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Conrad Zimmerman avatar 7:36 PM on 04.05.2008  (server time)
On the Table: Guillotine

While I adore video games, I'm equally fond of board and card games. On the Table is a weekly feature of my cBlog that examines some of these analog entertainments. If you have a suggestion for a game to appear in this column or suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know.

History is something of a passion of mine. It can be fascinating to learn about how other cultures lived and died and the lessons learned from those experiences can be invaluable to the future.

What I don't generally care for are historical board games. They often tend to be overly complex wargames with fifty page manuals that either take more time ot learn than you actually have fun playing or take so long to play that the odds of finishing are lower than the odds that Uwe Boll will ever win an Academy Award.

Guillotine is an exception to this rule. While it has a French Revolutionary setting, it's not educational in the least (unless you've never heard the names Marie Antoinette or Robespierre; if so, shoot yourself), but it does allow players to engae in one of everyone's favorite past-times: Getting head.

In the game, players are rival executioners vying for bragging rights by lopping off the heads of the most important nobles in France. The game consists of three "days" (rounds) with twelve nobles standing in line for a very close shave each day. Every turn, a player must claim the life of the noble in the front of the line. When the last noble is executed, the day ends and twelve new nobles are laid out for the next round of beheadings. Once the third day ends, the player with the best heads wins.

The nobles are broken down into five categories: Aristocrats, Bureaucrats, Military, Clergy and Mistakes. Each noble has a point value associated with them that corresponds to their importance within the category they belong to. In addition to the score, some nobles have text that have various effects on scoring and movement of the line. They might allow you to collect bonus heads, prevent changes to the line order or draw cards. Some nobles are worth even more points when you have other specific nobles in your score pile.

Sometimes, particularly during violent and exciting things like revolutions, accidents happen. Some of the people in line don't deserve to die and have negative point values. The trick is to make sure that these "accidents" happen to your opponents, which brings me to the most important aspect of Guillotine: Line manipulation.

Every player has a hand of action cards. These cards can have a wide variety of effects on the game, from score bonuses to lining up additional nobles for the chopping block and even ending a day prematurely. The vast majority of action cards are used to re-arrange the order of nobles standing in line. On a player's turn, before claiming a head, they have the opportunity to play one of the cards in their hand. This gives you a chance to rearrange the line to snag a more desirable noble or avoid killing someone you don't want to.

One of the best features of Guillotine, after its mechanics and balance, is the art. I simply adore the cartoonist depictions of nobility, executioners and situations depicted in the cards. The game is rather silly in concept alone, but the card art cranks the goofiness to eleven with its exaggerated style.

Guillotine is another simple and fun card game that anyone can learn to play. It's perfectly suited to coffee ships or anywhere else you need a light, fun diversion for two to five people. Unfortunately, I do not know of any example of the game that I could point you to try it out. Head to your local gaming shop and ask them to give you a demo of this.


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