Friday, May 13, 2016

Quick Review - Death Wish - Kickstarter Preview

Death Wish
Designed by: Jason Hibbert
Published by: Sketchy Games
Quick Review - Death Wish - Kickstarter Preview

Every winter it seems like someone is always getting sick.  Get-together after get-together seems to always get cancelled either because someone in my family is sick or because someone we were supposed to meet is sick.  Luckily none of the illnesses are ever life threatening, and no one is ever happy to contract a disease.  But that's where Death Wish comes in.

Death Wish is a casual set collection card game for 2-8 players that is all about contracting fatal diseases.  Diseases like LOLera, Meowsles, and Tuburpulosis run rampant in this game.  Throughout the course of the game players try their hardest to contract as many diseases as possible and pe the first to perish.  This may sound a bit crass, and some of the diseases, symptoms, and afflictors are definitely R-rated, but if you take those out the game still plays fine and becomes a great family friendly game, too, as long as your family doesn't mind a little bit of dark and occasionally gross humor.

To contract a disease, you must have an appropriate Afflictors (like swallowing baby puke, licking a snail, or getting sneezed on) as well as the right number and type of symptoms (like hair loss, cold sweats, or blurry vision).  Each disease you contract awards you with a certain number of skulls and the winner is the player that first collects enough skulls to die.
Be careful of those Smello Fever carrying starfish.  you don't want to get bitten by one!
Death Wish is on Kickstarter as of June 1, 2016 and is available for £20 (about $29) with free UK delivery but will be available worldwide (£4 shipping to the US, about $6).  Backers will be able to name some diseases and there will be stretch goals for new content as well.  Be sure to follow along with the game at

To set up Death Wish, separate the cards into four decks: Afflictors, Symptoms, Diseases, and Outbreaks.  Deal two Afflictors and four Symptoms to each player to start the game.  Afflictors are placed face-up on the table (you are allowed three Afflictors max at any point in the game).  Symptoms make up each player's hand and are private (you are allowed a maximum of six Symptoms in your hand).  Then create two tableaus consisting of four Diseases and four Symptoms.  These form a market, or lineup, where Symptoms and Diseases can be acquired.  Set the four decks around the tableau of cards and you're ready to begin.
The artwork in Death Wish is very simple and not flashy at all.
Players take turns completing one action.  On your turn, your choices are: Gain Symptoms, Gain an Afflictor, Reveal a Disease, Incubate, or Contract a Disease.  When you Gain Symptoms you take one Symptom from the lineup, or two from the top of the deck into your hand.  When Gaining an Afflictor you take the top Afflictor and add it face-up in front of you.  If you ever have more than six Symptoms or three Afflictors you must then discard down to your limit.  If you Reveal a Disease you may draw a new Disease from the top of the deck and add it to the Disease lineup on top of an existing Disease.  The Disease on top must be contracted before the Disease below it can be contracted.  This lets players try to strategically block other players from contracting diseases.  Incubate is a bit of a different action.  If you choose to Incubate you can either take up to three Symptoms from your hand and place them face-down on the table for later use or take up to three Incubating Symptoms back into your hand.  This is the only way you can potentially have more than six Symptoms available for use, however remember, Incubating is a full action and you can only have six Symptoms in your hand at a time, so retrieving Incubating Symptoms could cause you to discard some Symptoms.
You'll collect symptoms until you are able to make a self-diagnosis and determine what disease you have.
Medical science at its finest!
The fifth action that you can take is the main goal of the game: Contract a Disease.  To Contract a Disease you must have the required Symptoms and Afflictor.  Each Disease is one of four colors, or Wild.  Symptoms and Afflictors are also one of these four colors, or Wild.  In order to Contract a Disease you must have the designated number of Symptoms and one Afflictor in the same color as the Disease.  Wild diseases are a little different.  Whereas Wild Symptoms and Afflictors can be used as any color, Wild diseases require one of each color Symptom and an Afflictor in the color designated on the Disease.  You can then collect the disease and tell others what you caught, how you caught it, and what symptoms you are suffering from.  Feel free to make the story as elaborate as you like!
Wouldn't you like to know how I contracted Man Flu?  Not by being licked by a unicorn,
that'll likely cause me to come down with something else.
Many of the diseases also have a symbol called Outbreak on them.  When you contract a Disease that has an Outbreak you then draw an Outbreak card.  Outbreaks have all sorts of wild effects on the game.  Sometimes they'll help you out and sometimes they'll hurt other players, either individually or as a group.  I thought it was odd that almost every Disease came with an Outbreak and would prefer to see them a bit more rare (maybe 50% of the time instead of over 90%).  They just didn't feel special when there were so many of them, and they do disrupt the game and any strategy that you may be developing.  This keeps the game light, but also can occasionally be frustrating.

Each Disease you contract also has a number of skulls on it.  These are the points the Disease is worth.  Games are played to a predetermined number of points (recommended from ten to fourteen) and the first to earn those points wins the game.  Optionally players can continue to play until there is only one person left, but personally I prefer to just shuffle up the cards and start over.  I haven't played enough to tell if a hard stop after someone wins is the best way for the game to end or not though.  It seems that this gives the first player an advantage, but in a game this casual I'm not sure it matters.  But if you do feel it's a concern I suggest you either play out the round or let every player have one final turn (including the player that triggered the end).  Then the winner would be the player with the most skulls, maybe having leftover symptoms and afflictors as tie breakers.
Different colors have different rarities.  White is the most
common, then blue, orange and red.  Wilds are the rarest cards.
Final Thoughts:
Death Wish is a very simple game to play.  My six year old son played with no trouble at all, and even won his second game playing.  There is a healthy dose of luck, but plenty of strategy to make this a great casual game for groups.  
Six years old and he's already contracted Elbowla, Hippotitis, Farthritis, and Wheezybums.
Most of the cards are family friendly (well, as friendly as trying to be the first to die can be), but there are a few that are R-rated.  I took these out before playing with kids, and it didn't affect gameplay at all.  These cards may get split out into a separate NSFW set for the Kickstarter campaign, or possibly identified in some way so they can more easily be pulled out of the game.  This would be great for keeping the game targeted at a broader audience, but you'll have to check the Kickstarter page when it's live to be sure.  Even without any changes, though, taking out the dozen or so questionable cards is totally worth it to have the rest of this hilarious game to play.  UPDATE: The Kickstarter is now live and it looks like they kept the R rated cards as part of the main game, which just means if you want to play this with younger gamers you'll probably want to pull out a dozen or so cards before playing.  No big deal, but something to be aware of.
For the most part the game is family friendly, except for a few cards that can be taken out without affecting the gameplay.
My only other minor issue with the game is the Outbreaks.  Almost every Disease came with an Outbreak (well over 90% of the diseases).  I felt like this diminished the novelty of the Outbreaks.  I think the Outbreaks should either be on every Disease and just part of the game (in which case they may need to be a bit milder in their effects), or on a lot fewer so that they are less frequent.  For the most part the Outbreaks seemed pretty balanced, but there were one or two that may have been a tiny bit overpowered.  Overall though, the Outbreaks were fun and kept the game on the light side, even if they did feel like they were too frequent.
Watch out for those glowing pills!  They're much worse than regular pills.
I found Death Wish to be a very funny and fun game that is great for social groups and families.  The humor in the cards keeps the game light and whimsical.  The gameplay encourages social interaction through the humorous diseases and the way you are encouraged to describe how you come down with your ailments. The amount of luck keeps the game casual, but there is enough strategy to keep the game interesting.  Death Wish is just a good, fun time!

If this sounds like a game you might be interested in, be sure to check out Death Wish on Kickstarter starting June 1, 2016 or on their webpage!

Preliminary Rating: 7.5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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