Dead Last

I unfortunately wasn’t able to post last week. Report card season usually takes a toll on you when you are consistently writing the same thing over and over, so I wanted to take a bit of a break from writing.

That being said, I’m back at it and  I have one game that I do want to write about, called Dead Last.

When I first introduced this game to my group of friends, I read the introduction that the game provided and it brought up the word “tontine”. A tontine is a financial agreement made between a group of people in which the subscribers put money or assets into a fund and the last person who stays alive takes all of the money.  Now in all honesty when we first played the game, I wasn’t really familiar with the term until my friend Cyrus reminded me of an old Simpsons episode. It was the one where Abraham Simpson was being hunted down by Mr. Burns because they had both entered a tontine within their military group known as the Flying Hellfish. In this episode, Abe and Mr. Burns were essentially trying to find each other’s keys in order to open a safe that contained a collection of German artwork. It resulted with some random German guy taking all of the paintings anyway. But the episode was very analogous to “Dead Last” in that Mr. Burns, and both Abe and Bart Simpson, would do whatever it took to get the prize in the end, and really in this game, you will do socially whatever it takes to keep yourself alive.

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Dead Last is a social collusion game created by Matthew Grosso and Andy Patton. In this game you are one of 6-12 players, who enter a figurative tontine. All you have to do is keep yourself alive, and eliminate everybody else. How do you eliminate someone? It is simply by being a part of the majority of votes to eliminate a player. It means you stay alive while the player who received the majority vote is eliminated from the round. The player who stays alive at the end of the round, wins the gold bar cards that were set up at the beginning of the round. Each card has a value anywhere from 3 – 5 points and the player who is able to score 25 points wins the game.

To set up Dead Last, each player takes one of twelve decks of voting cards which represent their colour. Each deck contains 12 cards, 11 cards which have the other colours of the opponents, and one card of their own colour which says “ambush”. Take out from each set of coloured cards for player colours that are not being used in the game. Shuffle and place the gold bar cards on the table face down in a convenient spot. Take your character card and place it in a provided stand, and you’re good to go.

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To start the round, four gold bar cards are laid face down.  In order to take these gold bars, players essentially have to vote out another player at the table. Whoever gets the most votes is eliminated for the round and does not get the participate until the next round. In addition, only the players who voted in the majority stay in the round, meaning any player who did not vote in the majority are also eliminated.

There are two phases to the game, the first phase is the conspire phase. In this phase, you are trying to persuade others to align with you, or you finding another group to align with in voting someone out. In this phase, any means of communication is allowed. You are free to do whatever it takes to decide who to kill off, whether they are covert or overt. Feel free to point fingers, exchange glances, show one of your voting cards,  whisper, yell, scheme when one player goes to the bathroom, heck, if you got a cell phone next to you, use it to text someone at the table. In the end, you just don’t want to be part of the minority, or worse, be the target of a group’s majority and not know it.

The second phase is the voting phase. Each player takes one of the voting cards from their deck and plays it face down. Players can still change their vote until all players have placed their cards on the table. If a player suspects that they are, in fact, going to be targeted this round, they may choose to play their Ambush card instead of voting someone out. Once everybody has voted, each player reveals their choices and the outcomes are resolved.

Whoever received the most votes is the target and is eliminated from the round. If there is a tie for being the target, then both players are eliminated. Any player who did not vote for the target are also annihilated from the round . This is symbolized by knocking over the character cards placed in front of you. If a target played their Ambush card instead, then not only is that player is safe, but they get to eliminate one of the players who had voted them out in the majority.

The round continues until one player remains, in which case, that player receives all the gold bars. In the event that two players  are still alive, there is a phase known as the final showdown. Each player takes the three final showdown cards that say “Share”, “Steal”, or “Grab one and Go”. Both surviving players will now discuss how they want to split the Gold cards. If both players say “share”, each player will take two gold bar cards each. If one player says “steal”, while the other player says “share”, then only the player who said “steal” will get all the gold bar cards. However, if both players say “steal”, then neither player gets the cards, and each player at the table will get one gold card. If you’re concerned that you won’t get anything, the “Grab one and Go” option is available. Just like the card says, regardless of the outcome of the final showdown, playing this card lets you take one gold card from the pile.

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The player who gets 25 points worth of gold, or 24 in a 10-12 player game, is declared the winner.

I will admit, this game is pretty vicious. Before I start talking about how to play this game with a group of people, I often have to give a spiel that sounds similar to this:

“Before you guys play Dead Last, I just want all of you to know that no matter what happens in this game, you are all still friends. Leave the talk, banter, and sometimes anger and hatred with this game when it ends. Just remember that this is only a game!”

Dead Last can be an intense game since it relies on social intelligence. You’re required to talk, coerce, and convince others to join you just so that you stay alive in the round. Plus you don’t want someone to catch wind of their upcoming demise, because it could mean that they can seek vengeance and kill you off instead. It is a quick game that involves lying to your neighbour, aligning with one person and backstabbing them on the next turn, and ambushing at the moment you feel like no one is working with you. I also like how Dead Last incorporates the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem in the final Showdown. It’s cool how they put a game theory concept into action.

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Regardless of the negative feelings that can be generated through this game, Dead Last is still pretty fun. The socialization that happens within the gameplay is awesome. People are talking, getting involved, and even though eliminations happen, they happen so often that another round happens a few minutes later. Dead Last is a great light game to have if you want to get the conversation going.

The only thing that may be of an issue when playing Dead Last is, strangely enough, seat position. I recommend that when you finish a game, if you decide to play again, switch  where people are seated, or randomly draw for seat position. What I noticed in the last couple games I played, especially in larger groups, is that the same alliances were being formed and it was just due to convenience. It’s easier to work with someone to the immediate left and right of you, so you typically did that. Mixing up the positions would force players to work with different people.

As I said before, this game relies heavily on social interactions. The game is fun when people are talking, even when it is sometimes behind someone’s back. That being said, it means that you have to have a group of people willing to mingle. If you have an introverted group of friends, this game might not be best for you. There was one game where practically no one talked for fear that saying something would get them killed off. But without that conversation piece, the game is really dull.

Dead Last is like having a reality TV show, like Survivor or Big Brother, in your home except the season lasts for thirty minutes and you don’t have to do any sort of immunity challenges. It is a vindictive game that requires players to negotiate, lie, and communicate their way into surviving. It’s a neat little game to try out with your friends…well…hopefully you still will have friends by the end of it.

Pros: 

  • Great social collusion game
  • Quick to play and teach
  • Great for large groups

Cons:

  • People may get negative feelings from playing this
  • Would recommend switching seats for larger groups
  • Not recommended for introverts.
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