Not So Great Shakespearean Deaths (The Game)

When I put the Great Shakespearean Deaths Card Game on my Shakespeare Gift Guide this year, I jokingly put it in the “Stuff I Want” category.  Well god bless my mom who saw that post and thought, “Hurray, my son published his Christmas list!” and immediately bought it for me.

Apparently it’s quite a popular choice this year, as a quick Twitter poll showed at least half a dozen people who could now include it in their stash as well.

The problem is, it’s not a good game.  You have no idea how disappointed I am to say that, but it’s only reasonable, as I’m disappointed in the game.

Each card represents a character death, explaining that death briefly, offering last words where the character had some. It also rates the death on a number of scales – gore, piteousness, fairness, speed of death, and a few others.  So far so good, a chance for people unfamiliar with any deaths other than Romeo, Juliet and Hamlet to learn about the lesser known characters like Enobarbus or “the fly” from Titus Andronicus (seriously? seriously).

If I understood the directions correctly – they’re written in a weird, pidgin-Shakespearean – everybody gets a face-down hand of cards, and can only play their top card at any time. When it’s your turn, you look at your top card, then pick a scale, presumably based on which one is best for that card. Whoever has the high score for that scale (normally you, since you’d pick your best scoring chance), you get the other players cards. If there’s a tie, those stay in the middle and you play again.  It’s basically “War”, the card game.  There’s no real strategy involved. Got a ten? Pick that one.

Has anybody else played it? Did I misunderstand anything?

My kids were bored almost immediately and clearly played only so I wouldn’t be sad that my Christmas gift was boring.  I meanwhile started thinking of ways to make it more interesting.  Here’s a few that we came up with:

  • Pick the category before you look at your top card.  That makes it entirely random, but at least you don’t just keep giving your cards to whoever had a ten for Gore and Brutality.
  • Play two-factor.  Choose two attributes (by dice roll if that’s easier), and you have to maximize your score across both.  So your ten coupled with a two isn’t going to beat somebody else’s six and seven.
  • Everybody gets to look at their cards, but at each turn roll a die to randomly determine which attribute will be played. That way you at least have to decide which card to play.
  • Everybody gets a hand of six cards. Your goal is to maximize your score by playing one card per attribute. For your turn you play it like Go Fish in reverse, offering up a card to see if anybody wants to trade.  For example say you’ve already got Richard III as a 10 in Last Words.  But you’re also carrying Hamlet, and you really need somebody with a better Speed of Death score.  So you’d say, “Does anybody need Hamlet?” without specifying his numbers – people have to learn who the good cards are.  If more than one person wants him, they can make their case – “I’ll trade you a Young Macduff” – and you decide who to trade with.  When everybody’s happy with their hand and either doesn’t want to trade or can’t find someone to trade with, total up your scores.
  • Play by poker rules.  Deal out five cards, try to match up the plays – “I’ve got a full house, three of Hamlet and a pair of Richard III.”

Those are just some ideas, some literally off the top of my head as I write this post.  There aren’t enough cards to play some of the games I thought of.  You’ll quickly be surprised with who is – and isn’t – in the deck, as well as how they’re graded.  This is covered in the rules, and there’s even a blank card to add your own.  A nice idea, but I would have preferred that they just make all the deaths.  It’s been popularized in posters and infographics, it’s not really a hard data point to get.  If there’s too many you could start lumping them together (like “Macduff’s Family”).


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One thought on “Not So Great Shakespearean Deaths (The Game)

  1. I got this as a gift from muy mom, too. The way you interpreted the rules is the same way I did. I later found them posted on boardgamegeek z apparently we’re supposed to deal out all the cards and the person who wins the round puts the won cards at the bottom of the pile they’re playing from. I can’t imagine those changes making it better.

    I found your post because I was looking to see if anyone had published alternate rules. I might try you’re Go Fish version. It won’t be any worse.

    I do like the cards themselves. They’re fun. It’s just to bad that the game isn’t. Though it might be a good introduction to Shakespeare for a kid who’s just graduating from War (that was the game I compared it to, as well).

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