New from Darrington Press, Till the Last Gasp is a two-person board game that encourages dramatic storytelling through the lens of a duel taking place between two enemies. Players take on the roles of characters with a grudge to settle who are squaring up for one final fight. While Till the Last Gasp is designed to be a combination of tabletop role playing game and board game, it can be played fully without any role playing whatsoever, allowing for for consequence-free storytelling without a pressure to perform.
Darrington Press was established by the same folks who create Critical Role–the massively popular Dungeons & Dragons Actual Play video series. Till the Last Gasp is the third product from Darrington Press and the first to be fully independent of Critical Role’s branding. The game includes two character trackers, nine maps, and 12 pre-made characters. It uses a dice pool/resource management mechanical system and a deck of Objectives to establish dozens of different combinations of win conditions, which help increase playability and customization.
One of the only additional things I wish the game included in the box was a pad of paper character sheets—the draw for tabletop role players will primarily live in the character creation, and having such a small number of blank sheets feels like a missed opportunity to encourage more frequent replays. There are built-in safety tools for the game, establishing boundaries firmly within the gameplay itself and allowing players to control those lines both collaboratively and individually.
Till the Last Gasp is a considerate blend of the strengths of the main designers. Will Hindmarch is the lead designer, and his tactical, number-forward design mentality meshes well with Alex Roberts’ established success in designing immersive two-player games. The combination results in a fun, fast-paced, sit down and play game that balances luck, tactics, and relationship-building through high-tension storytelling. The only real fault in the design is the fact that the narrative, and the roleplay that comes out of it, is essentially all flavor. Many roleplayers will make mechanical decisions based on their character’s narrative, but the impact of those choices will always come down to dice rolls. The storytelling is, unfortunately, designed to be secondary to the mechanics, and never goes the other way. If you choose to make a dramatic speech or renounce your past, there’s no benefit and no mechanical impact, which sometimes feels like a letdown. The strategic choices made throughout gameplay are the only way that the game itself can move forward.
Till the Last Gasp is a game that encourages roleplay but does not incentivize it. It is the biggest disconnect between the design and its presentation, as the scenarios and characters as written are deeply invested in laying down story hooks for players to pick up, and take up most of the focus of the game. But without having an actual effect on the gameplay itself, there is a part of Till the Last Gasp that feels off-balance. While this design structure is a great way to help bring people into the world of roleplaying, it is a frustrating reminder that this is still a game that you want to “win” instead of simply “play.” There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is an interesting quirk considering how much of this game is built around providing opportunities for players to engage in storytelling.
This conceit does not lessen the fact that Till the Last Gasp is an enjoyable game to play… with the right players. When I received the game I played it three times; first with a friend who was very familiar with RPGs, and using pre-generated characters. Next, I played without any roleplay at all, and third, I played with a custom character. Each time allowed me to explore new mechanics and strategically utilize different parts of the game. The time when I played with no roleplay at all was, I think we can all guess, the least exciting. But it was still playable. The games with considerate, immersive roleplaying between me and my friend were undeniably fun and by the time an audience had surrounded us at the local coffee shop, the ending was incredibly received by all. (Rogue pirate Thev Klaxor swore to take everything from his former captain as they were rescued from certain death by their daring crew. After all, nobody, not even the feared Pirate Queen Sayida, can remain queen forever.)
Till the Last Gasp is a well-designed, tightly focused two-person game that is a love letter to the most dramatic of showdowns across media. It’s a wuxia battle under a waterfall between a mentor and former student, it’s a swashbuckling gunfight for control over the endless sea, it’s a duel between siblings fighting for the throne. Till the Last Gasp’s greatest strength and greatest weakness is that it is exactly what you make it. It’s up to the player to take the game and use it to sort out dramatic, intense, and terrifying clashes between characters. Although the mechanics are what move the story forward, arguably the roleplaying is the far more important part of the game, even as it has no traditional mechanical value. And when Till the Last Gasp is played in earnest, it is a lively, low-pressure game that allows for immediate investment and clear resolutions. Some characters, though, swear to return. The fight’s not over yet.
Till the Last Gasp is available for purchase on the Darrington Press site.
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