In this world, two things are true. The words "roll for initiative" will cause a fist fight, and death is inevitable. A bleak truth man has known for a long, long time. So, it's about time someone saw the lightheartedness of its inevitability and made a game based around being the first to kick it! Death Wish by Zafty Games is that game.
You compete with other players to contract diseases by collecting symptoms and becoming afflicted in some strange and, often questionable, way. Being first to go isn't what you want, but as gamers anything is a competition so long as you can win!
Death Wish Gameplay
In Death Wish each player starts with two afflicters and four symptoms. These correspond to coloured diseases that you're all competing to get; white being the most common, blue, orange, red being the least common, and wild cards. Players take turns to choose one of four actions, draw two cards, draw two but keep one afflicted, spread a new disease onto the table to it can be contracted, or contract a disease from the ones available.
Death Wish is based entirely around your own ability to plan ahead. You can always see the next disease that will be added to the pool and you can therefore ensure you have the means needed to contract it. Saying that, every other player will be doing the same, so ensuring your turns are quick enough for people to not see your tactics can be very important too. The game itself doesn't last long, we found the longest game was 35 minutes, but time flies when you're contracting poomonia.
Picking up symptoms is an essential turn that you'll take loads; from fishy burps to a talking lump, everything will help you pass on to a better place. The colours correspond to specific diseases you'll try to contract, each of which has a number of skulls on them showing how deadly the disease is. Some diseases are very easy to acquire but won't hold a lot of value in the long run, whereas some diseases (often the red ones) hold a lot of death points! Once you've contracted the disease, you then explain how you afflicted the it (choosing the appropriate card you own) and explain your symptoms by discarding the necessary number of symptoms respective to the cost of the disease.
Once you've gotten the plague, or something of the like, you may then also acquire an outbreak. These cards are made to help you out or hinder someone else. They may improve a disease in the pool, cause you to steal symptoms, get you to swap hands, or just generally make you seem a bad person. It can take a while to get to grips with clever play or to find the most beneficial moment to play an outbreak, however they can turn the tide in a game. A game of Death Wish ends when a player has the required number of skills across all of the diseases they've contracted, based on the number of players in the game. That player wins, as that player is dead.
Final Thoughts on Death Wish
Death Wish is an excellent filler, but there is no way you could ever manage a whole night playing it. Also, the more players you have will cause more downtime between turns. There weren't many moments to think before your next turn with four or five, however with eight you may find one or two people reaching for their phones.
The other thing about this game is that, between laughing at the symptoms and disease names, it's rare you'll absolutely need to talk to the other players. The game needs a lot of tactical play and planning ahead but lacks that social driver. Finally, the fact that the cards drawn are entirely based on luck more than timings means some players will be put off. The components are just cards, they're great quality and look good too, but nothing more than that!
We thoroughly enjoy Death Wish and do play it when we get the chance. Never on its own though, it's always a filler or warm up game. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value on our gaming shelf. We love the fact that we've often contracted Wangthrax or Elbowla and suffer with from Acid Blood or Barking In Our Sleep.