We're living in a golden age of boardgaming. There are so many available that I often describe certain games as "merely" good. With so many excellent choices, why settle for less? This is even more pronounced with two-player games where the bar is set very high indeed. This is the biggest hurdle to Tony & Tino, its competition is very strong indeed.
Play is on a 6 x 6 grid, ostensibly the street corners of a Chicago neighbourhood. At the start of the game these corners will be seeded with five mobsters from each player in addition to 26 tokens showing a number ranging from 1 through 10. Each player has an additional 13 mobsters (valued from 0-3) and an individual draw deck. The mobsters and cards are shuffled face down and each player draws two mobsters and three cards as a starting hand. On a turn a player will:
1) Play/discard a card.
2) Place a mobster on an unoccupied street corner.
3) Draw another card and mobster to replace those played.
The player is limited to placing a mobster on the lowest valued street corners first. (e.g. You must first place mobsters on the "1" corners before you can place them on the "2" corners, etc.) Generally this means you have only 1 or 2 possible placements on your turn. Once a row or column is completely filled, that street is evaluated and whoever has the greatest total sum of mobsters is awarded that street's cash value. (At the start of the game each street is assigned a random value from $10,000 to $50,000.) The game continues until all corners have been filled and the player with the most cash wins.
The cards have various effects that allow a player to perform special actions. For example; "switch any two tokens on the board" or "play on a higher valued token" or "switch an opponent's mobster with one of your own".
I was immediately reminded of Knizia's Kingdoms when playing the game but Tony & Tino suffers greatly in comparison. There are a number of problems with the game, the foremost being that your options are very limited much of the time. Quite often you'll have but a single spot that you can place a mobster, identical mobsters in your hand and cards that don't really help you. You end up just shrugging your shoulders and doing the move presented to you.
Another, greater problem though is that much of the game feels meaningless even those times you do have options. Consider that there are only 12 streets in total and the fact that it's likely that 7 or even 8 of them will be awarded only during the final four turns. The result is that the early turns feel very arbitrary. There's doesn't seem to be much point in putting a lot of effort into what you do (at the start) because so much will have changed by the time the critical action occurs. For example, you look at the board and see that certain street corners are worth more than others. (i.e. One corner is on $50,000 and $20,000 streets whereas another is on $20,000 and $10,000 streets.) So you try to get your high valued mobsters onto valuable corners. Since a lot will happen before those streets are evaluated it rarely feels worth the effort. The mobster you place might be moved or switched with an opponent or the values of the streets themselves could be changed. The games I played were often characterized by players discarding cards rather than playing them during the early portion of the game. Since playing a card could just as easily hurt you as help, why bother playing it? Obviously things get more important as the game progresses but as you only get 13 plays in the entire game, it's not such a good thing when your first 5 or 6 feel meaningless.
It's a shame that the gameplay leaves so much to be desired because it is a good looking game. The cards and tokens are clear and attractive, the money chits are thick dollar bills. I've long been a sucker for a nicely produced game but if it doesn't play well, then it doesn't matter how good it looks and that's the case with Tony & Tino. Most of the time your decisions are either obvious or meaningless, a poor combination. With so many superior two-player games available I really can't see any good reason to choose Tony & Tino.
- Greg Aleknevicus