Design by: Vladimir Suchy
Published by: Czech Games Edition / Rio Grande Games
2 – 5 Players, 1 – 1 ½ hours
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
I really appreciate a game with a unique theme. Frankly, I’ve built too many cathedrals, castles and medieval cities, and consorted a bit too much with elves, warriors and dragons. I want to experience something different.
The novel theme is just one aspect of Last Will from Czech designer Vladimir Suchy that I appreciate. I cannot recall a game wherein the goal was to spend your inheritance as quickly as possible, leaving yourself completely destitute so you can inherit an even vaster sum … and win the game. The theme is novel for a board game and seemingly lifted from the movie Brewster’s Millions, versions of which were filmed in both 1945 and 1985. Interestingly, both films were based on the 1902 novel by George Barr McCutcheon. Perhaps more game designers should look to novels and movies for their themes.
Each player receives two errand boy tokens (diminutive top hats), a planning marker, a board depicting spaces for five cards, and an inheritance of seventy pounds. Each turn, players will plan their turn and send their errand boys to the larger central board, claiming cards, manipulating the real estate market and performing other available actions. The idea is to spend money to lose money … not an admirable goal in real life and on that would drive financial guru Dave Ramsay stark-raving mad!
The central components of the game are the variety of cards. Cards are all geared to helping the players spend money. They include properties (manors and farms), events (operas, fine dining, carriage rides, etc.), companions (ladies, horses, doggies, etc.) and helpers that increase the cost of, well, just about everything. Each turn, players will draw cards at random from the separate decks and claim cards from the central board with their errand boys. They will spend actions to deploy and/or use these cards in their efforts to spend, spend, spend.
The three main phases of a turn are:
Planning. In turn order, players place their planning marker on the planning board. The space they claim determines the number of cards they draw, the number of errand boys they can deploy, the number of actions they receive and the player order for the balance of the turn. Choosing the space desired is generally quite tough, as it is a give-and-take proposition. If you want to perform numerous actions, you will likely have fewer errand boys or cards, or go very late in the turn order. This could mean that your desired actions or cards have already been taken by your opponents. Going earlier in turn order means you will be sacrificing cards, actions and/or errand boys. Enhancing one aspect generally means sacrificing another.
When placing their planning token, players take the indicated number of cards. They may choose any mix from the various decks, but must choose them all before looking at the cards. One vital cog in the game is to keep a steady supply of cards flowing through your hand, which gives you more options.
Errands. In turn order, players alternate placing their errand boys onto the planning board and taking the corresponding card or action. All but one space can accommodate only one errand boy. In addition to the numerous spaces from which the face-up cards can be taken, there are spaces whereupon a player can manipulate the prices for manors and/or farms, take a board expansion (giving the player space for an additional card), visit the theater (spending two pounds) or take a random card from one of the decks.
The idea during this phase is to secure the cards you need to help you further your approach of spending wads of cash. The cards you gather will be used during the action phase, saved for a future turn, or discarded. Manipulating the market is important for purchasing real estate, with the cardinal rule being “buy high, sell low.” That advice hurt just typing it.
Actions. In turn order, players execute the number of actions to which they are entitled. This normally varies from one-to-four, but can be supplemented by the cards a player activates.
Many cards – typically events such as boat rides, dinners, theater visits, etc. — are discarded after being played. The player spends the specified amount of money and discards the card. Others are placed onto a player’s board and remain in the player’s repertoire, able to be used turn-after-turn until they are discarded. In order to place a card onto their board, a player must pay the indicated cost and spend one (or two) action. The cost of a helper or event is generally a pound or two. Manors and farms, however, cost considerably more – often more than a dozen pounds – the cost of which is modified by the market. A player only has five spaces for cards, but additional spaces are available to be acquired when sending forth the errand boys.
Cards on the board can be activated, in most cases by spending an additional action. Many cards, such as attending a theater or going to dinner, allow the player to simply spend the specified amount of money. Manors and farms operate a bit differently. Once deployed, a player may pay the specified maintenance cost each turn. This helps reduce a player’s wealth and prevents the property from depreciating in value. At some point, however, the player will want to allow the property to depreciate, as assets must eventually be sold, preferably at a drastically reduced price.
The presence of specific companions will allow the player to spend even more money. The cards specify which companions can be added or coupled with it. For example, bringing a companion to dinner or having them take-up residence in one’s manor forces the player to spend even more money than normal. Companions can be played – usually at the cost of an action – and the appropriate token placed on the appropriate card, either a property or standing event. Alternatively, they can be played with one-shot events to increase the cost of that event.
The game is played over the course of seven turns, at which point the player with the least amount of cash remaining wins the major inheritance, which he can spend in a more leisurely and wise manner. Alternatively, the game can end sooner if a player is bankrupt by the end of a round. It is important to note that in order to become bankrupt, a player must have sold all of his properties and have no cash remaining. Players still in possession of property have their current value plus 5,000 pounds apiece added to their financial assets. The lesson? Sell your assets.
Last Will not only has a novel theme, but the flow of the game feels fresh and original. There are some familiar mechanisms, but they are blended together well, and the goal of the game forces players to take actions that are out of the ordinary. In an industry overflowing with games that are closely related cousins, this is extremely refreshing.
The challenges are numerous, and there are various paths one can pursue in their attempts to be the most wasteful spender. Learning the cards, keeping a steady supply flowing through your hand, and properly combining them for maximum expenditures are all vital keys to success.
It does take a bit to learn and adapt to the novel system. There are quite a few different cards in the various decks, and it takes some time to get used to their uses and learn the iconography. There is a helpful chart on the back of the rule book, but there should have been several included. Other than this minor quibble, I can’t find anything else substantially wrong with the game.
Designer Vladimir Suchy has enjoyed a string of popular designs, my favorite of which has been League of Six. Last Will has now risen to the top of his designs, and is my favorite release from the 2011 Spiel. It is truly a breath of fresh air … and there isn’t a medieval city in sight.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Rick Thornquist: This is one of my winners from last Essen. 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. It started as an “I like it” but with more plays has become a solid “I love it!”.
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: I’ve only played this twice, once as a prototype and once in its published form. It’s an enjoyable enough game that moves fairly quickly. I’d say it’s more like an involved middleweight than a heavy game. It’s a title I don’t mind playing, but there are things I wish worked a little better. 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. Probably the thing that bothers me the most is that in both of my games, I chose a fairly simplistic strategy which didn’t require me to do a whole lot, but which worked well enough to either let me win or get very close. Maybe I was just fortunate, but it is a concern. However, two games isn’t enough to judge, so I need to play it some more to be sure.
My rating is marginally “I Like It”. If future games don’t improve the experience, it could well fall to “Neutral”.
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!
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: One of the Essen releases I have played most. A great game. I really like the improvement in design style by Vladimir Sauchy from Shipyard to 20th Century and now Last Will. A great game. I really like a lot how the game flows: from the beginning, where you have to buy passing to a middle phase where you have to use your properties to spend money and, finally, the last phase where you have to sell and spend the last money. My full review of ths game is in the last Gamers Alliance Report issue. I’m quite sure Last Will be one of the title will survive the usual annual turn-over.
Nathan Beeler: Here I am, once again cast as a voice of dissent. I’m not saying I hated this game. Certainly that’s not true. I’ve only played it the once, anyway, and the experience was not so bad that I wouldn’t play it again. But nothing about it excited me either: the theme least of all. “Yay, we’re losing money instead of gaining it. Woo-hoo! What a twist!” Give me a break. I do generally like engine building games, though, so it had that going for it. However, the engine here was so dependent on what cards you get, often requiring either getting good card draws or killing a lot of your turn to make those cards go (to take a wild companion, for instance), that it was more of a frustration than a boon. Even that isn’t a huge fault, since a lot of games have a door that bad luck can walk through. My other main complaint, that the last part of the game seemed anti-climactic, isn’t a big problem either. No, my only real problem with Last Will is that the mechanisms of the game failed to excite me to the point of wanting to explore them further. It seemed fairly obvious how things worked, and I saw no one making any plays that I saw as particularly interesting. Perhaps if I play it again something will jump out as clever or fun in someone’s play and I can re-evaluate my opinion.
Jonathan Franklin: I’m joining Nate on this one. I had no problem with the mechanisms, but the theme fell away quickly and it became a math game for me. I have played it three times and missed the sweet spot for when to bail on buildings, over did animals, and made various other mistakes that prove that there are meaningful decisions in it. I really liked that there were different paths to victory and would happily play the 30 minute version, but for me, the full game did not scratch any particular itch.
Craig Massey: Count me among the impressed with this game. It is easily my favorite game from the titles released at Essen. This game quickly reached a half dozen plays for me in a short time which will earn it a permanent spot on my shelf. As Greg stated, the theme is fresh and while the mechanics really break little new ground, they really work well together. Like Dale I’ve yet to win a game coming ‘oh so close’ several times which fuels my desire to play even more. Larry commented that turn order can be vitally important. It is and while I have not tried it, there is a small mini-expansion that allows turn order to be manipulated as another option. Looking forward to trying it to see what it might add.
Mary Prasad: Since writing the preview article earlier, I played one more time with an “almost” final release copy (one deck of cards was duplicated so I had to use some of the prototype cards for the other deck). I’m still enjoying the game and looking forward to playing again!
Brian Leet: I was favorably impressed with this game. It is a bit icon heavy due to the language neutral components. You have a lot of symbols that exist because exactly one card in the game needs that effect, and a long reference page in the rules telling you what the effect is. But, everything is very graphically clear and after a game you’ll have it down.
The game play is clever, although at a certain level it is just inside out thinking. You are trying to get rid of a certain amount of money instead of getting a certain amount of money. But, you don’t really have income, or anything like that, so many actions are exactly as you’d expect. As Rick noted above, there is a slight element of building an engine and then needing to dismantle it before being done. However, this only relates to property investments and I’ve seen the game won by someone who only bought a single building once and otherwise spent all their money on fine dining and friends. I think a bit more of that engine building and then dismantling would move it to a Love it! for me easily. As is, it is a very strong Like it.
W. Eric Martin: If you’re looking for a quiet game of studied calculation – with the occasional outburst when some jerk steals the thing that you really, really need to kick your money-spending engine in high gear – Last Will is an ideal choice. Nothing dramatically new in the design, but a solid choice for those who like to focus on the table.
4 (Love it!): Greg Schloesser, Rick Thornquist, Tom Rosen, Dale Yu, Craig Massey, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue, Valerie Putman, Mary Prasad
3 (Like it): James Miller, Larry Levy, John Palagyi, Lorna, Jennifer Geske, Brian Leet, W. Eric Martin
2 (Neutral): Nathan Beeler, Jonathan Franklin
1 (Not for me):