Mary Dimercurio Prasad: First Impressions of Last Will and Pictomania

Last Will

Last WillDesigner: Vladimír Suchý
Publisher: Czech Games Edition (CGE) and Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 60 minutes

So the game begins…

Your uncle has died. Hooray!

This is your chance to become rich. You never knew your uncle, but you have heard stories. He was one of those millionaires who achieved staggering wealth during the development of Victorian England. He was also a bit of a hermit, too focused on his business to have any friends. On his deathbed he surveyed his vast riches and realised that he never took the time to enjoy them. And so he decided to leave his fortune to his most competent relative – the one who is the best at enjoying the pleasures money can bring. In his last will, your uncle stated that each surviving relative will receive a certain amount. Whoever can spend that amount the fastest will get the rest of the fortune. But don’t think that spending all that money will be as easy as it seems.

Last Will is sort of a board game implementation of Brewster’s Millions, the 1902 book by George Barr McCutcheon and 1945 and 1985 movies by the same name. Players inherit a sum of money and must spend it throughout the game. Whoever spends the most by the end of the game inherits the rest of the fortune. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?? Actually they just win the game.

You can find the full rules in the Files section on Board Game Geek. Here’s a summary. Each player starts with the same amount of money in pounds, a player board, and several markers (playing pieces) in their selected color. Each round consists of five phases: setup, planning, errands, actions, and end of round management. A starting player is determined randomly then passes to the left in subsequent rounds.

The setup phase is where new special cards and other face up card choices are dealt onto the offering board. Players will be able to choose from these card offerings in the errands phase.

During the planning phase, beginning with the starting player and continuing clockwise, each player places their planning marker in the planning section of the board. This section has a number of options (varies with number of players) from which to choose. The options determine for each player this round: the number of cards to draw (zero to six or seven – some numbers are skipped), the number of errand markers to be placed (one or two), the number of actions to be taken (one to four), and the order in which each player will go. The combinations are all different and get better moving from left to right, except that the turn order will also move from left to right. Thus going before another player will generally give you less of these other options. Once a player’s planning marker has been placed, the player draws the number of cards specified by his or her selection.

Last Will BoardLast Will planning and card offering boards

During the errand phase, in the order established in the planning phase, players take turns placing the number of errand markers allotted them this round one at a time (i.e. each player will place one then it will go around again in the same order for those who have two errands). Options include getting a card (placed during setup on the offering board), getting a player board extension that allows a player to place and activate another card during his or her turn, manipulating the property market, drawing a random card, or spending two pounds.

At the start of the action phase, each player marks the number of actions s/he selected during the planning phase on his or her player board with an action counter. As the player takes actions, the counter is moved down until it hits zero, ending the actions for that player this round. Players take their actions in the same order as established in the planning phase. During the action phase, players may play cards from their hands and/or activate cards on their player boards. Some cards may only be played to the player boards (provided there is available space) at the cost of one action each – these cards may stick around from round to round. Cards on the player boards are slid down when they have been activated that round; activating a card may require spending actions. Cards that require no actions may be used at any time on a player’s turn during this phase.

At the end of the round, players must discard down to two cards (unless they have a card that allows them to keep more). Properties (one of the types of cards) will depreciate if a player did not activate it during the round. Activation represents maintenance of the property – it usually costs actions but will yield more spending than depreciation. All cards on the player boards reset (slide up). All offering cards that weren’t selected are discarded (special cards go out of the game). All player markers are returned and the round marker moves up.

The game ends either at the end of the round in which a player has gone bankrupt, or at the end of the 7th round. The player who either spent the most or has the most debt is the winner.

Thematically, the game works pretty well. The cards represent anything from carriage rides to properties (farms, mansions, etc.). Players may add companions to increase spending, such as hiring a chef or buying horses for their farms. Some cards are used instantly and go away (e.g. they represent going to a play or taking a boat ride), while others may stick around for a while (e.g. properties or standing dinner reservations). A player must sell all properties and spend the sales money before declaring bankruptcy. There’s a little bit of manipulation on the property market for buying and selling.

Special cards are usually quite powerful and may merit a better turn order to get the one you want. Examples include taking an extra action each round, an increased hand size, or drawing extra cards each round.

I have played the game twice in prototype and read the final rules. There were a few minor changes – clean ups and improvements in my opinion. I had heard a lot about Last Will before playing it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, I love spending money. I’m good at it (just ask my husband!). I figured I had an edge over any challengers right there. By the way, I won the both games.

Throughout the game, there is a lot of planning and hand management. There are also many choices. You may decide to invest in a certain property type, or just treat the ladies to dinners and carriage rides. If you have any A.P. players (as I did in one game, ugh) there may be some down time, but if players can keep it moving, it’s a lot of fun.

I can’t say anything about the final version art or production-wise – one of the other OGers will have to contribute here – but I expect it will be high quality considering past releases from these companies.

I really enjoyed the game even as a prototype (without the new improvements) and I’m looking forward to owning my own copy. I’m not sure if I will tire of it after several plays but for now I put it in the “I love it!” category.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Rick Thornquist:  I played this once in prototype form and quite liked it. It’s basically an engine game, but building up your engine to spend your money is just the first part of the game. The second part requires you wind down your engine so it’s basically dismantled by the end of the game. This makes for very interesting strategy – the timing of the changeover is very important.  With only one play I’m going to put in the “I like it” category, but that could very easily change into “I love it!” on further playing.

Tom Rosen:  I played this three times in prototype form and also enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I went back to play it again and again at the same convention.  As with Rick, I could see this bumping up to the “love it” category with additional plays of the final release. The game just clicked with me for some reason, I think because it felt fresh. The game was definitely amusing as the cards allowing you to spend money quicker had to do with hiring corrupt workers or throwing wild parties that trashed your property. Speaking of property, the system of purchasing properties so you can spend money maintaining them or ignore them so they depreciate in value was one of the most clever parts of the games in my mind and really elevated the overall quality of the game. It leads to very interesting timing with the end game as you need to sell your properties before you can win, but you earn money by doing so, and need to set yourself up with a way to make the final push and spend those last few dollars to get over the finish line of poverty.

Larry Levy:  Like the others, I’ve only played this as a prototype (once).  It’s an enjoyable game that moves fairly quickly. I’d say it’s more like an involved middleweight than a heavy game.  I thought there were a few things that could use tightening in the version I played. For example, the planning phase is clever, but it’s not unusual for there to be one obviously best choice for some of the players. If these align (also not unusual, it seemed to me), then turn order could be overly important. I would have liked a few more options here. There were also times in which there was nothing in the display that was helpful, which was a bit frustrating. However, there’s at least one design change that seems to address this, which boosts my confidence in the final product.

I’ll put this in the “I Like It” category, particularly since I know that tweaks have been made since I played.  I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the game as most who played it, but I am looking forward to trying it again.

Dale Yu: I’ve had the chance to play the finished version in Essen, and it was everything that I had remembered the prototype being, but now with better art! I found that I really liked how tough the decision was about choosing which option to take in the planning phase. The choices available to you on the board each have their own benefits. In the game that I played, in each of the first 5 rounds, there was always a difficult decision for me between at least two of the choices.

The planning phase area was tweaked a bit from the prototype at the Gathering – but this is not a surprise.  In fact, Petr had a number of different planning board options in the prototype box, each with a different set of options for the players. I’m actually a bit surprised that the game didn’t come with multiple options for this area, but I’m forseeing this as a natural idea for expansion if the game is successful.

I have yet to win a game of Last Will, mostly because I wait too long wind down my buildings. I seem to be one turn behind than where I should be… The interesting thing I did find out from my first game in Essen was that both a building heavy strategy as well as a building light strategy both were competitive.

I’m definitely looking forward to playing this one again soon!

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!… Mary Prasad, Dale Yu
  • I like it… Rick Thornquist, Tom Rosen, Larry Levy
  • Neutral…
  • Not for me…

Pictomania

Pictomania

Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher: Czech Games Edition (CGE) and Pegasus Spiele
Players: 3-6
Ages: 9+
Play Time: 25 minutes

I’ll summarize the rules below. You can find the full rules in the Files section on Board Game Geek. Pictomania is a sort of frantic Pictionary game where each person plays on their own (rather than in teams).

Each player receives a drawing board, erasable marker, erasing cloth, 7 guessing cards (numbered 1 to 7), and a number of scoring tokens (values 1 to 3 in stars) equal to the number of players minus one. For example, in a four player game, use three tokens valued 2, 1, 1 (the 3 star token is used in a 5 or 6 player game). The game is played over five rounds. Rounds consist of the following steps: setup, drawing & guessing, and scoring.

During setup, six cards, each with seven words or phrases, are selected from one of the colored decks. Decks are color coded according to difficulty (green – easy, yellow – moderate, blue – difficult, purple – most difficult). The six cards are placed in a display rack, each behind a different symbol, such that all words/phrases are visible to all players. Players are dealt two types of cards randomly face down – one with a number and the other with a symbol. The symbols correspond to the ones in front of the cards on display and the numbers to the words (or phrases – from now on I will just refer to them as words to keep it simple) on the cards – they are numbered one to seven from top to bottom. Thus each player will be assigned exactly one word on one card uniquely. There are no duplicates on the randomized cards in either symbol or number. A set of black tokens is put in the middle of the table, one less than the number of players, similar in value to the player scoring tokens (1 to 3 stars).

During the drawing & guessing step, players simultaneously look at their respective face down cards then begin drawing. The face down cards remain in front of each player as a scoring stack. At any point a player may look at any other player’s drawing. If a player thinks s/he knows another player’s word, s/he puts that numbered guessing card on top of the other player’s scoring stack. Players may choose to stop drawing & guessing at any time and take a black token (usually the highest one still available). When the last token has been taken, the player who took it says “stop” and the game moves on to the next step (players are not required to take a black token, thus the round may end if all players are done drawing & guessing). Since there is one less token than the number of players, one player will not get one.

The scoring step is where points are allotted. Taking turns, each player flips his or her scoring stack over to reveal the word s/he was trying to draw followed by the stack of guesses. Since the guessing cards were placed in order, the first card (originally at the bottom until the pile was flipped) will be from the person who guessed first. In order, the guessing cards are evaluated. If the number on the guessing card matches your word number, the guess is correct. The guessing player gets his or her card back along with the highest valued scoring token in your color. If the number on the guessing card doesn’t match, the guess is incorrect. The guessing card gets placed in the center of the table without a token. At the end of the stack, the player will have a number of scoring tokens left equal to the number of players who guessed your drawing incorrectly or did not guess. After all players’ stacks have been evaluated, count the cards in the middle of the table by color. The player who made the most incorrect guesses this round is the black sheep (skip if there is a tie).

Point totals – you get point equal the number of stars on the scoring tokens you received for correct guesses, you lose points equal to the number of stars on the scoring tokens you had left (i.e. in your own color), if you grabbed a black token, you lose or gain points from the black token as follows: if you are the black sheep you lose points equal to the number of stars on the black token, if you are not the black sheep but no one guessed your word correctly, you get no points from the black token, and if you are not the black sheep and at least one person guessed your word, you get points equal to the number of stars on the black token.

After five rounds, the player with the highest score is the winner; tied players share the win.

I played this once or twice as a prototype with a full compliment of players. Everyone had a fun with the game. There is a lot of tension during drawing & guessing as players try to figure out what others are drawing while at the same time drawing their own. You want your drawing to be good enough for people to guess but speed is as important as making the drawing good enough. You need sufficient time to look at all the other drawings and make guesses but you also want to get extra points by grabbing a black token before they run out (of course the higher valued ones will be grabbed up first).

Note that only the number is given out as a guess, not the symbol, and you are only given one of each number, 1 to 7. You need to match each number to a drawing, using one word per card. Thus if you give a 3 to one player, it is no longer available for a number 3 word on another word card. The word cards tend to follow a category theme, possibly making it easier. For example, one card may have a kitchen theme while another might have office supplies. Still there may be items on different word cards that are similar so you need to read each card before making guesses (usually players are given a little time to read the word cards when they are first put out, before they look at what words they were assigned for the round). Players are not required to take black tokens; this may happen if a player thinks s/he will end up as the black sheep.

Pictomania is a wonderful party game, great for families but entertaining enough for even serious gamers when they want to enjoy some lighter fare. I enjoyed it much more than Telestrations or Pictionary, and it’s moving dangerously close to Time’s up! as a party game favorite.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Tom Rosen:  I played the prototype once and really enjoyed it. I don’t tend to like drawing games very much because I am so utterly incompetent at drawing, beyond what you could possibly imagine.  But the scoring system in Pictomania is just so clever that I can’t help but like it. The frantic action of simultaneously drawing and looking at everyone else’s drawings takes the pressure off drawing well because it’s such a hectic game. The dual incentives of guessing other people’s drawings right first and getting other people to guess your own drawing provide a nice tension that competes for your attention in the limited time available. The escalating difficulty of the cards indicating what to draw was also a very nice feature of the game. It was silly fun, which might be just the ticket with the right group.

Larry Levy:  Really clever design from Chvatil, showing how versatile a designer he is. The mechanics are very well thought out and leads to a good deal of hilarity. Naturally, the degree of difficulty can be turned way up for those who crave that sort of thing, as we’ve come to expect from Vlaada. My hope is that party game fans will not be put off by the added complexity and those who like slightly involved games will give a party game a chance. But this is one that should be a lot of fun with the right crowd.

Dale Yu: I played one round in Essen, and it felt the same as the prototype that I saw earlier in the year. I must admit that I’m normally not a fan of party games, so I’m not necessarily drawn to this one. (Pardon the pun…)  However, this one is a lot of fun with the right group. Like Tom, I totally suck at drawing, so I tended to just draw some sort of squiggle and otherwise look at what other people were trying to draw. I doubt that I’d build a game night around Pictomania, but I would certainly play it as a filler or nightcap to game night.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!… Mary Prasad
  • I like it…Tom Rosen, Larry Levy, Dale Yu
  • Neutral…
  • Not for me…

About Mary Prasad

More about me at: http://artbymdp.blogspot.com
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1 Response to Mary Dimercurio Prasad: First Impressions of Last Will and Pictomania

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    I played the prototype for Last Will back in April. One of the players in my game was a woman who grew up on a farm in Kansas, and she beat us handily by investing in farms. She explained that if there was one thing she learned from her childhood, it was how to lose a lot of money by running a farm!

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