One day you woke up and you thought being rich, beloved and respected isn’t the way to go. Sadly you are exactly that at the moment, so something has to change. Sell your house for a nickel, berate your neighbour’s wife in a restaurant or give a drunk speech at a political meeting. That will do the trick.
The Prodigals Club is a club of young, wealthy gentleman, that try to offend other members of high society by getting rid of their own possessions, lavishly spending everything they’ve got, losing political votes and by angering every well-known and influential person in their social circles.
The one who is the best in every area can consider him or herself the winner of the game.
The game consists of three modules; a possessions module, an election module and a society module. It’s recommended that you play with two of them, but you can play with all three if you want to.
In the possessions module you need to get rid of your possessions and your money by selling or exchanging properties, you start with five or six of them, and doing reckless, money wasting, stuff.
In the election module the goal is simple; lose all your votes. You start with quite a lot and by offending people, taking unpopular measures or being seen with strange folk you start to lose these votes quickly.
You are well-regarded and liked by many in high society. That must change and that’s the goal of the society module. You’re a bad boy and the nobility needs to know that. A fight in a pub or rude behaviour during a party is what you need.
You score points in the two or three modules you choose and at the end of the game you check in which of the modules you have the highest score, which is a bad thing in this game, and that is your final score. The player with the lowest highest score wins the Prodigals Club.
A round consists of six phases; a set-up, an errand, an action, a Hyde Park, a Dame Beatrice and an end of round phase. The fourth and fifth phase only happen when you play with the election and/ or the society module.
The set-up phase is simple, you remove everything from the board, replace it with new cards or tiles or return it to their owners.
The errand phase is also quite straightforward. You have a couple of errand boys, little hat meeples, and you place them in turn order on a spot on the different module boards or on the central board. These spots allow you to do an action or to acquire cards.
Every module has its own set of white and black cards. White cards are one-time only use, like spend one coin for each green building you have, and the black bordered cards are placed on your personal player board and can be activated during the action phase or are activated when you do a specific thing, like getting a discount when you sell building with a green banner.
In the action phase you can, in player order, play your white cards or activate your black cards. The broker, for instance, lets you sell one of your possessions.
In Hyde Park, which only happens if you play with the election module, players will give speeches, in your case bad or offending speeches. Players acquire and play cards with megaphones on them in the errand or the action phase and the player with the fewest megaphones gets a penalty, more votes, and the player with the most megaphones gets a reward, fewer votes.
Dame Beatrice is a lovely old lady who likes to tell stories about how cute and how nice you were when you were a young man and you don’t want that. Every round her tile will show where the four influence markers on your Society player board cannot be, for instance during this round the tokens cannot be in the yellow and red row. If they do, you get a penalty, people will like you more.
During the end of the round you check if a player has triggered the end of the game by having a score of zero or less in one of the modules. If that’s not the case, you mark the new player order, clear the different boards, every player discards down to four cards in their hand and you go on to the next round. The game takes five rounds if no player ever triggers the end of the game.
I was interested in Last Will, Vladimír Suchý’s previous game, for a while and when this game, the Prodigals Club, came out during Essen ’15 I thought that it looked like an evolution of Last Will. It had a similar theme, but it has more modules to mess around with.
I was interested in the theme because I liked the idea of spending your money instead of getting more and more money. And I thought that taking your horse to the theatre was quite funny.
However, with respect to the theme, I was a bit disappointed. Well, maybe disappointed is a not exactly the right word, but although the individual cards and illustrations are pretty funny, the whole experience, the game as a whole, is not necessarily funny. It’s a pretty thinky game, whether you play with two modules or three, so you are very focused on the mechanisms and therefore the theme, or the story, becomes less important.
That said, the mechanism are solid and the game is very fun to play. The Knizian (I’m not sure if he really was the first one that did it or not) scoring mechanism of your worst score being your final score makes for a tense game. You have to divide your attention between the modules. If you end the game too soon, while you still have too many points in the other modules, you will lose.
The combination of the worker placement phase and the action card phase works perfectly. On every module board you’ll find spots where you can buy cards. But not every spot has the same amount of cards; some have more white cards, others have more black cards. You do see what’s for sale, so there are no surprises there.
These cards are very important, but many cards are handy during one part of the game and worthless during other parts. Having a black card that gives you a discount when you sell a possession with a red emblem is only worth something if you have those red possessions or have any possession at all.
Every module has its own mini game, so to speak, and one result of playing these games right is that you get certain, temporary, symbols, like dog, horse or carriage symbols. In the possession module you get these symbols if you have certain possessions. In the election module you get these symbols by acquiring ‘political circle’ pieces and matching sides with the same symbols. In the society module you have your own player board with three ladders, or columns, in three colours where you can move four pieces, two male and two female, up and down and from left to right. The goal is to get them all down, which makes them worth the least amount of points, but on some spots you’ll find a symbol and if one of your pieces lies there you can use that symbol.
What does using that symbol mean? Well, many cards link an action to a symbol. For instance, you lose two votes for every theatre symbol you have, or move a piece one spot downwards on the social ladder for every house symbol you have. You can image that this enables you to lose many points with one action if you are able to occupy the right spots or own the right tokens. However, this ensures that you have to puzzle quite a bit for it to work well. You want to get rid of the buildings, you want to move your society markers down, but you need to do it at the right time or get the right cards when they are offered.
The Dame Beatrice and Hyde Park phase are nice. You can place an errand boy at the Dame Beatrice spot, so you can ignore that phase that round. The Hyde Park phase always takes place, but the penalty is only one vote if you have the least megaphones. Both of these phases show you what the game really is about. You can’t have everything, you can’t be the worst politician, the biggest party pooper and the biggest spender in the same round. You have to divide your attention. One round, you’ll be focussing on getting rid of your possessions and the other you are trying to lose votes, just because the cards that are on the table are better for you at this moment or other players are taking all the good spots in the other area’s. So, during some rounds you’ll have to take your losses, what Dame Beatrice is concerned.
In the end, you have to find a way to be just as bad in all area’s and that’s pretty hard to do.
I found that the game played well with every player count, but I have to be honest and say that I haven’t played it with five players. So, two to four player is fine, five players you’ll have to check out yourself.
In conclusion, the Prodigals Club has nice and funny illustrations. The game looks great, but in the end it’s too thinky to really get into the theme. The mechanisms are really solid and the combination of worker placement on the one hand and clever card play on the other works like a charm.
I recommend this one, it was one of the better games of 2015. You can play with three modules, or play with two of the three in different combinations, and, if you have Last Will, you can play with that game as one of the modules. A lot of game in the box. A great one.
A new year. A new list. Vote As a Board Gamer up on boardgamelink.com.