In Last Will, players are heirs scrambling to fulfill a condition of their eccentric (and exceedingly wealthy) uncle’s will. The first player to bankrupt themselves of their share of the inheritance will be awarded the sizable remainder. Players send their errand boys to find new ways of squandering money. Expenses (both one-shot and repeatable) represent events such as extravagant dinners or nights at the theatre. Helpers represent employees, all of whom are untrustworthy individuals who will leech off of you while barely being of any service. Properties are mansions and farms that start of as fixer-uppers and ideally end up as rubble, allowed to decay until you nearly have to pay to get rid of them. Amidst all this are your girlfriends, pets, and employees who will gladly accompany you to make any engagement more expensive.
In Last Will each round feels like a chain of interlinked mini-games, like a eurogame version of “The Eliminator” from American Gladiators. First, players call dibs on slots determining the resources (workers, actions, cards, turn order) they’ll have to work with in a beautifully interconnected manner. What seems at first to be a random jumble of options eventually seems to be optimized and balanced exceptionally well (i.e. the 4 action space is very late in the turn order, making it very difficult to use those actions if a good white card is on the board, etc). Afterward, players must squabble over the pseudo-worker-placement game, spending their top hat meeples (adorable) to claim cards, spend money, meddle with the estate markets. Next, there’s an action point allowance system, put to work in activating various cards in a player’s economic destruction engine; a tableau which can be expanded turn by turn. Additionally, there are a wide variety of interactions between helpers, companions, properties and expenses that can allow for the development of an efficient money-destroying machine.
What’s more, the various cards are all gorgeously illustrated and interact flavorfully (and hilariously)… for example, a visit to the opera may cost 3 pounds, but it costs double if you wish to bring your horses into your private box, A great restaurant will charge you 3 pounds a week for a standing reservation, but start bringing your two beloved greyhounds and you might find the bill a bit steeper.
Additionally, this game has a very high “tabling ratio”, a new term I have just coined which is equal to (P / B) where B is the number of times I bring a game to a game night, and P is the number of times it is actually played. So far, Last Will has a 1. I’ll repeat that: every time I have brought this to my game night, someone has wanted to play it. There are probably a few “Ooh” factors that contribute to this: The graphics in the game are gorgeous, the flavor is not “exchanging mathematics tiles in a medieval land”, and there are tiny top hats which everybody loves and must touch.
However… it is kind of beastly to teach, for a few reasons. The game has some arcane iconography. For the most part it’s easy to understand, but there are some horrendously bad choices. For example, +A means that you gain an action this round, however A+ means something costs 2 actions. There’s a coin drawn on my card, but it’s not immediately clear if that’s a cost, or an effect. Does this card require an action to play, or only when I activate it? What does “orange house and yellow house with some arrows between them, times three, equals ? pounds” mean? The reference on the back of the rulebook is great, but it was passed around nearly constantly, and with slightly different choices, could have been less of a necessity.
The other thing that keeps this game from being a knock-out is that the game’s objective isn’t ACTUALLY as straightforward as it seems. I’d say that the “Aha” moment for a new gamer, when they really get how everything interacts, unfortunately comes riiiiiiight when the game is about to end. I’ve always played Carcassonne with new players without the Farmers, because seeming to be ahead then losing in a landslide is a recipe for disappointment and sadness. This game has a similar problem with the way properties work. It’s easy to SEEM to be winning by buying expensive houses, then suddenly realize you don’t have a chance of winning once a player is very near the zero mark and owns far less property than you. Unlike Carcassonne, this element of the game cannot be magicked away for new players; no matter how hard you explain it, newer players will usually fail to consider the (significant) value of their property when intuitively comparing positions with other players.
Also, maybe I’m being greedy but… Well, the top hats and the little houses are so great. Maybe they’re too great, because it now annoys me that the companions are just dumb little circles? Why not chef hats, kiss marks, bones, and horseshoes? WHY NOT. WHYYYY NOTTTT. Also they roll around. Ugh. Also, what’s up with this polyhedron tower for the turn order marker? Why not a monocle? Why not a walking stick? Heck, why not a REAL TOP HAT. I dunno, I feel like the rest of the game is so gorgeous and flavorful, these components are sort of disappointing. Even cubes would be better, because they wouldn’t roll off the table all the time.
I’ve had fun with this game each time I’ve played it, and would recommend it on the “tabling ratio” alone. Any pleasant game that people want to play this often is a game that will not be traveling to the Geek Marketplace anytime soon. If your gaming group will approve of something medium-weight with a lot of interesting decisions, I imagine this will be a hit there. It’s potentially not heavy enough (and has too much luck) for brain-burner fans, and newer gamers will need a bit of a primer on some of its mechanics before really being able to appreciate this.