The Prodigals Club
- Designer: Vladimir Suchy
- Publisher: Czech Games Edition
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 40-90 minutes
- Times played: 5, with review copy provided by CGE
The Prodigals Club has gotten the nickname of “Brewster’s Millions, the Game, take 2”. For those of you who remember the movie – it was all about the title character having to spend/give away millions of dollars in a month in order to gain an even larger inheritance. A few years ago (2011 to be exact), the game Last Will (also designed by Suchy) was the embodiment of this game – the players strived to be the first to rid themselves of a fortune in order to inherit the rest of their rich uncle’s estate.
Now in 2015, Suchy has a similarly themed release in The Prodigals Club. In this game, players are Victorian dandies, who are simply trying to out-do each other by sucking it up in three different areas: a local election, losing their money, and offending the members of high society. Each of the three different competitions is contained within its own module, and the game is designed to be played with any two of the modules combined together or even with all three combined.
The similarity between this game and Last Will is that the losing money module feels like a stripped down version of Last Will. But – if you really want to go whole hog, you can play the full three module game and REPLACE the money module with the entire Last Will game! I have not played this mega version, and I will not comment on it in this review – just know that it’s a possibility.
The game, at its core, is a worker placement game – played over 5 rounds. The overall framework of the game remains the same regardless of which components you play with – and each individual module has its own set of rules that largely does not interact with the rest of the game. I’ll start by explaining the common rules and components and then explain each module.
The overall goal is to be the best player at losing an election, losing their possessions, and losing the respect of society. Separate competitions will be held, and players will try to decrease their score throughout the course of the game (signifying losing votes, losing money and losing respect). At the end of the game, your final score is the score of whichever competition you did the WORST in – that is, the highest score amongst the modules.
At the start of the game, the game is set up. The Prodigals Club is a central triangular piece – there is an area here for player order tokens as well as for a special round that is revealed each round. Along two or three sides of this triangle, the bits for the particular modules in this game are found. Each player gets a supply of errand boys (wooden top hats) as well as a player board which has room for 6 cards. Players are also given specific equipment for the different competitions in the game.
In each of the five rounds, the game follows the same six phases
Setup – Each of the module boards is set up for the round. This generally means that cards and tiles are dealt onto spaces that need them. There are two different types of cards – white bordered cards which are placed in the player’s hand – they are generally single use cards – and dark bordered cards, which are played onto the player board, that can be used once each round. There is also a special card that is flipped up in the central Prodigal Club triangle which is also made available. There are sets of cards to be used for each of the five different module combination choices.
Errands – players take turns (in player order as seen on the center triangle) placing their errand boys onto the different action spots. Many of the spots have cards – which are placed into the player’s hand (if white) or onto the player board (if dark). You could also choose to place your marker in the player order area – to decide your spot in the next round. If you place here, you also get to choose from a selection of special action tiles. There is also a Renaissance Man token which can be claimed – this will give you two “symbols” to use during this round – more on this later. For the most part, each location only has room for one errand boy.
Actions – again in player order, each player now can take as many actions (play cards or use action tiles) as they like. Again, remember that there are two types of cards. White bordered cards are played out of your hand to the table (and they will be discarded at the end of the round). Dark bordered cards are on your player board – when you use them, you move them down on the board to show its use for this round. You are not obligated to play any action cards, but you are limited to keeping four cards in your hand at the end of the round.
Hyde Park – if the Election module is in play – then the speech competition in Hyde Park happens.
Dame Beatrice – if the Society module is in play – Dame Beatrice tries to come to your rescue and improves your standing in society
End of Round – First, check if a player has caused the game to end prematurely – this happens if any player has a score in any module at zero or less. If this happens, the game ends immediately and you move to final scoring. (The game also ends at the end of the fifth round.) Otherwise, all cards played this turn are discarded. Any cards and tiles not collected by players on the module boards are also discarded. The players all reset their dark bordered cards on their player boards. Players must also discard down to four cards in their hand. The turn order is changed if any player played on the turn order area.
So, now what about the three modules?
Election Competition – in this contest, you try to lose all the votes that your family had paid for in the past. There are plenty of cards that cause you to lose votes. You can also get megaphones each round, though actions and cards, and you will use these in the Hyde Park phase to possibly lose more votes (because you will say such horrible things that you will lose votes!). If you are the player with the fewest megaphones in this phase, you will actually gain a vote. The election module also uses tiles where you create political circles. These tiles have symbols on them, and as you place tiles, the symbols must always match. Each time that you make a match, you gain the use of that symbol. These symbols are used as modifiers for many of the cards – i.e. lose 2 votes for each horse symbol that you control. You can put the tiles together in any pattern (so long that the icons match), you will get a bonus for each 2×2 square of tiles that you make.
Possessions Competition – you start this contest with an amount of money and a pile of possession tiles (each of these tiles has a symbol in the corner of the tile as well as a money value on the tile). Ideally, you would like to sell your possessions for as little money as possible, and then in turn, spend that money. Each round, new possession tiles are dealt to the board, and you can exchange your current tiles for a new possession – hopefully with a lower base value. You can also sell your possessions, you might be able to lower the selling price based on card benefits – though note that when you sell a possession, you’ll also lose the benefit of the symbol found on that possession tile. The end goal here is to lose all your money.
Society Competition – this competition is centered around a scoreboard which shows your social standing in the eyes of two prominent men and women in town. At the start of the game, these markers are found near the top of the board, and your job is to drive their markers to the bottom. Most of the cards here allow you to move certain markers down, often based on how many of a particular icon you have. There are many symbol icons found on the society scoreboard, and if you happen to have a status marker next to a symbol, you have the use of that symbol. When this competition is in play, you also have to worry about Dame Beatrice. Each round, you flip up a tile that can possibly raise certain status markers on your board. You can avoid this penalty by moving your markers in a way that they are not eligible to be moved OR you can spend an errand boy to make yourself immune to the effects of the tile.
Note of symbols – in each of the three modules, there are ways to get symbols (inner circle tiles in the Election module, status marker positioning in the Society module, and on your possession tiles in the Possession module). You can also use an errand boy on the Renaissance Man token which allows you to name two extra symbols that you have this turn. The symbols are not limited to the module they come from – that is, you can use a house symbol on one of your Possession tiles when playing a card from the Election module. You always sum up all of your symbols when you need to use them.
Scoring – again, at the end of the game, you calculate you score in each of the modules in play, and your final score is the highest single module score. In the Election module, your score is seen on the Election scoreboard and it is how many votes you still have. In the Possessions module, your score is how much money you have left (plus the value of any possession tiles you have not yet been able to sell). In the society competition, your score is the sum of the numbers covered by the location of the four socialite markers at the end of the game. If there is a tie, you use your next highest module score.
My thoughts on the game
Prodigals Club is a well constructed game with three modules that work well in any arrangement. Having played a few times with two modules and once with all three, I’d actually say that I prefer the two module setup. The two module game is a bit shorter, and it also gives a bit more variety in each game because you might be dealing with a different setup each time out. I don’t know how the Czech guys play the game, but even the two module games clock in near 90 minutes for us – and we’re not normally a slow group!
Due to the scoring system, the game forces you to balance your attention between the different modules. You don’t have to balance it in each round, but you have to do it by the end of the game. Though the game can end prematurely if a player can get a module score to zero, that generally won’t end well for that player because if someone is able to get one score to zero, they have likely been ignoring the other modules and their final score will therefore be fairly high.
I like the way the different modules mesh together. The use of symbols is a nice way to tie things together – it also might determine in what order you will take your actions; you might choose to keep a certain possession tile around for awhile in order to keep its symbol or you might not want to move a particular socialite because it gives you a certain symbol.
The card play can make a huge difference, and timing is also important here. The dark bordered cards go onto your board, and they can be used each turn. Some of these can have huge payoffs, tied to symbols or other cards played. Others have small effects that add up to large amounts when used turn after turn. Sometimes, the best play with action cards is to save them up until the time is right to play them (either in combination with other cards or when you have the right arrangement of symbols).
I really liked Last Will, and a testament to that fact is that the game remains in my game collection currently. I was wondering if the Prodigals Club would “fire” its predecessor, and at this point, I don’t think that I can say that it will simply replace Last Will. The reason for this is that while the games are related, they play differently. Last Will is a fairly complex game where you only have one goal – to spend your money. Prodigals Club has two or three mini-games going on at the same time, but because you are necessarily dividing your time between them, none of the mini games come close to the complexity of Last Will. Sure, you could use Last Will as one of the modules – and then maybe get the best of both worlds – but I’m not sure that my game collection has room for two such similar games. At the current moment, I think I like the mini-game approach of Prodigals Club, but I just can’t make up my mind, which is why I still have Last Will. I guess at some point, I’ll try the mega game and that might force me to keep both!
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Craig Vollmar: These thoughts about the The Prodigals Club are based on playing the “basic game” (Society and Election modules only) with 5 players… The premise of trying to offend high society to lose an election and anger influential people sounds like it should be a fun and easy thing to do, but it actually turns out to require quite a bit of thought and effort when trying to do so through skillful game play. I guess the competitive struggle is supposed to mirror the turmoil and disappointment that would come with the territory if one actually tried to do this in real life. At any rate, The Prodigals Club combines a basic worker placement mechanism with strategic card play combinations and tactical track manipulation to determine which player is the best of the worst (or is it the the worst of the best?!). The selection of game play mechanisms is very interesting and work quite well together, but determining the optimal card synergy and how best to manipulate the influence tokens become an intense order of operations puzzle of that can lead to some analysis paralysis at times. This made the game seem more like work and less like play and didn’t jive with the theme for me. It also causes the game to play longer than I would have liked even when only using two of the modules (albeit we played with 5 players). The modular design that allows for various player counts and various game board configuration is fascinating though and I’d like to explore The Prodigals Club further, but perhaps with fewer players.
Craig Massey (3 plays): I was very excited to see what a follow up to Last Will would look like. On the whole I think Mr. Suchy succeeds in designer a very enjoyable sequel with a similar theme and slightly different feel. Like Dale I too a question about whether Prodigals Club would replace Last Will for me in the collection. This was going to be difficult to achieve as Last Will is one of my favorite games from the last several years. For the majority of the regulars in my weekly group, it does serve as a good replacement, but for me it does not. While the different mini games give a different challenge that is enjoyable, it is not quite as difficult or engaging as Last Will. And even though the themes are similar, Last Will’s theme is better integrated into the mechanics making it more engaging. So Last Will stays in the collection and Prodigals Club stays as well. The decision to make Last Will a usable module for Prodigals Club was a very smart choice and helps both stay in the collection.
Larry (1 play): I’ve always felt that Last Will needed an extra element to make it work. Unlike Dale and Craig M., I don’t find the game to be particularly challenging and it really only has one commodity to work with. By giving the players two or three subgames to worry about, I think Prodigals Club provides the added complexity I was looking for. Based on my one game, I’d much rather play this than Last Will. I’ve only played the prototype, so I’m looking forward to checking out the finished version.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Craig M., Larry
- Neutral. Craig V, John P
- Not for me…