Criminal Capers: Pumafiosi

Awww. Look at that wrinkly little don.

Today, Criminal Capers takes on the mafia. The puma mafia. The pumafia.

Dr. Knizia, you’re a master game designer. Surely you know the value of expertise. So maybe leave the puns to the punfessionals?

Okay, okay. The bones of Pumafiosi are based on Knizia’s own Rooster Booster, which wasn’t exactly the best-received of the good doctor’s catalog. Good thing, then, that Pumafiosi is only partly a remake. This one has layers.

Who knew that joining a group that murders and steals for its living could result in untimely falls from power?!

Earning a place in the family.

Layer the first. In Pumafiosi, your goal is to climb the ranks of the pumafia. Everybody gets some cards from a deck of numbers that range from 1 to 55. Going around the table, everybody chooses and plays a single number. The winner then selects where they are in the pumafia. The higher the better — until somebody with a higher number muscles in on their position, which drops them down a level and loses them a point. This might trigger a cascade of falling pumafiosos, all losing points, with some quantity of deceased pumas inhabiting the points-losing graveyard at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Layer the second. When playing cards to determine who enters the pumafia, second place wins.

That’s it. That’s the layer.

I’m serious. Although, fine, there are implications to consider. For one thing, “highest card wins” is no longer true, because the highest card has presumably drawn enough heat that it’s now sitting in prison while its second-in-command gets a posh position in the family. You still want to play high cards; these are, after all, more secure in the long run. But high cards are no longer unbeatable trumps.

Furthermore, Pumafiosi is one of those games that’s best played over multiple rounds. It isn’t enough to sit pretty on the highest-scoring spaces in the pumafia. You also need to maintain your score on later rounds when other players are gunning for you. Say, by deliberately getting one of your wimpier cards promoted. That forces you to either take a chance on a position you might lose or deposit your victor straight into the graveyard for hopefully fewer negative points than you’d gather by shooting too high and watching yourself fall from power.


Life’s all roses in the mafia.

Like yesterday’s game, Soda Smugglers, Pumafiosi revels in letting you see exactly where everybody stands. All the better to attempt a Tommy-gun drive-by when somebody pulls ahead of the pack. That’s the game’s deepest and most interesting layer: what happens when everybody is playing to win, sees they aren’t winning, but knows who is?

There’s one additional wrinkle. You could even call it a theme with the Criminal Capers trilogy. The advanced rules make everything more interesting by adding special tokens that can only be used once across the game’s three-round runtime.

Consider the bullet-proof jacket. When you win a place in the pumafia, you can add the jacket to your card. This protects it from accruing negative points when it drops a level. Great, right? Now you can put a wimpy card all the way at the top! True, except the jacket doesn’t protect you from losing points due to the graveyard. “Puma Brasi sleeps with the fishes,” and so forth. Far from being an obvious play, the jacket lets you take a chance on more points than you’d otherwise earn without shielding you from penalties entirely.

The same goes for the other tokens. There’s a wedding ring you can attach to a rival’s card when you bump it down the hierarchy. Now you earn that rival’s points as well! Also their losses. The machine gun increases the value of the card you just played by 10½. The notebook — ah, that staple of mafia lore, the notebook — doubles the score of a card. Rather than offering obvious applications, these are all dependent on timing and risk.

Quick trick for when you need a pun but there aren't any: just add the word to the end of the other word. In this case, you could say that the puma is wearing a "guitarpuma." —professional writing tip

The advanced rules add special tokens that significantly alter the play.

The result still isn’t a perfect game. Its early moments are abstract. By the time you hit the good stuff, it might be over. And a good draw is still instrumental to your rise and/or fall.

But it does reward a second attempt. When everybody understands a few basics — the stakes, the range of numbers that tends to score, how to manipulate who’ll win any given hand — it clicks together with the rewarding snap of a Tommy-gun’s receiver. For such a short game, it puts its humanity pumanity front and center, tasking players with keeping their most ambitious peers in line while still creeping toward a win. That’s the good stuff.

Best for last. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the final game in the Criminal Capers trilogy.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A prototype copy was provided.

Posted on July 14, 2021, in Board Game and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Amanda {Call Me Betty}

    Pumanity…hilarious. Great article!

  2. The quality I find most fun unique to knizias designs (and my feeling is this has it) is this weird – literally in one round anyone can feel the joy of winning. The rub is the better players will inevitably win more times. Lama has it, lost cities too.

    Somehow knizia has worked out how to make games where a strategy leaps out at everyone who plays it but, like a magic eye, if you cross your eyes a bit there’s really a different game to be played behind the first one.

  1. Pingback: Criminal Capers: Hot Lead | SPACE-BIFF!

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