House of Cronies is a new South African-made board game from The Big Box. Created by Both Worlds and designed by HoneyKome and Albino Creations, House of Cronies has each player building their own presidential cabinet in order to secure the most votes before the game ends.
House of Cronies is a 3 to 4 player resource management card game. The aim is to fill up your cabinet positions over several rounds. You’ll collect puppet cronies to fill the positions of president, vice president, finance, justice, service delivery and communications. Each of these cronies gives you a certain number of votes, and many are specialists who can only fill one or two roles (though anyone can be president or vice president). There’s also a foreign ally slot where you can place special cronies with unique abilities.
The main deck, from which you’ll get your starting hand as well as additional cards throughout the game, contains influence and corruption cards in addition to the crony cards. Influence and corruption are the currency you’ll use to ‘buy’ cronies for your cabinet over the course of the game. Other players may outbid you, forcing you to raise your bid or surrender that crony.
The cards you’ll have access to are entirely luck of the draw at the beginning of the game. As the game progresses through subsequent rounds, new cards are drawn from the main deck, and players can acquire one of these during the round. Turn order is very important here, as the first player has the most cards to choose from.
Player control comes mainly in the form of tactics cards, which you receive at the start of the game and can later buy with influence or corruption. The tactics introduce various Munchkin-like shenanigans, allowing you to interfere with other players’ actions, steal or remove their cronies. You can also use tactics to rearrange your own cabinet or protect you most valuable cronies. Much like in a game of Munchkin, we found ourselves getting into a tactics war towards the end of the game.
Setup is quick and straightforward, and the rules are easy to learn. A single game lasts about 15 minutes, though you may end up playing a few games as players start to get the hang of things. The components are high quality, with appealing and consistent design. The box is sturdy if a little hard to get open, and the insert is well-designed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow room for sleeved cards. The rulebook is brief and clear, though I would have liked a rules summary reference sheet or turn order card, as the rules are spread out across the book and it can be hard to remember the finer points.
The cronies on the cards are all real public figures, mostly politicians, like Jacob Zuma, Robert Mugabe and Cyril Ramaphosa. There are also numerous other people like Trevor Noah and Oscar Pistorius. As someone who doesn’t pay all that much attention to politics, there were still a fair few names that I recognised, and my lack of knowledge didn’t have much impact on my ability to play and enjoy the game.
House of Cronies is a light and fun game that is easy to learn and teach. Even players with only a passing knowledge of South African politics will likely find someone they recognise among the cronies, though the game can be enjoyed without any such knowledge. Anyone with a sense of humour looking for something quick to play with a few friends will probably enjoy House of Cronies.