Don’t Fear The Reaper – Death Wish review

Death will come to us all. Sure, that’s not the happiest thought to kick off a game review, but still it’s something to think about. Western culture takes a very dim view of the whole death thing, and bringing it up in polite conversation is weirdly frowned upon by many. I find it odd; it’s going to happen to literally every single person on this planet, but talking about it inspires hushed tones and a curious kind of embarrasment. Not for game designer Jason Hibbert, though – no qualms about shuffling off this mortal coil for him. Not at all, because he went and made a game all about getting as sick as possible and breathing your last. Die first, and you win. That’s pretty metal.

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Death Wish, currently on Kickstarter, may be bleak as hell as a concept, but you’re actually looking at a relatively light card collecting game. Fun for the whole family – and we’re not just talking about the Addams Family… The game comes with four separate decks that will combine to spell your doom, and although our subject matter is as morbid as can be, there is a lot of humour in there. This is pretty necessary – playing this with a bunch of folks who fear the oncoming reaper isn’t going to be the happiest experience you’ll have around your gaming table, but if you can see it as the lighthearted affair that it’s meant to be, you’ll have a splendid time.

Of the four decks, the Disease deck is probably the one you’ll scrabble through first – after all, its the diseases that will kill you. Not a single disease is ‘real’ but you can easily work out what horrid things they’re based on, and you can kind of tell that a lot of the names were sourced on Reddit with potential killers like Multifartosis and Buttulism on the list.Yes, this is not exactly the most highbrow of games, but the approach works, keeping things light and fun in the face of the void.

Each Disease card shows a number in the top left corner which determines the amount of Symptom cards of that colour that are required to trigger the sickness within. These are generally less daft, though I have to admit a soft spot for “I’m Bleeding Everywhere”, which feels like Death Wish’s equivalent to Cards Against Humanity‘s nominee for the greatest sentence on a card ever – the excellent “Why Am I Sticky?”. Collect the necessary Symptoms alongside an Afflicter card of the same colour, which range from the normal stuff like being bitten by a raccoon (normal for New Hampshire, anyway) to never showering and you score the Disease, as shown by the amount of skulls on its card. First to hit a certain amount of skulls from their various illnesses wins – nice and simple. And dark. You’re dead! Well done! A winner is you!

There are a couple of little twists in the game that add to the play experience, though. Some Diseases show an Outbreak symbol which effect the flow of the things. Most are one-offs that can either benefit you by simplifying the diseases you contract or screw over your opposition by making things more difficult for them. The most entertaining ones (in my opinion, anyway) are those where you get to keep the card secret until a triggering moment – fancy bringing someone back from the grave after they reckon they’ve won? Boom! We’ve got a card for that! And it’s bloody hilarious when you throw it down, and you stuff defeat down the maw of victory. Different diseases are also ranked at levels from basic to rare – white to red – and the higher the illness’ rarity, the more points it’ll score. Legendary elements can also be used as Wild cards, making things easier as you get closer to your inevitable death.

Now there’s not much more to Death Wish but it’s an entertaining diversion that is, frankly, a bloody delight in an era when every third game on Kickstarter is another CAH clone. Boiled down to its bare bones it’s a simple set-collection game, but the strength lies in the humour and interactions between the players. Yes, you need the right people to play with to get the most out of Death Wish, but this is the perfect game to break out when you and a bunch of friends get back from the pub and they look in worried consternation at that giant stack of Euros that are weighing down your shelves. “Look at this instead!”, you’ll cry, waving it in your non-gamer mates’ faces, and they’ll be delighted.

Sure, it’s no Twilight Struggle, but does every new game have to be? This is far more likely to sell 100,000 copies later down the line with people picking it up in their local Target than anything else on Kickstarter at the moment, and that’s A Good Thing. There’ll always be a place in the world for a decent game that makes people laugh. It’s the very definition of a mass-market party game that’s going for daft, lowball giggles, but it also functions perfectly well as something to play. It’s well balanced, it looks great – the simplistic, flat imagery is cute and fun – and it’s well worth a moment of your time to check out the campaign and consider lending it your support.

Death Wish was designed by Jason Hibbert and will (assuming it gets funded) be published by Sketchy Games. Between two and eight players can get involved, but I found it works best around the four or five mark. Games are quick, taking about twenty minutes, and you can pledge for a copy yourself for twenty quid. Bargain!

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