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Subject: A GFBR Review: How good are you at spending money? rss

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GeekInsight
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Whittier
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This week, we take a look at Last Will, a fantastic game about spending your money as wantonly and frivolously as possible. This game uses the euro efficiency model of taking actions with as few resources as possible and turns it on its head. In Last Will, the players compete to be the first player to go broke. How good are you at spending money?

The players are all well to do nephews of a very wealthy uncle who has recently passed on. In his Last Will and Testament, he declared that, though he amassed a fortune, he never really got a chance to enjoy it all. So he has decided to give his fortune to the nephew that will most enjoy it. To determine that, he gives each nephew a certain sum. The first to spend it all gets the entire fortune.

The Basics. Last Will takes place over 7 rounds or less. When a player goes broke, that round is played to the end and the player who got farthest into debt wins. The players try to do as much as they possibly can to spend money: they invite and support old friends, they take carriage rides with lovely ladies, they over pay for property and sell it at a loss, they even take their horse to the theater.

Each round, the start player (which passes left each round), chooses one of several available spaces. Each space does four things: it tells you how many cards you can draw, it tells you how many errand boys you may send, it gives you a certain number of actions to play or use cards, and it decides your turn order when sending errand boys. Each can be a critical element in choosing which place to take.

After placing his piece, the player can immediately draw the designated number of cards. Cards can come from four different piles: events, which are one-shot use expenses; companions, which are guests you can invite along with you to trips or place in your properties; properties, where you buy high and sell low; and ongoing, people that stay permanently or other ongoing cards such as carriage rides and dinner reservations.

After all cards have been drawn, the players can send their errand boys out in turn order. Mostly, the errand boys will be used to snatch up specific cards that a player wants from the board. They can also be used to buy opera tickets. This is a fairly standard worker placement phase of the game.

Finally, the time comes to make use of your actions. Each card played is an action. Some cards let you spend more actions to spend more money. Buying and selling property also takes an action. So you’ll have to balance your desire for more cards with the knowledge that you may not be able to play them all this turn.

The Feel. Last Will is a wonderful ride. It retains all the weight of a medium euro while still managing to pull off a light-hearted air in the theme. It’s a combination that is very rare in the gaming world. Someone somewhere decreed that medium or heavy euros must all have serious themes about farming, starvation, and postal routes. Last Will delightfully bucks this trend and provides a solid game that also causes smiles and mirth.

The gameplay, though, is what drew to me into the game after the first play. The game is all about managing your limited actions and trying to build nice combos that cause you to spend more money. In one game, for example, I hired a Coachman. He allowed me to pay extra money any time I took a coach action. Then I also placed down two carriage rides and played as many coach events as possible. Hiring that one coachman helped propel me into bankruptcy.

The properties are the trickiest part of the game to manage. Initially, they seem fantastic. You can get rid of 25 pounds or more simply by buying an expensive property. But unless you allow it to deteriorate over several turns, or else throw a wild party in there, it will also be sold for a similar price. That brings you more cash in hand for you to get rid of. And, unless you’ve got some other system in place, you might be left holding wads of cash at game end.

What I can’t stress enough is that the whole point of the game is to abandon frugality and spend, spend, spend. Last Will is an economic game where money is your enemy and must be destroyed. It is such a different mindset. When players learn the game, especially those with experience in other economic games, there is an instinctive dislike of taking something the “School Chum” who also costs you money each turn. When in fact, that particular chum is the best since you can get rid of money that way. It’s a fantastic deviation from the norm and really helps make the game more enjoyable.

What’s more, even though it is not a light game, the light theme means I can sneak it onto the table with casual and non-gamers. It plays in about 60-90 minutes, which isn’t so long that casuals get scared. And when I tell people we are spending all our money to earn our uncle’s fortune, even non-gamers are tickled by it and want to give it a go.

Components: 4 of 5. The game uses a ton of cards with at least five different decks used in every game. This could easily have been published with those hard to shuffle mini cards that I hate. Instead, Last Will comes with full size cards that make shuffling a joy. The cards are on nice stock and I’m not worried about wear, though the iconography is not always immediately decipherable. The errand boys are also fun little top hats. Adding guests to your properties is done through little colored discs, which I guess is the euro alternative to cubes. They’re functional and plentiful, just not especially evocative.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. With so many cards, and so many potential combos, luck will play a role in every game. However, while combos differ in strength, there are no “overpowered” combos that break the game. And, in every game I’ve played, every player has been able to get some form of synergy working between their card, so the luck factor doesn’t lead to frustration. Still, if an opponent can get out a significant combo early on, especially first turn (which is quite rare), you may have to work extra hard to make up the difference.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. I love the way Last Will works. Each choice at the beginning of a round has a trade off in terms of cards, errand boys, and actions. This makes those early choices very meaningful and players will often sacrifice one benefit to get another. The whole game is intuitive with the theme sliding in seamlessly with the bare rules. My one nit to pick here, though, is that the player who chooses his action slot first simply changes from round to round. Depending on the cards that come out in your particular round, that may be a boon, or a detriment. Fortunately, the BGG store sells a turn order track mini-expansion that can ameliorate this difficulty.

Replayability 3 of 5
. The two things that make Last Will so enjoyable are the theme and the goal of ridding yourself of money. For now, these things keep me returning to Last Will again and again. But I wonder if the novelty will wear off at some point. Maybe, maybe not. After several plays I’m not sick of it yet. Plus, its one of those rare great games that can handle five players. In my group, that means it gets played more often.

Spite: 1 of 5. Last Will is a low spite game. In fact, once the players are on phase 3 of a round – placing action cards down on their boards – there is no interaction at all. All the interaction comes in phases one and three where you select action slots and place errand boys. Spite is possible here, by grabbing up a card someone else wanted. But with a maximum of two errand boys, players generally prefer to get something they need rather than spite an opponent.

Overall: 4.5 of 5. The theme is wonderful, the gameplay tight, and the whole experience is just fun. Playing Last Will requires you to think differently about your resources. I’ve enjoyed each and every play and I’m always looking forward to the next one. If you haven’t had a chance to get this to the table yet, then you’re missing out. This game is definitely worth your time to play.

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
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Doobermite
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Great review. Last Will is a game where I actually feel the theme rather than just playing a bunch of mechanics. The components are beautiful. It's a Euro done right.
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GeekInsight
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Totally agree. It has all the efficiency and bits of a euro, but the theme is so pervasive that it is hard not to see it throughout the game.
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