Relive Automotive History in ‘The Last of the Independents’ Board Game [Review]
Having grown up in–and still residing in–the Rust Belt and having followed multiple lackluster Ohio sports teams, I’ve nurtured a fondness for underdogs–including automakers. With the Packard Museum not far from my office and innovation city, Cincinnati—former headquarters for companies like Crosley Motors—an hour’s drive away, I’ve grown curious to learn the stories of these defunct brands.
Who would’ve thought that one of the best and most fun ways to learn about these independent manufacturers of yesteryear would be through a board game?
In celebration of pioneering innovation–and lamentation of the cut-throat power figures–in automotive history, Numbskull Games released The Last of the Independents, an attractive board game meant to educate and simulate the rise and fall of lesser-known companies.
Review of The Last of the Independents:
Engineering, Manufacturing, & Marketing Cars in the Post-War Era
Publisher: Numbskull Games
Designer: Patrick Stevens
Box Dimensions: 10.25 x 7.5 x 2.75 inches
# of Players: 3-6 people
Ages: 10 or older
Category: Industry area control
Play Time: 90 minutes
Interested in Games About Automotive History? You might also like Matthias Kramer’s Kraftwagen
How to Play
Winning is as simple as having the most victory points at the end of the game–but that’s not as easy as it sounds. The Last of the Independents involves three rounds of financial risks, surprise upsets, and cut-throat sabotaging.
At the beginning, each player randomly selects an automaker they will be representing, as well as a set amount of same-colored disks (representing money) to use. Each round—representing a year—consists of multiple categories. Beginning with Models, followed by Engineering and Promotions categories, players have the opportunity to allocate their disks/financial resources to vie for control of certain spaces. Control is determined by a random draw from the disks allocated to a space, in hopes that the more disks a player adds to a space, the greater chance of wining the draw and controlling the space.
A portion of disks which lose the draw are removed from the game. If a player does not have enough money at the end of a round to fulfill their required quota, they declare bankruptcy, discard certain accumulated items, and draw a new automaker.
Victory points can be awarded for controlling the most spaces in a category, fulfilling market trends, and winning Car of the Year at the end of the round.
- 1 game board
- 180 wooden disks in 6 colors
- 30 plastic tokens
- 1 draw bag
- 10 company profile cards
- 114 trend/action cards
- 6 player aid cards
- Instruction booklet
The Last of the Independents doesn’t just aim to capture the essence of vintage automotive history in theme, but in aesthetic too—and it greatly succeeds. Rather than following an artist’s own interpretation of the period in its artwork, The Last of the Independents strives to match the retro style of its setting using a combination of old marketing graphics and true-to-life images. This can be seen from the box cover all the way down to each of the 100+ cards.
Likewise, the games aims to be educational as well as entertaining, and thus interesting facts and historical context are woven throughout, such as on the automaker profile cards and on the industry trend cards. Of all the automotive-themed games I’ve played, I can honestly identify this one as the most informative.
All the components are of impressive quality, considering the game was released by a niche, lesser-known publisher. The wooden disks are perfect for the game’s blind draws, the cards are durably stiff, and the board has a clever circular layout. The automaker profile cards could be enhanced a bit, particularly the disk spots being too small to fit the corresponding disks on, but that’s the only complaint I have about the components.
More Great Board Games: Relive the invention of the horseless carriage in LudiCreation’s Gear & Piston
Thoughts on Learning Experience
While the game concept, design, and components are great as is, The Last of the Independents needs more refined directions than what are included to bring it to its full potential. The printed instruction booklet includes multiple typos and lacks much-needed clarifications (e.g. Where do disks go when they’re removed by action cards? Where do they come from when added by trends or action cards?).
Luckily, there is an improved 2.0 version of the rules on its Board Game Geek page, directly from the publisher. While this remedies the major points of confusion, it still could use things like a “what if” situational Q&A, explanations of certain card functions, and visual examples/aids.
Thoughts on Playing the Game
I’ve not only played a lot of automotive-themed games, I’ve played a ton of board games over the years, and I honestly cannot think of another widely-known game I’ve encountered that I could compare to The Last of the Independents. In that way, the game reflects its designer’s intent to build a unique experience that imitates the automotive market rather than merely slapping the theme onto a by-the-numbers imitation of conventional game mechanics.
The game encourages players to choose their strategy—risking for a better chance of success or playing conservatively and hoping for luck to intervene. The challenge of weighing the benefit of using a card for the action vs. the trend benefit is particularly interesting. Turns are relatively simultaneous so there’s no lag during gameplay; it plays better with more people rather than less. You can adjust game length easily through the number of rounds, which affects how aggressively or conservatively you might play.
What most gamers could find off-putting—particularly if they pride themselves on excelling at strategy-based games—is the heavy presence of luck in the outcome of the game, notably the blind draws of winners that are no more strategic than a dice roll. Risking more disks merely increases the odds of success but doesn’t ensure it. LOTI also encourages very targeted and brutal sabotage against fellow players. While those aspects may frustrate some, they are true to the fickle and aggressive nature of the automotive market (just go watch Tucker for proof). That doesn’t make it a bad game; that simply means it won’t broadly appeal to all tastes.
If chance-based, educational games about the automotive industry are your cup of tea, however, The Last of the Independents will be a refreshing, tasty drink to indulge in.
The Last of the Independents can be purchased through Amazon, the publisher’s website, and other online retailers.
Product provided for review by manufacturer
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.