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[Review] Guillotine

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Joined: 03/23/2011

The French Revolution was a horrible time, a period of history that I am certainly glad that I did not have to live through. One of the symbols of the time (and many historians call it “the” symbol) was the guillotine, a new device invented to help expedite executions during this chaotic period. I was perusing a game shop in Korea one day, looking for a game, and the only one on the shelf that I didn’t have but could afford was Guillotine (Wizards of the Coast, 1998 - Paul Peterson). I knew nothing about it, and wondered how much it pertained to the French Revolution. I was quite surprised, after purchasing the game, to find that game play was actually about the collection of heads!

And then I felt slightly conflicted. I believe that the theme of a game is extremely important, and can make a game even more fun to play, or vice-versa. At the same time, I wasn’t sure if collecting the heads of recently departed nobles was a proper theme for a board game. The game mechanics did nothing to help, as while they worked smoothly, the game was fairly chaotic and players usually had one best choice to make with the cards in their hand. Strategy was almost nonexistent, with only a few tactical choices to make each turn. So, with a controversial theme and mediocre mechanics, the game is expected to bomb - right? But the truth of the matter is, the game made my dime list for both 2002 and 2003 - over ten plays each year! This is certainly not my choice per say, but when I introduced the game to “non-gamers,” they loved it, and continually asked for more! Apparently the cartoonish artwork, combined with fast, fun play, superceded the theme and the lackluster strategy. I agreed, and while I don’t often bring this game to the table, I’ll usually gladly play it - once at a time.

Two decks of cards are shuffled - a sixty card Action deck and a fifty-card Noble deck. Five of the action cards are dealt to each player, and twelve of the Noble cards are placed face-up in a line on the table. At one end of the line, a cardboard guillotine is set up (the front of the line), and the remainder of the Nobles are placed in a face-down deck at the other end. One player is randomly chosen to go first, with play passing clockwise around the table.

On a players turn, they MAY play an action first, following the instructions on it. Many of the action cards allow the player to move nobles in the line, while others switch nobles in the line. Some action cards are placed face-up in front of a player, giving that player’s points, as long as certain conditions are met (i.e. - they have a blue noble, etc.) Still others allow a player to give grief to another player.

After playing an action card, a player “collects” (a nice word for beheads) the first noble in line - placing it face-up in front of them. Nobles are worth varying amounts of points, with high ranking royalty and clergy being worth up to five points, while martyrs and heroes actually giving the player negative points. Several of the nobles have special text on them, and all of them are in one of five colors - something that is occasionally affected by action cards. After collecting a noble card, the player draws an action card.

When all the nobles in the line have been collected, the day “ends”. Twelve more nobles are dealt out to start the second day - and following that, the third. After the third day ends, all players add up the points on the nobles they have collected, along with any action card effects - and the player with the highest amount is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The components are mainly the two decks of cards, with the cardboard guillotine seeming to be thrown in as an afterthought (it holds the cards in the box, so it does serve a duel purpose). The cards themselves are very nice, and have extremely cartooned artwork on them. For such a dark theme, one barely notices it, as the artwork on the cards and boxes has such a humorous effect. The cards are of good quality, and are extremely easy to read - the action cards are very self-explanatory, and we rarely had a question about any of them. Everything fits into a good-sized card box - one with a lid (the best way to do it!).

2.) Rules: The rules, in a nine page little booklet are extremely short - some of the shortest I’ve ever seen. Of course, this is because the game is so simple, and I don’t think there are many people who would have a hard time with it. It really works well for those who don’t have patience for even slightly moderate rules.

3.) Theme: Despite the theme being that of a horrible time period, the game has such a fantasy feel that it could almost be anything else. Players laugh and joke (even my occasionally staid mother) about beheading the bishop, the heretic, Marie Antoinette, the Bad Nun, and the Piss Boy. The quick, chaotic play; the cartooned look of the art, and the smidgen of a theme -all help keep the game light, and fairly non-offensive.

4.) Strategy: If you read online reviews and comments, you’ll find that there are many who don’t like the game. There are remarks about how the game leaves you very few choices, and that strategy is rather limited, and how the game winner is fairly random. All this is true, and if you must have strategy, then go look elsewhere.

5.) Fun Factor: Yet, and I can’t explain it, the game exudes an aura of fun. Read the online reviews and comments in favor of the game, and all of them mention the word “fun”. I don’t know why people get such a kick out of the game, but they do. The reason for this is that whenever I introduce the game (usually to a group of “casual” gamers), the demand is quick to play it again. Is it because people want to behead the Tax Collector, the Archbishop, and the Clown? Well, actually - come to think of it - maybe that is why. Nobody actually dies, and the game is so far from being realistic, that the game just lets people get silly.

Silly. What a good word, I suppose, to wrap up my thoughts on the game. As I said in the beginning, I think that I would rarely be adverse to playing the game. Yet I don’t often (if ever) ask to play it. I don’t need to, for enough people enjoy the game to ask for it occasionally - and then I might be subject to several playings. It’s good, but only in small doses. Yet, for the money I invested in it, I certainly got more than I paid - and people had a lot of fun. And since fun is the main reason I play games, I guess I can’t fault Guillotine for that, eh? Chaotic with a smidgen (a very small smidgen) of strategy, Guillotine certainly doesn’t test my brain or wits. But I do have fun.

Tom Vasel

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