Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combine Ca$h 'n Gun$ and the tv series, Survivor? Well, neither did I. Needless to say, it has been done. Dead Last is brought to us from Smirk & Dagger, the lovely folks who brought us Cutthroat Caverns. Will Dead Last destroy friendships or will it spur on new ones?
The premise of Dead Last follows that of a Tontine Scheme. You and your fellow gamers have all contributed money to a bank account. You all agree that once everyone but one person is dead, that last person will receive everything that is in that account. As patient as many may be, your friends are not. Everyone has decided to take matters into their hands and will attempt to kill everyone until they are dead last.
Dead Last is an interesting beast. It involves fast-paced decisions that could end your game for a short period or allow it to continue (momentarily). The game plays very clearly, if you don't know people are voting for you, you are dead. The social collusion game involves 6 to 12 players each with a standee of their player colour and a hand of cards, one card for each other player in the game and an ambush card with your colour on it. The games comprises of many rounds each lasting 90 seconds (although this can be changed if the players desire). During these 90 seconds, players can do whatever they want. A player could announce to the table that they are voting for yellow, text message a friend that the players next to them are voting for them, pull a player from the table to discuss strategy in private, etc. Anything can be done as long as everyone has selected a card from their hand and has placed it on the table before time is up. The player who has received the most votes is out, and anyone who did not vote for the person with the most votes is also out. If two players tie for the majority of the votes, they both die. If a player plays their ambush card and they received the most votes instead of them dying themselves they can choose one other player that voted for them and eliminate them instead. If a player plays their ambush card and they didn't receive the most votes they die.
Following some players being eliminated, rounds continue in the same way until there are one or two players left. If one player is left, then they receive four gold cards worth 3, 4 or 5 points. If two players are left they encounter a situation similar to the prisoners' dilemma, the Final Showdown. Both remaining players are given the option, do they steal all the gold for themselves, share the gold with the other player or just grab one and go. There are six possible outcomes from this, e.g. if one player chooses to steal and the other chooses share then the player who chose steal receives four gold bricks and the other receives nothing. The whole process is repeated until one player has 25 or 24 points (depending on player count) and the game will end. The player with the most points at that time is the winner of Dead Last.
I can certainly say, I have played many social deduction games. But, this social collusion game is a first. At the beginning of the game, there is no direction. Players naturally begin to pick on other players and team-up. It is unquestionably a weird experience the first time around. Players are quickly eliminated, and an interesting thing happens, all the players that just formed an alliance are now the only players left. This forces the players to break alliances and ensures people will never have each other's backs. These alliances are dictated by positioning on the table (generally). Most players will begin to discuss with the players around them causing the next round to include all the players on one side of the table. This leads me to my first complaint of Dead Last.
Over recent years, I have become used to playing games with little to no player elimination. Dead Last is the definition of player elimination. Now, that alone is not my complaint; the complaint is that so many players get eliminated that it is too easy to disengage with the game considering most of the players around you are also eliminated. When I play a game, I want everyone to be invested for as much time as possible. Which leads me to my next point, the game length. When looking at individual rounds, Dead Last moves at a brisk pace, especially when everyone knows what is going on. However, with a 12 player game, if everyone is playing well and isn't allowing other players to get too far ahead, this game can get dragging your feet long. It feels the length is artificial. My recommendation is to play as many rounds as you see fit and once the majority of the group is looking to play something else or end the game, do it.
All in all, I had a good time with Dead Last. There were many 'jump' out of your seat moments when a player pulls off an ambush or when you realise the person you were scheming with stabs you in the back. You just have to hope that these moments often happen in your group's plays. In small bursts, Dead Last is a fun time. It caters to close groups and improves as a meta-game is developed. If you enjoy teaming up with your friends against others, have a large game group or take that style games then I highly recommend Dead Last. Unfortunately for me, this is not a game I will be coming back to often, as I generally have too few or too many players to account for. If you can get 6 to 8 players together, give it a go.
A quick note for those who are colour-blind, all cards have different pictures for each colour, and the colour is also written on each card.
Be aware that the original printing's insert does not provide enough space for the Final Showdown cards