Design: Hervé Rigal
Publisher: Ystari Games (2015)
Duration: 20-90 minutes
I’m rather enjoying writing these ‘Throwback Thursday’ posts. It’s interesting to draw from past experiences and look back on how my feelings towards a game have altered over time. It’s also nice to have a regular day to sit down, switch everything else off and switch my blogging brain on. Well, for a portion of the day at least. I have a small backlog of ‘current’ games to discuss, and when time allows I will absolutely do so. But it’s nice to have a day dedicated to just talking about a game I fancy that you might as well.
This Thursday I’m bringing you Shakespeare, which I personally feel is a bit of an unsung friendly tabletop hero. Unlike last week (Food Chain Magnate) where my feelings had quite drastically changed the more I played, Shakespeare has always been a solid and consistent favourite. One of the things I love about Shakespeare is that it doesn’t fit neatly into a category. It’s not worker placement per se, but it certainly (to my belief) has worker placement elements. There is bidding for turn order and card drafting involved and there’s a little set collection. But it doesn’t play out as itty-bitty as I’m describing it, and I believe it fits together rather nicely in a decent medium-weight package.
Firstly I guess I should give you a little background (rules are here if you would like to delve further) as to what it’s all about. You have six acts (rounds) to recruit actors, stagehands and other handy help to make your production a roaring success. You bid for turn order with your wooden cylinders, and these become your action markers to spend each round. You spend these to activate your recruits- dress your actors, build your set, use actors for their different abilities and accumulate points (of course). After each act the recruits are rested, meaning that they are unable to activate next turn, bar one recruit. So this is where a little head scratching of whom to use/rest and some light strategy comes into play. Points are based on the ‘prestige’ and ‘initiative’ tracks and it’s the latter that will come in useful for gaining more and not losing any points during the dress rehearsals. These occur after rounds 5 & 6, and this is the time to use your (fully costumed) actors for their ability, as most of them allow you to climb further up the initiative tracks. You also have an ambience track on your player board, which determines how well you do at the end of each round. Ideally you want to make sure that your Company is happy and your production is going swimmingly i.e.- no despair faces or loss of points. The player with the most points on the prestige track wins the game. The Shakespearean theme and artwork is charming, but the theme itself isn’t super strong within the game. However I feel that at times it goes beyond ‘pasted on’, but it doesn’t matter either way, as the game itself is excellent.
I like Shakespeare because it’s friendly. There’s no heavy strategy or crippling decision-making. There’s no major conflict or a huge amount of ‘take that’. It’s just a nice smooth ride with plenty to think about, some balancing to do and much to achieve. As much as I enjoy strategy-laden games that are cutthroat as hell, I can’t play them all the time. I need alternatives, and Shakespeare provides a good opportunity for that. You’re very much in control of the game, there’s no randomness, and you choose what to strive for in those precious six rounds. There’s not a huge amount of player interaction, but there is just enough not to be in multi-solitaire territory.
As I said earlier it’s not a heavy conflict game but it’s not completely free from any either. E.g.- there’s only a certain amount of set and clothing, so this is where bidding for turn order comes in useful. The most conflict you get here is probably along the lines of ‘but I wanted that bit!’ when someone grabs a piece of high value clothing you had your eye on. There are actors such as Hamlet who allow you to move swiftly along the initiative track, whilst the other players receive ‘despair’ on their ambience track. Which basically means that your play is looking so swish that your opponents’ are a bit sorry for themselves, which could result in point loss at the end of the round. The purple set pieces also have the ‘despair’ consequence. I think these small elements are in the game for the purpose of having some minor conflict, and thematically it makes sense and they work rather well.
What I’ve come to learn from Shakespeare is that you can’t have it all. You can try. But personally I’ve scored better when I’ve put my focus on a couple of aspects, e.g.- recruit the accomplished stagehand to make my set a mini masterpiece. I’m very particular about my set and get very antsy if I don’t complete it. Or I’ll recruit many actors and kit them out in the best finery on offer. But it’s moving up the initiative tracks that really affect your points, so whatever you choose to do there should always be some focus on that if possible. The question (isn’t to be or not to be) but is rather how are you going to achieve the best initiatives? Again, focusing on one initiative track is a good idea, but ensuring that you don’t neglect the others in the process is a delicate balance. If you already own Shakespeare but don’t have the Backstage expansion I would encourage you to go for it, especially if you’ve played the base game often. It’s simply a new deck of cards that add on to the game and give you alternative routes to conquer the stage.
There is a lot going on in Shakespeare- much to gain and many rewards to reap. There’s stuff to manage, things to do, some healthy competition, a little frivolity and a touch of whimsy. And that’s why I think more people should consider Shakespeare in their collection.
I’d love to end this post with an apt quotation or sonnet …but I …won’t.
Thanks for reading!