Shakespeare is arguably one of the best playwrights ever to grace the world (assuming it was one bloke if you believe all the conspiracy theories) and in my opinion it is our duty to keep his plays alive for as long as possible. The perfect place to start is with Shakespeare the Bard Game (what a clever pun on Board Game, oh how I laughed), which transports you back to the early 1600s where you are an aspiring theatre entrepreneur requiring the use of theatres, actors, props/costumes as well as courting some wealthy patrons to gain critical acclaim and what better way than to put on some of Shakespeare's finest plays. Alas, you will also require vast sums of money to make your dreams come true, will have to meet Shakespeare himself to procure his scripts and will also face stiff competition from competing entrepreneurs who are willing to rob, cheat and brawl with you in the streets, not to mention bumping into Fate seemingly round every corner throwing in plenty of obstacles. If the worst comes to the worst you could also find yourself in the dreaded Clink prison...
==What's inside the Box?==
Well opening the box up everything is neatly packaged but hasn't a snowball's chance in Hell of staying that way. Once you've spent a good 20 minutes poking out perforated pieces of card leaving behind much wastage you will end up with:
* The board
* 5 player and 5 acclaim markers
* 72 fate cards
* 200 question and speech cards
* 40 script tiles
* 48 actor tiles
* 40 props/wardrobe tiles
* 10 patron tiles
* 30 x 1 shilling, 50 x 5 shillings and 30 x 10 shilling coins
* 2 six sided dice labelled 2-6 with an f instead of a 1 for Fate
* The Rules and Summaries book
Already it's looking a bit scary with the seemingly excessive numbers of different cards and tiles and coins that you know as soon as you put back and close the lid will somehow jumble about inexplicably in much the same way as Christmas tree lights do. But hopefully the rules will explain all...
As the rules are read out loud to a roomful of expectant people the sound of exploding brains may alert you to the fact they may be a little on the complicated side. Once the mess is cleared up and you start from the beginning again you get halfway through before the groans signalling more brain failure begin to reverberate round the room so I can only theorise these rules are easier to follow whilst actually playing the game rather than out of context. The game is for 2-5 players aged 12 and above, and it is not essential to have any prior knowledge about Shakespeare, but it does help. The aim of the game is to have collected the most amount of Acclaim Points before time is up - there is no real time limit for this game, but since there is no end to the amount of acclaim points you get it is best to set one, around 1 hour is recommended, but this may be worth jiggling with depending on the number of players.
So, each player begins with a coloured player piece that is laid in the Globe Theatre plus the same colour acclaim marker that starts at 1 on the bottom Scoring Track. Your choice is to either crowd each marker round the first square or build a tower out of them, so you will probably need to play this game on a flat surface (please check with a spirit level before starting) to avoid any potential Jenga moments. Also, keep cats away as swiping paws are most destructive. The script tiles are shuffled, which is a physical impracticality on account of them being thick tiles and not cards, so mix them up as best you can and randomly give one to each player before placing the rest on the board by Shakespeare's rooms, again forming a shaky tower. Each player is then also given 40 shillings in I assume whatever denominations they want and the youngest player starts before moving clockwise round the board. So far so good.
Unfortunately, this is where the mind blowing instructions take over and cause confusion. So, on your turn you roll both dice and can move around circles on the board leading to various destinations. You don't have to use all the allowed moves but you do have to move at least one circle (unless you are in a theatre where you can remain). If you roll one fate symbol you must pick up the fate card before moving (unless of course the fate card prevents you from taking your turn or moves you somewhere else - some fate cards are nice by giving you money or props/actors, whilst others steal from you and generally interfere in your life). If you are so unfortunate as to roll two fs you must pick up a fate card as well as miss your turn. Doubles will result in an extra go, but you can only get one more go even if you roll another double, unless you land on St Paul's Cathedral whose trick is to supply an extra go.
If you encounter another player along the way you can opt to continue on pass them, in the rules it states with a cheery wave but I would suspect with some other gesture myself, or you can land on their square which allows you to either trade with them by buying or selling actors, props or scripts for an agreed fee or just swapping tiles between the two of you perhaps with additional monetary incentives, brawl with them and whoever gets a higher dice roll over the sum total of 8 gets to steal any tile or 10 shillings (both rolls being below 8 or a tie result in an honourable draw and no penalty is incurred either way) or flirt which is trading without exchanging money. If you are running out of money you can stop anywhere in the street and busk, which gives you 5 shillings but you must take a fate card which could backfire. Alternatively, if you enter any of the four theatres you can choose an easy (10 shillings), medium (15 shillings) or difficult (20 shillings) question about all things Shakespeare, or read a dramatic/comedic/tragic extract from a play which is judged by your peers between 0-10 equating to shillings. If fate decides to sting you and you fail to stump up enough dosh to pay your debts you surrender all your money to the banker and have to spend a go in the grimy, inhumane Clink, so try to avoid that where possible. Also, you can lose certain actors to their debauched lives which may cause them to also end up in the Clink whereby you will need to bail them out for 5 shillings if you find it necessary.
Still with me? Good. The various locations serve different purposes. There are four inns: Bel Savage, The Cross Keys, The Saracen's Head and The Bull and whenever you land on any of these you may hire an actor for 5 shillings or if the pile of actors is entirely depleted you can pay 10 shillings and poach one from an unsuspecting opponent. Another location is Leadenhall Market where you can find just about anything theatre related and is the prime place to purchase your props/costumes at 5 shillings each, but only 4 at a time and up to a maximum of 8. Some plays just won't work without wealthy patrons spreading the word and adding value, and you can find these by visiting any of the two Great Houses and you can also pick up another patron or get a donation of 10 shillings here by showing off your knowledge with an easy question, but patrons like to be the centre of attention so you can only have two at a time. Other locations include Gallows Hill, which you can simply stay on and watch an execution thus effectively doing nothing for a go, St Paul's Cathedral to give you an extra go and The Clink where you go if you find yourself destitute. Shakespeare's Room is where you go when you feel it is time to purchase a script (one at a time) but sometimes Shakespeare is "otherwise engaged" so it may be a wasted visit, and you may lose out on a script if you cannot afford to pay and you anger The Bard so pick your time wisely.
Finally, there are the theatres: The Fortune, The Curtain, The Rose and naturalmente The Globe. Here, you can either earn money as mentioned before or put on your play to earn Acclaim points. Each play has a specific number of required actors, props and patrons and you can only put on the play if you can afford to rent out the theatre and have the necessary assets. Acclaim points are determined by adding the value of the theatre based upon the number of dice assigned to each theatre on the board, the value of the script, the value of the actors which for Great actors is determined by a dice roll and likewise the same for any patrons you may have. Once the score is summed the script stays at the theatre, the props and patrons are lost, but the actors remain with your company and you can move your acclaim marker on the Score track at the bottom. The winner is the person with the most Acclaim points at the end after the time limit is up and everybody has completed their final go, and on the off chance that the scores are tied the honours go to the person with the most money left.
After you get over the initial shock of the sheer immensity of rules and the time spent to free all the tiles from their cardboard tombs, the gameplay is actually pretty easy. The first time you play, as is probably the case with most new games, you will spend a vast amount of time checking the rules to make sure you're doing it right and actually remind yourself of what each location allows, but it is surprisingly quick to get the hang of it and within 30 minutes of the first time this game was played we no longer had to check the rules as we'd pretty much done everything on the list. Though the next time around all was pretty much forgotten again and a refresher course was necessary. There's no escaping the fact there are a lot of elements to this game, but that's what makes it wonderfully unpredictable. You get a mixture of luck with the dice rolls and intentionally/accidentally getting fate cards which can either aid or severely cripple you on the whim of the Gods, strategy by purchasing items at certain times and knowing when to try to nobble your opponents, as well as skill whereby you can show off your undoubtedly immense Shakespearian knowledge though answering easy to difficult questions about the plays, or for those with no specific Shakespeare knowledge your acting skills by hamming it up in the style of Patrick Stewart to impress your peers with overly dramatic outpourings - it is particularly amusing when people are forced to do a gender swap on their speeches.
This game is also pretty cutthroat at times and just ripe for backstabbing - whoever thought the theatre was a civilised place was sorely mistaken. It can be a struggle to build up enough dough to fund a play and even when you've purchased enough actors and props by busking or showing off your knowledge you still have to get to a nearby theatre and there are plenty of opportunities for Fate to intervene by making you lose your props, patrons or even actors to the Clink or other opponents stealing them from you either through their own Fate cards or brawling with you in the streets forcing you to have to turn back to rebuild your arsenal, or if you're really unlucky into having to free yourself from the Clink so even if somebody looks like they are running away with it, it doesn't take long for momentum to swing in favour of other players. On the odd occasion it does feel like it is simply a particular player's lucky day and everything just falls into their lap, but more often than not this game ends up close to the wire at the end with most players still in with a shout at nicking it at the last minute so there is usually something to play for and a fast paced finish as time begins to ebb away.
The trouble is that many a move is a bit fiddly and a little time consuming so the more players there are on average the longer in between goes which can make it a bit frustrating, especially if you are unlucky on your go and Fate makes you miss out, which has happened to me three times in a row before which does leave you feeling a little frustrated as you idly twiddle your thumbs whilst everyone around you steadily builds their Acclaim points and all you have is about 5 shillings, an actor with a 0 rating and one prop, probably some fairy wings, to your name. So without luck, this game can drag a little and be highly frustrating, but when it is going your way it is seriously satisfying. So ultimately, this game is great at getting people interested in Shakespeare's writing by asking questions, forcing them to really ham it up to gain money and having a quick resource in the rule book with the plot summary of each play to familiarise people with his work and reel people in. Unfortunately it was done in a slightly convoluted way with just too many rules which requires a lot of effort and patience to get your head around, so I think this game will certainly appeal to a niche market i.e. fans of Shakespeare or those that love an intellectual challenge, but I cannot see it really appealing to the masses. But it is a well-crafted and cleverly constructed game which is definitely worth a go if you do enjoy a challenge as there is some great fun to be had amongst the frustration of setbacks and if you can get it for less than £15 it's a bargain.