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Nothing Personal!

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Nothing Personal from Tom Vasel & Steve Avery is a take-that screw-you game with a fun gangster theme and some of the best components I’ve ever seen in a board game.

“I wanted to design a game that would make a splash,” Vasel said. “I didn’t want it to be a mediocre game. Honestly there are enough mediocre games. I wanted Nothing Personal to be the kind of game that people either loved or hated.”

At first glance, Nothing Personal looks like an area control game and yes there is some area control in it, but it’s one of those games that’s really all bout the meta-game.

“I was in a boring meeting when I wrote out several paragraphs describing the game,” Vasel said. “I called Steve up. He climbed on board and we hashed out some stuff. He was the one that came up with the layout and took away my Mediaeval theme. It was at that point that I knew we had something really good. I knew we were onto something.”

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On the board, players play influence tokens on gangsters in a mob. Depending on the gangsters rank in the origination as well as the gangsters own attributes, controlling a gangster can earn or lose players a specific set of money or respect. This is a mob game after all. It’s all about respect and who can earn the most respect over a five year period.

“Initially we had it so you could play influence cards at any time,” Vasel said. “But we found out that it made the game too chaotic and bogged it down because people would stare at each other just waiting for someone else to play a card.”

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The game gets really crazy because it has a pyramid structure and as the game moves forward characters get killed or sent to prison and those at the bottom of the pyramid move their way up through the organization. So someone who is no-name associate at the start of the game could end up being the Capo before the game is over.

“Originally I had thought that you had roles like the King and Queen and over the course of the game they could slide in a circle to move down and become The Fool and then The Princess,” Vasel said. “But then when we showed the game to Stephen Buonocore he suggested the gangster theme and I said that was a great idea. Steve [Avery] did some research and he’s the one that found the mob organizational chart that we used for the board.”

Nothing Personal was first conceived back in 2011. Avery and Vasel worked on the original designs that year and by 2012 they had a prototype that they were shopping around to publishers. Soon after they signed a deal with Game Salute.

“A great mechanic that Steve suggested was making it so that gangsters go to jail if they had too much influence,” Vasel said. “It’s the best mechanic in the game and frankly I’ve not seen it anywhere else. It really helped smooth the game because if a gangster had too much control they were removed from the bored, which meant that sure if someone had nine influences on them then you’d never be able to take control of that character, but you could add more influence so that they would be noticed by FBI and sent to prison.”

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As I said before, the components in the game are simply gorgeous. I think the only time I’ve seen thicker punchboard is in Clever Mojo’s Sunrise City. The money is thick, has weight to it, and is simply great to handle.

“When we sat down with Game Salute they asked what we wanted as our Kickstarter stretch goals,” Vasel said. “They asked us what components we’d want to upgrade and I said I wanted the thickest possible tiles. We had talked about using poker chips, but you either have to use really cheap poker chips or use the expensive kind that aren’t cost efficient. So we went with the punchboard money and I’m happy with how that turned out. I think it’s the single best component in the game.”

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Thanks to the Kickstarter, Nothing Personal also has a lot of extra components that were seriously upgraded. Instead of punchboard coins, it has real metal coins! Then instead of a having a token to mark who the capo is it has a hefty metal ring.

“I had play tested the game at Gen Con 2012,” Vasel said. “One of the play testers had told me that it would be cool if the ring card was an actual ring so that he could make people kiss it. Game Salute checked the cost of a ring and it wasn’t that bad so we added it. I just didn’t realize how nice of a ring they were going to order.”

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The mechanic I enjoyed in the game the most was blackmailing. Because certain gangsters can be controlled and influenced by specific players another player can blackmail the characters. If a character has a blackmail coin on them then the person controlling that character must get permission from their blackmailer before they are allowed to use their special abilities.

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One of the funniest things in the game is seeing cameos from personalities of the board game industry. The first person I recognize was Chris Kirkman the owner of Dice Hate Me Games.

“That started as a publicity move, but then it grew into something more.” Vasel said. “I like designers and I know a lot of them so I thought it would be really cool if we could put a few into the game to recognize them for who they are and what they’ve done. I sent out emails to a bunch of designers and got way more people interested than I thought would be. It got so large that we had to stop though there were a few people who declined because they didn’t want to be portrayed as a gangster.”

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We’ve done two play throughs of Nothing Personal and got mixed results. The first one bombed. We played it with a new couple who we had just met. They had said they were big fans of the Dice Tower so they really wanted to check it out. However, because this is the kind of game where you need to back stab and screw people over none of us playing felt comfortable doing that since we had just met. The end result is that we played it more like a euro game, which wasn’t fun.

“The target audience is a group of people who like that ‘take that’ mechanics,” Vasel said. “This is not a gateway game and it’s the opposite of a co-operative game. My hope is that people who like Cosmic Encounters and people who like to negotiate will enjoy this. It’s for players who can play dirty and not get upset or take it personally. It’s designed to be as chaotic as it is because I wanted it to be a game where you never sit around bored. You are always doing something and always involved in the action.”

Our second time playing was with people we knew and it was a lot of fun. There were deals made, deals broken, and it was a chaotic mess, but the good kind! Nothing Personal really is about the experience and to get the right experience its one of those games that has to be played in the right environment.

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Although the game has a lot back stabbing and killing, it’s not a violent or gory game.

“Keeping it light was one of the reasons Steve and I wanted the more cartoony art,” Vasel said. “There is no blood in the game. There are guns and bullets but we didn’t want the game to be gory. We wanted it to be silly. The art kept that on the surface level and helped make sure that the game is light hearted. Its not graphic because we want teens to be able to play the game. A kid shouldn’t play it but we really wanted it to work for teenagers.”

As for the future of Nothing Personal that’s still in question. When holding our interview, Vasel said that within the past hour he had talked to Avery about the ideas of expansions but neither were ready to move forward on one.

“We’ve not decided yet because we aren’t sure that the game needs an expansion,” Vasel said. “We could easily add in more gangsters or give families player powers. There is also a lot we cut out of the game that we could add back in, but we are at kind of waiting to see because we don’t want to put one out just for the sake of putting it out.”

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You can currently order Nothing Personal from the Game Salute website.