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Reviewer: Chris from Essex
The PRODIGALS CLUB
Designed by Vladimír Suchý for CGE (Czech Games Edition)with Art by Tomáš Kučerovský
The PRODIGALS CLUB is related to another of Vladimir Suchy’s games, “LAST WILL” which was also published by Czech Games Edition and featured artwork by Tomáš Kučerovský. Both games can be played in concert, though neither is required to play the other as they are both stand-alone entities.
I have never been fortunate to play “The Last Will” but I have played several of the authors other games, including League of Six, Shipyard and 20th Century, all of which are enjoyable family/gamer strategy entertainments.
The PRODIGALS CLUB is probably unlike any other game you have played as it is very close to being three games (aka modules) running at the same time and which when one ends are all compared to determine the winner. The Players are in competition to lose all their Political influence, Possessions and Social Standing. Simply calling each other names and sweeping your money under the carpet isn’t allowed (even though it may be fun) which is a bit of a pity because despite the premise of the game being to lose everything including social standing being creative with your vocals towards your opponents gains you nothing within the game.
Players are trying to bring their scores in the three areas down to as close to, or below, zero as possible. However the winner is not the first to get a score down to nil because each player is trying to be the one who has the lowest score on their highest scoring module. In case this is boggling your mind let’s say, in a 3-player game for example, Jesse has scores of 6, 8 and 10, Ted has scores of 0, 4 and 8, and Hannah’s scores were -3, 0 and 14. The final reckoning would show Ted winning with a score of 8, Jesse next with 10 and Hannah (despite having a zero and a negative) scores 14. So this is not an “eggs in one basket” type of game.
On the back of the 12 page rules booklet is a reference sheet. If you have the means I suggest you copy this so that all players (2-5) can have continuing access to a copy.
The game board is set up by placing the three separate module boards adjacent to the sides of the triangular central board, one per side but in no specific order, so using the board as illustrated in the rules just makes it easier. These boards are double-side-printed and used dependant to the number of players. Because there are a fair number of components and cards, each of the three boards has their own deck of black cards and their own deck of white cards, setting up the boards takes a few moments. Anything remaining on them at the end of the round is simply removed and then the boards are setup from fresh. Rounds have 6 phases, some of which are basics, and others are directly related to the modules.
A Round consists of; Setup, Errands, Actions, a Possessions competition, an Election competition (Hyde Park), a Society competition (Dame Beatrice) and the end of the round.
When the Actions phase begins each player has one chance to perform the Actions they want to. They are not limited to the number of Actions they can take other than by having the means to be able to perform them. However this phase is one-shot so all Actions a player wishes to take have to be taken in one turn.
Each competition works in tandem with the others but also in its own specifically unique manner. For instance you are collecting Megaphones in Hyde Park (the Election competition) so that you can make an objective speech, so objective that if you have the most Megaphones you upset the voters and lose votes. In the Society competition you are well liked and one of the most influential citizens so to lose your status you need to be on your best bad behaviour.
Each of the boards has spaces for 3 or 4 cards which are dealt out face up during setup. Players each have a number of Top Hats (colour ID’d errand boys) which, in their turn they place on the game boards and immediately perform the corresponding errand, one Top Hat per space – no doubling up. There are more than enough errands available, so it is up to you and your strategy which ones you take. This is one of those games where you often have to choose between errands you want to do, knowing full well that another player is almost certainly going to take the one that you don’t – it is generally unlikely, from experience, that you will be lucky enough to have all your wishes fulfilled (ie not taken by another player).
The Central Board, the triangle, has a different card placed on it each Round. This card ties in with the three competition modules and can be taken for use by a player by the placing of a Top Hat in the same way as placing one on the adjacent Competition boards.
With so many worker placement games available and more likely to be found at Spiel in October a game of this genre has to be special or have something extra going for it. The PRODIGALS CLUB doesn’t have a title that rolls off the tongue and promotes the feeling of excitement and although the artwork is excellent it is also very East European and although it fits in nicely with the idea of a Gentlemen’s Club, it is not particularly what would be classed as “eye-candy”. Thus to challenge the numerous aforementioned games for a space at your gaming table it needs to have a certain je ne sais quoi and to that end the multi competition boards and the way they all tie together through errands and actions is very much to the forefront of what core board gamers would look for.
The game must have some faults I hear you say and indeed it does, but not really anything to cause concern. The biggest problem is the first reading of the rules. Although they are only 12 pages long they are the epitome of a mental struggle of understanding. The first reading is like wading through a lexographical mire of molasses; and then suddenly the proverbial penny drops and all, as they say, becomes clear. Once one player has deciphered the rules they are easy to teach to other players, though, as I said earlier, it would have been nicer had the publisher included reference sheets for all players and not just a shared sheet on the back of the rules. Top quality in production, components and ideas, this is a game from CGE that is more core gamer and less family oriented. Takes about 90 minutes to play and keeps the entertainment value high throughout.