
The developers say The Commission is heavily inspired by the excellent 1997 Gangsters: Organized Crime, and it very much fills that very specific void for me. It’s a modern, more focused take on what that game tried to do, and it’s filled with great ideas, great music (the main song has been stuck in my head for days), and intricate systems that make for an exciting and clever strategy game experience. There is a lot to play with here – especially when you try harder (really punishing) difficulties or play as different families. It’s a game I’ll keep coming back to, and one that nails that prohibition atmosphere.
A main goal or clear win conditions would make it even better, but there’s also something to making the decision to step away on your own; avoiding prison or assassination is a pretty sweet deal for a Mafiosi, all things considered. And if you did want to dedicate the time, you could build a big enough empire to stake full territorial claim to New Shore, whacking Dons left right and centre.
Mafia strategy games are severely underrepresented, but The Commission: Organized Crime Grand Strategy is a worthy modern standard-bearer, and one I’ll be playing long into the future.