The play’s the thing

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This week’s session saw Peleg and Sheer join me for our first play of Shakespeare, a game by HervĂ© Rigal, and published by Ystari Games. The packaging suggests it can take 1-4 players (there is a solo variant) and BoardGameGeek mentions that it is best with three players. So, we were well placed to get the best out of it.

Actions!

Shakespeare uses a worker placement like mechanic at its core, to drive an abstract set of interactions, dressed up (ahem) with the Shakespeare theme. The idea behind the theme is that you are competing to put on a play, with a week to gather your actors, fix up your stage set, and sort out the costumes. At the end of the week, the winner is the player with the most Prestige (aka Victory Points). There are six days (turns) to the game, with the all important dress rehearsals on days four and six. (I’ll come back to these.)

Each turn has several phases. The first of these is determining player actions and turn order.

The worker placement part is as follows: each player has five cylinders. At the start of each turn, players secretly choose any number from 1-5. These are simultaneously revealed. (Players of Reiner Knizia‘s Modern Art game may, at this time, be nodding to themselves, whispering In Die Faust.) The player who chose the least gets to go first. (Ties are resolved by the Initiative Track, and this is set according to the order in which players ‘activate’ actors.)

Each cylinder chosen gives you one action, used to activate your characters. The kicker is that at the end of the turn, you must rest all bar one of the characters you have used. So, if you choose all five cylinders, you will get five character activations, but next turn four of them will be resting and unavailable.

Characters

Every player starts with four characters, and can recruit a maximum of one more each turn. The character types available are:

  • Actors: wear costumes and generate advances on the dress rehearsals.
  • Costume mistress: get costume pieces for your actors. Better costumes generate money and Prestige.
  • Set dresser: build the stage set. This is a side track way of getting some Prestige.
  • Handyman: can act like costume mistress or set dresser, but not as efficient.
  • Assistant: adds to the power of your costume mistress, set dresser, and handyman.
  • Jeweler: take gold costume pieces or stage set parts. (Gold pieces all score Prestige.)
  • Queen: take money, or gain an objective. Objectives are bonuses available for fulfilling certain conditions.

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Dress rehearsals

After going through your actions, if the day includes a dress rehearsal, you can use your actors (who have complete costumes) to use their abilities to advance on the dress rehearsal tracks. These advances may generate Prestige, or money, or both.

Money

At the end of the game – and not before – you have to pay for most of the characters you have acquired. Failure to do so costs you Prestige.

 

Overall

That’s not all the mechanics, but enough to give you an overall feel.

In our game, Peleg went for a character based strategy. He had the best of these, so Sheer and I had to look elsewhere for Prestige. Sheer concentrated on the dress rehearsal track, and that worked well for him. He was in the lead at the half way stage, and stayed there to win the game. My mix of strategies came unstuck.

We liked the game, though the theme was not as excusable as other games we have played. It did not seem as ‘real’ and that was probably the major issue. Maybe it just did not fit.

Surprisingly for a euro game, there were a couple of rules issues. We figured them out – none were major – but it was an annoyance. One was a typo which we sorted by referring to the German language rules. One was a logical assumption – about the starting place for our Prestige – which subsequent online checking shows we got right. The resetting of the Initiative track is still missing from the rules, but we used our own interpretation, again seeming to get it right. In short, the play is what matters, and this plays well.

Although Sheer thought otherwise, it seemed to me that we had played in a too friendly fashion; to win, I suspect you have to be more aggressive towards your opponents. There are lots of ways you can interfere with other people’s plans, but you have to balance that with the need to advance your own.

This is a clever game, with a fair mix of options, a slice of luck, and a dead in the water theme. It is fun to play, and we will return to it again, I am sure.

Thanks to Peleg and Sheer for their participation.

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Playing the play

"To go first or last, that is the question." - Source: Ystari via BoradGameGeek

“To go first or last, that is the question.” – Source: Ystari via BoardGameGeek

Out of the (Chanukah gift) wrapper – thank you Lori, Sarah-Lee, and Tomer! – is Shakespeare, designed by HervĂ© Rigal, and published by Ystari Games. It can take up to four players (though, interestingly, BoardGameGeek puts three as the optimum number), does include a solitaire option, and claims playing times of 20-90 minutes.

The description from BGG:

The theaters of London are abuzz. In one week, her majesty the Queen will attend their new shows and will grant her support to one of the troupes. It’s the chance of a lifetime for the young authors who are inflaming the populace with ever more audacious and motley plays. But how do you create a masterpiece in such a short time? Whoever has the answer to this thorny question will probably enter the rolls of history!

In Shakespeare, players are theater managers who must recruit actors, craftsmen, jewelers and others in order to assemble everything needed for the play’s performance at week’s end.

Players are competing to get the right combinations of people and assets so as to end with the most prestige points.

The online reviews are very favorable, and my reading of the (clear and easy) rule book suggests this will be a good game to play, though there are bound to be the usual stumbling first steps before we get it right. The interactions are extensive, and it appears the possibility of screwing up your opponents (and, of course, the other way round) must be borne in mind with every action.

I’m looking forward to getting this on to the table and playing it.

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