KILL SHAKESPEARE is a 2-4 Player board-game by Thomas Vande Ginste and Wolf Plancke that is another product of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The game development was under the watchful eye of Nathan McNair with the Product Development by Nate Murray and Jerry Bennington. [I am wondering if this is the same Jerry Bennington who I knew briefly from 3Point.com. If so "Hi Jerry"]
I don't always list the people involved in a game but in this case I feel they deserve being credited, especially Robbie Robbins (Art Director), Glenn Fabry and J.K.Woodward.
The game is based on the very popular "Kill Shakespeare" comic books which tells a meandering and continuing epic adventure that will change the way you look at Shakespeare forever. In this dark tale, the bard’s most famous heroes embark upon a journey to discover a long-lost soul. Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff, Romeo and Puck search for a reclusive wizard who may have the ability to assist them in their battle against the evil forces led by the villains Richard III, Lady Macbeth and Iago, plus that reclusive wizard Mr William Shakespeare himself. Being a combination of “fables”, “the league of extraordinary gentlemen” and “lord of the rings”, kill Shakespeare offers a remixed re-envisioning of the greatest characters of all-time, featuring action, romance, comedy, lust, drama and bloody violence. it is an adventure of Shakespearean proportions.
Just how much of that is in the boardgame remains for you to discover. There are five player characters, Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Viola and Falstaff, with each having their own character boards that denote their special abilities and character statistics - shown by numbers in circles underneath wine glasses, some of which have stars and crosses - these boards are double-sided with one side for 3 & 4 players and the other to be used in 2-player games. There are colour coded meeples for each character and separate meeples for Lady Macbeth (purple) and Richard III (black) who are the game's protagonists with the players working together co-operatively to prevent Shakespeare from dying.
To be perfectly honest I am not sure what to make of Kill Shakespeare the boardgame. It is a real mixed bag from start to finish. It has an abundance of game mechanics, most of which experienced gamers will recognise from a variety of other games, including a track along which moves Shakespeare on his way to destruction (similar to Sauron's track in the Lord of the Rings) and also like LotR it is a co-operative game but in this case the players are expected to work together towards a common goal where one of them will be the actual winner - most team games pit the players as a team against the game mechanic and it is an all win or all lose grand finale.
The components range from excellent to quite poor but are mostly better than average. I guess I better quantify that statement: The average and above average components are the Wheel of Fate, the majority of the tokens and the dice. The excellent ones are the cards because of the excellent artwork. The main components I deem to be quite poor are the Influence Tokens which are just small squares of coloured cardboard that honestly look like they are the cast-off remnants from the die-cut counter sheet of any other game. Wooden cubes would have looked nicer, been better and easier to use and possibly wouldn't have added anything tangible to the production cost. Following these comes the Rules book. At first glance it looks like a good, regular, colourful booklet of rules and illustrations but at first (and subsequent) read-throughs it is found to be wanting in places. The components page shows the front side of 8 Decks of cards, but without a hint of what colour they are on their other side which would have been helpful for recognition and separating; not a major problem but certainly an error.
Speaking of errors, the rules say there are 25 Event cards marked "A" and 25 Event cards marked "B" when in fact there are 12 x A and 12 x B with the As and Bs written in extremely tiny print in the bottom right of the face of each card - these cards have brown backs. The two Quest decks (20 "easy" and 30 "hard") both have purple backs, but their designs are somewhat different, similar in composition but different enough so that you don't have to depend on the tiny text on each card's face up side. I know it isn't usually safe to make assumptions but I assume that at some point in the development of the game the Information cards were known as Prophecy cards. I assume this because in the bidding rules it states that players bid for "Prophecy" cards and of course there aren't any.
The board (have you noticed that if you remove the "o" from the Board you get "the Bard" ?) is a map of eight regions, one of which being an island (Isle of Prospero) and one is a Wheel which is fixed through its centre by a plastic pin that allows it to be rotated by players on their turn to their advantage and can also be additionally sent forward or backward when they spend the appropriate cost in points (or Jester cards).
The regions are also noted along the board's edge along with a Hope die for each, the value of the die being pre-set by a number printed on the board (Avon = 7, Arden = 6 etc) as well as a Black control marker showing that Richard III is currently in control of that region. On the map sit Richard's influence markers as well as meeples for Richard and Lady Macbeth; the game requires the player's characters to overpower the forces in these regions and tear them away from Richard or Macbeth's tyrannical reign. An Event each turn may move Richard and Lady Macbeth across the board into new regions which they then attempt to control. Failure to win a region, unfortunate die-rolling and several other random possibilities can see the Shakespeare token move swiftly towards its tragic ending. Each turn some of the Hope dice will be rotated, lowering their value until it reaches zero and the region is then lost to the players and Shakespeare is in dire consequences.
Expected to last between 2-3 hours KILL SHAKESPEARE is a long game for the type of area control challenge it is. This is a game of region or area control mainly. You (as in the players) need to have more Influence in a region than either Lady Macbeth or Richard III. Combat is simply removing pieces one at a time until only one colour remains, this is then the controlling player (or NPC). Most games of this ilk, Caverna and LotR coming immediately to mind, rarely go past the 90 minutes mark and I am not sure there is enough actual gameplay for players to continue past that in Kill Shakespeare. I would say that you really require dogged resolution to persistently persevere past the hour, (but I'd only say that when I was sober, otherwise I might just say that this should be a 60-90 minute game.)
Players also have to complete as many of the missions in the display as they can, so discussion is the key - as long as people keep to their deals - for the successful completion of missions. Bid tokens are allocated to the Energy and Time tracks on the character cards. This is because the missions demand certain ability levels. Then each turn there is a Bidding phase in which the players bid their remaining Bid tokens for Turn Order, Information cards and Troop cards. The players can again discuss amongst themselves their bids and what cards they are after but remember that deals do not have to be adhered to as one of the players has to end up as winner if they don't all lose and it is often quite important which player wins the bid(s). When it comes to 2 player missions, one player generally only has to be at the necessary location, but this may mean not being able to do what they had planned for their turn, often because the region they need to be in is now out of their reach.
It is quite difficult, almost impossible a lot of the time, for one player to win a region without help, but while the players are cooperating in one region the other regions remain under Richard's influence. If Richard manages to win back the influence in a previously lost region then the token for that region - this is a token that is held by the controlling character - is removed from the player and also from the game entirely. Scoring takes place in rounds 3 and 6 (the game can last 6 rounds but it is quite possible that it will end sooner) and after round 3 if Richard has control of 5 of the regions then Shakespeare's token moves another step towards death. Note: That's how we view it. Within the story of the game Richard III and Lady Macbeth are searching for Shakespeare and the track represents that search, if they find him they kill him so it is easier to think of this track as the Death track, at least in our opinion.
As I said earlier, there are several recognisable game mechanics throughout the gameplay and although we, as a group and mostly as individuals, really like games where there is a lot you want to do and yet only a certain number of things you can do (down to Action Points or Money, etc) this doesn't really fall into that category, despite the numerous phases and categories. Whether more knowledge of the Kill Shakespeare comic books would be advantageous I cannot say. Although there is a free comic that comes with the game this is as much of an annoyance as it is a bonus because it, of course, ends with the dreaded "to be continued...." so that doesn't help any.
The game can end early if Richard III kills Shakespeare, if Richard III has 13+ control markers on the map at the end of turn 13 or if 4 of the Regions have their Hope die reduced to zero. One gets the feeling that there may be a specific road to victory and that once it has been discovered as long as all players stick to the plan Richard III and Lady Macbeth should never win, but if there is such a road we haven't found it yet. There are always a different set and series of randoms plus the players themselves are out to win and thus their cooperation may depend on their personal positions. Is it best to save Shakespeare knowing full well that you personally cannot be the overall winner, or is it better to fail in negotiations in such a case so that everyone loses ? The incentives to cooperate aren't that good.
There is more good than not so good in KILL SHAKESPEARE but it is a bit muddly and in need of some house-keeping, be that in the form of rewritten rules, better descriptions, more examples, some upgraded components or simply house rules, but that is generally Much A'do About Nothing. Overall the game is different enough, in a familiar sort of way, to be interesting. Going by the amount of traffic on the BoardGameGeek site it has certainly generated a lot of discussion which means players actually care about the game, and that is a major positive.