Saturday, May 27, 2017

Board Game Review: Dead Last

This image is a triptych of three photos side by side. On the left is a photo of the Yellow player card, standing on the table by means of a plastic base. The image on the card is a woman holding two submachine guns. The middle image is a set of voting cards, one each for the Black, Blue, Teal, and Red players, as well as the yellow Ambush card, and a gold bar card showing a value of four. On the right is a detail of the game box, showing the title against a splatter of blood, with four coloured sections behind it. The green section in the upper left has a man in silhouette, and the red section on lower right has a woman holding a gun pointed towards the viewer. The blue and yellow sections can't really be seen very well.

I got to play Dead Last recently. This was exciting, because I'd been curious about it for some time. Here are my thoughts on it. Starting with the numbers. Of course.
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 1
Humour: Inherent
Attractiveness: Average
Average Length of Game Play: 30 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: High
  Social Manipulation: High
  Fantasy: Medium

An Overview of Dead Last

Players all stand to inherit a substantial sum of money, but only if everyone else is dead. Thus, they must engage in collusion, secret alliances, and backstabbing to knock each other off and be the last one alive.

Here's how it works: each player has a colour. They stand their cards, which indicates their player colours, in plastic bases which hold the cards upright in front of them. They then hold in their hand a set of voting cards. These consist of one card for each other player, as well as an 'ambush!' card.

For example, if you are playing Teal, you have the Teal character card standing in front of you, and hold in your hands one card for each other player in the game (in a nine-player game, for instance, you may have a Red, Grey, Purple, Yellow, Pink, Orange, Black, and Green card in your hand). In addition to these eight cards, you have one of your own colour (in this case, Teal) that says 'Ambush!'

The round begins with players discussing who to kill. Such discussion does not have to be overt; in fact, it's generally better if it's not. You are encouraged to use any covert means you can: furtive glances, winks and nods, flashing cards, subtly pointing, nudging under the table, and so forth.

Eventually, everyone chooses a card from their hand. The card you choose will indicate who you're trying to kill. Everyone reveals their cards simultaneously. Whichever colour has received the most votes is the Victim. If there is a tie for most votes, then everyone in that tie is a Victim.

Victims are killed, and are knocked out of the round. They place their character colour card down on the table to indicate that they are out for the remainder of the round. Any player who did not reveal a card corresponding to one of the Victims is also killed (for example, if Green was the Victim and you played a Teal card, you are killed).

However, if a Victim has played his 'Ambush!' card instead of voting for another player, then he is not killed. Instead, he gets to choose one of his attackers to be killed in his place. This card must be used wisely, though; if you play your 'Ambush!' card and are not the Victim, then you are killed anyway!

Voting continues in this manner until one of three conditions are met:
  1. All players are dead. In this case, all players reset their character colour cards and begin a new round of voting.
  2. All but one player are dead. In this case, the surviving player takes all four of the gold bar cards in the centre of the table (more on gold bars in a moment).
  3. All but two players are dead. The two surviving players go on to play a Final Showdown. Each player secretly chooses one of three Final Showdown cards. They then reveal them at the same time. Final Showdown cards include Share, Steal, and Grab One & Go.
    1. If both players reveal Share cards, they each get two gold bar cards.
    2. If one player reveals Share but the other reveals Steal, the player who has Steal gets all four bars.
    3. If both players reveal Steal, then neither gets any gold bar cards; instead, they are distributed amongst the other players.
    4. If both players reveal Grab One & Go, they each get one gold bar card.
    5. If one player reveals Grab One & Go, but the other reveals either Share or Steal, the player with Grab One & Go gets one gold bar card, and the other player gets the remaining three.

Winning

The Gold Bar cards each have a point value from 3 to 5 listed on them. There are always four in the centre of the table. If, at the end of any voting round, there are fewer than four cards, the supply is replenished. The first player to reach the target point value (which depends on the number of players) is the winner.

My Thoughts

This game is quick and bloody. It's also quite humorous; players are constantly bantering as they try to convince one another to target a certain player, or talk smack amongst each other. And when the cards are revealed, there is often much shouting of 'Ohh!' as players realise their plans have been thwarted by someone not going along with their plan.

I remember one round in particular in which I was about to choose a colour card from my hand, when I suddenly realised that I was feeling very suspicious about the other players. I can't say what it was that tipped me off, but I put the card back in my hand and chose the 'Ambush!' card instead. It turned out to be a good thing I did, too, as every other player had chosen my colour.

However, the rest of the game did not go so well for me. As I've mentioned in the past, I find social cues more difficult to read than most. This means that I am often at a loss as to how other players are trying to get me to vote. So many of those subtle social signals that make up the fabric of most people's daily lives go completely over my head. That made this game very hard for me to play well.

I know I wasn't the only one. One of the other players announced at one point that she was a high-functioning autistic, and she was suffering the same problem I was (though probably on a larger scale). 

So ultimately, this game is really going to appeal to people based on their existing social skills. Unlike with most games, which provide a framework for social interaction, Dead Last relies specifically on those social interactions.

Of course, that doesn't mean it's a bad game. Just that its appeal will be somewhat limited in the arena of players. So give it a try! Heck, even if you're socially inept as I am, give it a try anyway. You might find it works for you in a way that it did not for me. But whatever you decide to try, remember as always to 

Game on!

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