The 2003 sim game Restaurant Empire is bizarre in several ways. As part of the game’s story, the protagonist gets tied up with the mafia, accepting a large “investment” from a man literally named Don Corleone. The game doesn’t focus much on the player’s connection to organized crime – it’s just part of the restaurant business.
This is a good jumping-off point to introduce Don Duality, a game about a mob boss operating a restaurant. True to its name, the game straddles the line between legitimate and illicit worlds, though players will have a greater opportunity to get their hands dirty.
Don Duality is the new head of the criminal organization known as the Duality Family, a position he earned after his father caught lead during a firefight. There’s not much left of the organization — other crews run the streets and the Don’s men either ended up behind bars or left for greener pastures. All that’s left is a restaurant/secret criminal den and just enough money to get it up and running again. Hopefully, that will be enough to restore the Duality Family to its former glory.
Königsborgs, the game’s developer, describes the game as a “chaos manager.” Players must operate a restaurant to launder their ill-gotten gains in this simulation-type game, while also carrying out crimes to take control of a territory and evade the police. The entire concept is designed to spin out of control, and the player needs to accomplish as much as possible before chaos wins.
Don Duality is a very casual game, and the central mechanics are simple.
The player must manage clean and dirty money, which is earned through different means and spent for different purposes. The player earns clean money passively through the restaurant and uses it to pay staff and defense attorneys for the inevitable trial. However, you can earn dirty money through illegal activities and use it to finance more significant crimes. You can launder dirty money through the restaurant to turn it into clean money, but it doesn’t work in reverse.
The player gives orders by playing cards. These are used to recruit workers and muscle, upgrade the restaurant, execute criminal plots, and manage various problems that come up. The player has the option to discard cards at any time, and they can earn a small amount of dirty money for doing so. However, event cards cannot be discarded and take up space in the player’s hand until they are triggered.
Criminal plots serve a dual purpose beyond making money. With each successful crime, the Don’s sway over the specific part of the city in which the crime took place grows. The ultimate goal revolves around reclaiming command of the city’s neighborhoods, district by district.
There are two obstacles that the Don must face. First, there are other gangs in the city that are also expanding their territory. If one gang commits crimes on another gang’s turf, it will eventually result in a shootout between the two, complete with all the problems that come with it — namely, the bullet-riddled corpses of the losers.
That leads to the second problem: the police. Botching a crime or getting into a shootout will draw undue attention to the Don’s restaurant. There are ways to reduce suspicion, but they are expensive and unreliable. When police suspicion reaches a certain point, they will drag Don into court where he can use his clean money for an increased chance of a not guilty verdict.
A run ends with the Don’s inevitable arrest, but this isn’t really the end of the game. The next run starts with Don leaving jail and going back to the restaurant with less money, but with the police off his back and the city unchanged. This gives players an opportunity to resume their war on the other gangs with a clean slate.
Don Duality is pretty straightforward, and the mechanics are accessible. It’s most suitable for brief sessions of an hour or so, as longer multi-run sessions can become repetitive.