All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
-As You Like It, Act II Scene VII
In Shakespeare, players take on the role of a theatre troupe during the days of the Bard. They have 6 days (rounds) to hire actors, build sets, make costumes, and perform dress rehearsals. Do you have what it takes to put on a show that’s fit to entertain the Queen?
In Shakespeare, players have six rounds to put together the best play they can in anticipation of the Queen’s visit. This is done by recruiting actors and craftsmen, and activating their special abilities 1-5 times per round. On the fourth day there is a dress rehearsal, and at the end of the game is the final performance, so be sure to have your characters ready and costumed, and don’t forget to have enough money in reserve to pay everyone!
Every player in Shakespeare begins with an individual board showing their (initially empty) stage and the four starting characters. Everyone has the same characters on their board – the Author (who resembles Shakespeare himself), Falstaff, a Handyman, and the Queen. Each player also has 5 cylinders in their color, which are used to take actions, and 7 discs which indicate their place on the various tracks in the game. The main board contains a prestige (points) track, tracks showing turn order and initiative, and three colored tracks, red, yellow, and blue, corresponding with Acts I, II, and III, respectively. Round and square tokens denote costume and stage set elements, and these come in values ranging from 1 to 5 as well as colors correlating with their value. Finally, there is a set of various character cards that can be recruited throughout the game and objective cards which can give extra points at the end of the game. At the beginning of the game there are two rounds of drafting for character cards, meaning that in addition to their 4 starting characters, everyone will also start out with two others that they can use beginning with the first round. Then, you’re ready to play!
Each round consists of several different phases. At the beginning of the round, players wager how many actions they would like to perform by putting 1-5 of their action cylinders in their hand. Once everyone has decided, the wagers are revealed, and then turn order is determined, starting with the player who wagered the fewest actions and continuing in turn (so that whoever wagered the most actions will go last for that round). Next is the recruitment and activation phase, which makes up the bulk of the game. In turn order, players either place a cylinder on one of their characters, activating its ability, or once per game round they recruit one the the 4-6 available characters (based on the number of players) that round. The recruitment step is mandatory — each player must do it once during the round. However, if they don’t want any of the available characters, or don’t think they can afford it (all characters must be paid 1, 3, or 5 pounds at the end of the game), they can recruit the character as an extra (the back side of the character card), who is treated like an actor with no special ability, and no salary requirement.
There are several different types of characters that can be recruited. Costume Mistresses and Set Dressers allow the player to buy costume and set pieces up to a value of 6 or 8, while Handymen can buy either costume or set pieces (or both), up to a value of 4. Costume pieces are added to actors, and once they have a full set you can gain money or points, based on the total value of the costume pieces. Set pieces are added to your stage and give you various benefits, which are generally better the more valuable the pieces are. In addition, the stage must be symmetrical, so if you place a 4-valued set piece on one side, you must also place a 4 on the opposite side. In addition to the craftsmen, there are some special characters — the Jeweler allows the player to take golden costume or set pieces (this is the only way to get those pieces), the Assistant provides a boost to the other craftsmen, and the Queen lets the player gain 4 pounds, or an objective card which can provide a few bonus points at the end of the game. Last but not least, there are the actors. These all take the form of famous Shakespearean characters such as Hamlet or Lady Macbeth. The actors all have three spaces for costume pieces and provide various actions, such as advancing on one of the Act tracks on the main board, getting a specified set or costume piece, or providing ambiance to your theatre.
Once all players have recruited a character for the round and taken all of their allotted actions (or passed), the game moves on to the next phase. At this point, all of the players check their ambiance for the round. Ambiance can be gained by placing 4-valued set pieces or from some actors’ effects, and can be lost by other players (or no one) playing 3-valued set pieces and, again, from certain actors (hello, Hamlet). Then, based on how good or bad your theatre’s ambiance is, you could gain or lose money, points, or a space on one of the Act tracks.
At the end of the round, the unrecruited character cards are discarded and more are placed out for the next round. In addition, more costume and set pieces are added for the next round as well. Then, the characters that have been activated during the round must rest. To that end, players must put Rest tokens (which have a large X on them) on all of the characters that they used, except for one. The resting characters can’t be activated the next round, so you must decide which one character of those you’ve activated you may need to use again.
On the fourth and sixth rounds, there is a dress rehearsal before the maintenance and rest phases. At this time, all actors and extras with a complete costume (made up of three pieces) gives that player a benefit, usually moving them forward on one or more of the Act tracks. Then, the Act tracks are scored. The Act I track gives players 1, 3, or 5 pound for passing certain thresholds, and the Act III track is much the same, but with 1, 2, or 3 prestige points. The Act II track gives 2 points to the player in the lead and 1 point to the second place player. In all three tracks, if you haven’t advanced past the third space, you’ll lose a point.
At the end of the game, players can gain points from any Objective cards that they may have collected, and they also gain a point for each of their golden costume and set pieces. Then, they must pay all of their characters. They divide up the money they have amongst their characters. For each character that is not paid, that player loses 2 points. As you may have guessed, points are pretty tight in this game — players start at 5 prestige, since negative points can be gained, and 25 is a very good score — so losing 2 points is a big deal. Then, the player with the most points is declared victorious and has most entertained the Queen. Huzzah!
As a theatre lover, this game was pretty much an instant buy for me. The game component art is quite lovely and really puts you into a theatrical mood, but the gameplay is pretty typical and doesn’t add any more to the theatricality of the game. One thing that has always tripped me up in the game is deciding how many actions to take. There’s a slight advantage to going first in that you can take the pieces you want first, but if you short yourself actions, you may not get as much done. On the other side of that, if you take a lot of actions, you cut off a lot of the characters you may need to do action in the next turn. This can be a bit frustrating trying to balance all of the actions and things that you need, but in all of the games that we’ve played, the scores have been fairly close, even with the score tracker being confusing. Because we’ve only played this game as a 2-player game, I’ve chosen not to rate the scalability at the time of release.
- Thematic artwork
- Interesting bidding system
- Terrible score track
- Not a lot of variability in cards, may hurt replays
Shakespeare introduces a theme not too often seen in board games – theatre. It is a cool theme, and the art on the character cards show nice depictions of some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the theme goes. The actual gameplay and things going on don’t feel that much like putting together a play, which is to the game’s detriment because the theme was a big selling factor for the game for us. Fortunately, though, the game itself is pretty good. I like the action bidding mechanism whereby the more actions you bid, the later you go in the round. However, there isn’t that much competition for things in the game that benefits going first — you’ll either be able to get a character, or take the stage or costume pieces you definitely want/need, but there’s enough you can do to mitigate not going first that it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I’ve found that the limiting factor is more often the fact that you have a lot of resting characters you can’t use, or don’t want to have a lot resting for the next round. In the end, the action bidding and rest systems are definitely the coolest part of this game. I’ve only ever played solo or two-player, but it does seem like the game would scale well to more players with additional set and costume pieces, but the number of character and objective cards seems awfully low if you were to play with more players. In fact, the number of objective cards is weird even with 2 — there are 10 cards, and you draw three and keep 1, so if the objective action is performed 3 times, you’ve seen almost the entire deck. This is a game that could use an expansion, which is fortunate because there’s one coming out this year! Altogether, Shakespeare is a drafting, set collection, and action point game with a cool bidding system, and if you can get past the fact that the theme isn’t that strongly reflected in the gameplay, I’d say to give it a try!
- Cool action bidding system where the fewer actions you bid, the better chance you have of going first
- Great artwork on cards and boards
- Cool theme, but doesn’t come through that strongly
- Not that many character and objective cards, which may be a detriment when playing with more players