Board Game Review: Prodigals Club – Lose it All!

A Victorian gentleman husbands his wealth, courts societal esteem, and aspires to high office. In other words, the gentleman’s life is quite dull and you want nothing of it. That’s why you and a few rogues, who have been born to privilege, have created the Prodigals Club. The goal: to lose the most wealth, esteem, and votes.

The Basics. Prodigals Club allows the players to mix and match any two of three boards. A Possessions board deals with your money and items. The Society board keeps track of your reputation in polite company. And the Elections board tallies the potential votes you have. The standard game has the players pick any two. The game also allows you to compete on all three boards.

Each round, the boards are seeded with various cards and tiles unique to that competition. There is also a central board with cards unique to the different combinations. That way, you will see crossover cards. Then, each player gets a number of errand boys. Those boys are placed on different spots to pick up various cards or get one-time benefits.

All three boards will provide the most fulfilling experience

After the errand boys finish, players can play whatever cards they like and take their effects. They might demean your standing in society, cost you votes, or decrease your wealth. Many of the cards key off of certain symbols. For example, you might lose societal standing for every horse symbol, or lose a vote for every wine glass. The more symbols you have, the more effective your cards will be. Of course, as you sell possessions or lose societal standing, you also tend to lose symbols. So your engine tends to break down as the game develops.

If the Elections board is in play, then you also count how many megaphones have been played. The player with most (the loudest) loses votes. The player with the fewest, gains a vote. If the Society board is in play, you also have to deal with Dame Beatrice. She’s a sweet old lady who is very well respected and remembers all of you from the time you were little. Even though you’ve been rude, she tries to repair your reputation each round. If your figures match her tile, you will increase in esteem.

The game lasts for five rounds. At the conclusion, each player scores their societal standing, number of votes, and wealth. The highest number for each player becomes their final score. Then final scores are compared. The player with the lowest final score is the winner.

Kindly Dame Beatrice thinks so highly of you

The Feel. Prodigals Club is a flurry of activity. The five round limit sets a brisk pace for the rest of the game. In other worker placement games, you spend the first few turns building your engine, and the rest of the game running it toward victory. Here, the game pushes you to move much more quickly.

And it isn’t just the round limit, either. It’s the competition boards. As player’s place their errand boys, those boards fill up fast. The cards are often the first to go, and they disappear quickly. Cards, after all, will often have the most dramatic effects – especially if they key off of or combine with other cards or symbols you already have. But the single-use spaces are also quite good.

“Ugh, that guy was just so loud and annoying. I don’t think I can vote for him any more.”

The single-use spaces are unique to their boards. On the Society board, for example, there is a spot where you offend Dame Beatrice so she doesn’t talk you up that round – freeing you from worrying about her effects. There are also spaces that will move your standing down directly. The central board also has a few such spaces. There’s a Renaissance Man tile, for example. That tile provides you with two of any symbol that is common to all three competitions.

Because there aren’t a plethora of errand boy spaces, competition tends to be quite fierce. In my four player game, the turn order spaces were often occupied. And there is some randomness to how the cards come out. If two cards that combine nicely appear on consecutive turns, then you may be able to snag both and start an engine. Or if they appear on the same slot in a turn, even better! But sometimes they appear in different slots on the same turn. Card spaces go so fast that it’s uncommon for you to be able to grab two good slots on one turn.

“Have you heard what he did?” “Ghastly!”

The most interesting aspect of the game is that you will often build up little engines and then destroy them. For example, you may have possessions with a carriage symbol. And you have a card that says you lose votes for every carriage symbol. Great! But at some point, you’ll need to get rid of that possession – and the corresponding horse symbol.

Each board deals with this “engine” aspect of the game differently. In Possessions, you eventually want to destroy all of your symbols. So you are playing a little bit of engine destruction, hoping to get what you need then sell off the goods. On the Society board, symbols are scattered about. As you go down the board, you may gain and lose various symbols. So you try to get people to like you for a time, then lose the symbol you’ve built toward. Then hopefully gain it again a little lower, or build towards something else. On the Elections Board, though, you keep symbols that you achieve. So getting one or two in early means that you will always be able to rely on them.

Because this title is a successor to Last Will, comparisons are inevitable. Both turn old concepts on their head by having you lose, rather than gain, prestige. Both have the same designer and artist. And, in fact, you can play Prodigals Club and Last Will together by inserting Last Will in as the Possessions board.

Wealth is overrated

If you play Prodigals Club with only two boards (the standard way to play), then Last Will is the superior game. It has a better engine experience, allows you to plan a little better, and nicely balances turn order with actions and options. But with all three competitions in play, Prodigals Club really shines.

With three boards, you find your attention pulled in so many different ways. Two competitions is fairly easy to manage. Three … not so much. And the way the different symbols play off one another is fantastic. I can build political symbols that give me reasons to lose societal esteem. Meanwhile, I know I need to get rid of my possessions at some point, but I don’t want to lose that symbol just yet. It has a great decision space where you are constantly reevaluating when to make your move and which competition you’re doing well or poorly in.

Competing in multiple semi-distinct areas creates a neat experience. You might feel successful in one area, and then realize you’ll never win without losing some possessions. There’s a satisfying back-and-forth tension. And there’s certainly room on the shelf for this title and Last Will. I look forward to further plays of both.

Who needs all this junk?

Components: 4 of 5. The bits are really good. The errand boys are the same top hat figures previously used by Last Will. The cards are good quality. The symbols are clear and understandable while the artwork is fun and evocative. The boards are perhaps a smidgen thinner than I’d prefer, but I’m not worried they’ll be easily damaged.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. The cards come out semi-randomly. Sure, there is some restriction, but it tends to make the game a little more tactical. You can have longer term plans, but you need to be able to reevaluate and shift gears when necessary. And, with only five rounds, plans tend to be short term anyway.

Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. I really like how Prodigals Club is put together. It draws a lot of inspiration and familiarity from Last Will, but then builds on it in some interesting ways. Destroying your engine as you give up points works really well (for the boards that use it). And, because the competitions overlap just slightly, you can experience it either as individual mini games, or as an overarching affair where one competition bleeds into the next.

Replayability: 3 of 5. The game recommends playing with two competitions at a time. That leaves you with three different combinations that provide relatively different experiences. But my preference is the full, three competition experience. Because there are no random draws, the game plays somewhat similarly each time. There are few surprises. Still, the experience is fun enough that I can see a return to this title on a regular basis.

Spite: 1 of 5. There are no “take that” abilities or direct attacks in this game. Like many worker placement titles, you can always grab something that your opponent wanted. But, frankly, the competition is so fierce for the spots that it rarely feels like a “spite” move. It’s just that someone else also found it useful and got there before you.

Center cards, like the cheap assistant, can impact all three competitions

Overall: 4 of 5. Prodigals Club is highly enjoyable. Fun theme, interesting mechanics, and the multi-competition is great. Fans of Last Will should see a lot to love as well. While it isn’t quite to the greatness of its predecessor, Prodigals Club is faster, includes new challenges, and introduces engine destruction. There is room for the shelf for both titles.

(A special thanks to Czech Games Edition for providing a review copy of Prodigals Club)

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