Review : Munchkin Shakespeare by Steve Jackson Games

I’ve often daydreamed about using Kickstarter to create some sort of Shakespeare game. The primary thing stopping me is that while I’ve got some Shakespeare knowledge, I have no idea how to even start creating a game for mass production.

The whole package!

Luckily Steve Jackson Games does not have this problem.  Lucky for us, these professional game developers decided to drop a Shakespeare version of their huge hit Munchkin on us back in February.  I immediately hit the “Shut Up And Take My Money” button.  I even added the Kickstarter extras pack.

My game arrived this week!

If you’ve never played Munchkin, it’s a sort of comedy “dungeon crawler” game where you’re all players starting on level 1 of a 10 level dungeon.  On each turn, you fight monsters and look for treasure.  Meanwhile, every combat is a combination of what weapons you’ve found (to increase your score) and what curses you’ve uncovered (possibly decreasing your score).  Other players are encouraged to help you or gang up on you, depending on your friends.

So what I got was exactly this (not sure that I was expecting anything else), just with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s a complete game, coming with a board, full deck, standup pieces and dice.  There are many extension packs to the original game, this isn’t that. This can be your only copy and you still have a complete game.

Sample Shakespearean monster.

The artwork, monsters, treasures and curses are all Shakespeare themed. As shown, “The Head That Wears The Crown” is a level 14 undead monster. Its special power is that it steals any headgear you might be wearing and uses it itself. All the cards are like that. There’s a Rosencrantz card I saw whose power is that, if Guildenstern is in play, he can join him.

Whenever Shakespeare is mashed up with another thing you have to wonder, “How appealing is this to Shakespeare fans, and how appealing is it to fans of other thing?”  Look at the Shakespeare / Star Wars crossover books, they’re incredibly popular, but I can’t stand the things. Guess I’m not a big enough Star Wars fan.

Sample curse card, although in this case a good one!

I think you need to be a real fan of Munchkin to appreciate everything that comes in this kit. They actually did this incremental thing where the more support the project got, the more material they created. There’s a standard idea of “stretch goals” in Kickstarter, but that’s not what this is. This is,

“There’ll be at least 100 cards in the deck, plus 1 new card for every 5k shares we get on Twitter” (for example. That’s not the extra goal.) So I don’t know how many cards I ended up getting.

There’s things I’m a little disappointed in.  The characters (“standees”) are original artwork, but it’s just 6 different colored versions of the same picture over and over.  I thought that there’d be unique characters on each.  It wouldn’t have been hard for them to do that, so I’m not sure why they didn’t. Imagine Monopoly if all you got to fight over was whether you wanted to be the red top hat or the purple top hat?  Having your favorite piece is part of the fun of the game.  They did fix this a bit by offering a set of 3d pieces as part of the expansion pack, which is cool I suppose, but 4 pieces is really just 2

I think he’s my favorite, from the extras pack.

copies of the same thing (each piece has a male and female version), one black, one white.


I like the new card type of “dungeon cards” which I think will add to the game.  They provide a sort of theme over the whole game, including the opportunity to reset the dungeon card (voluntarily or otherwise). That addition feels like it actually changes the game, and isn’t just putting some new graphics and descriptions onto what is otherwise the same game you’ve always had.

We haven’t played yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Maybe once I start getting into the deck and actually having to deal with the repercussions of running into various Shakespeare quotes come to life, I’ll love it?



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Review : Deadpool Meets Shakespeare

I first spotted the Deadpool / Shakespeare crossover in July 2016 and wrote that I was “cautiously optimistic”.  I wrote that I’m not a fan of the current trend of just writing things in iambic pentameter and calling it “Shakespearean”, nor do I appreciate the Kill Shakespeare technique of just having the characters kill each other. I suggested in my original post that while I was afraid of both of those things, I was still the picture of “wishful thinking”, because what if I’m wrong?

I’m not wrong.

Took me forever to find this.  I would periodically visit the local comic shops, flipping through the stacks and sometimes asking where I might find it. My mom even got me a gift card to the local Newbury Comics at my suggestion because I knew I’d have something to buy.

Never found it. That card just burned a hole in my pocket for the better part of a year until relatively recently (month or two ago?) when I finally asked a clerk whether anybody had it, and where I might find it. Turns out another store in Boston supposedly had it.  I file that knowledge. But then, a week or two later, we find ourselves in Boston.  Next thing you know I’m walking out of the store with Deadpool #7 : Deadpool Does Shakespeare. This is actually a reprint of the original, but hey, I’ll take it. This is the one with Deadpool dressed as Cupid on the cover, in case you’ve ever spotted it in the wild.

It is … about what I expected. It’s Deadpool after all, the “merc with the mouth”.  If you’re not familiar with the comic (or the movie), he’s famous for breaking the fourth wall and basically behaving as if he knows he’s in a comic book.  So he opens with something straight out of a PG-13 Twelfth Night: “What country, friends, is this? And what the f%&*???”

And so it goes. He meets Shakespeare, and kills him. When Hamlet’s father’s ghost appears, first Deadpool assumes that it’s Christmas, and then ponders whether they are in a galaxy far, far away (Ian Doescher, who wrote this one, also wrote the Star Wars crossover books).

It then turns into Kill Shakespeare, as our hero meets a steady stream of Shakespeare’s characters, all of whom claim to want to kill someone else, and who try to convince him that they’re the good guy and he should help them kill the bad guy.  All in some syllable-counting iambic pentameter.

I’m glad to add it to my collection, but there’s not much else I can say about it. It’s exactly what I thought it was going to be.



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Frailty, Thy Name is Pretty Woman

My wife and daughter don’t get much time to bond. With two younger siblings in the house it’s hard for them to sit around and watch a movie that might have more “adult themes” than the two younger ones are ready for.  As we’ve worked our way through various 1980’s classics my wife has asked about Pretty Woman, a favorite of hers. I remind her of exactly what that movie is about, and how ugly Jason Alexander gets at the end, and maybe it’s not something our 11yr old boy is interested in or ready for.

But, the other night the boys were out at a karate event and the middle daughter was having friends over (hanging out in the basement), so  I came home discover them watching Pretty Woman together.  Thus began the remainder of the night’s entertainment, listening for random feet in the kitchen and diving for the remote control to make sure nothing questionable is on screen when younger eyes might see it.

There’s a scene toward the end when Julia Roberts’ character convinces Richard Gere to take a day off and relax. She makes him take his shoes off and feel the grass with his toes. Before you know it they’re relaxing as he reads to her.

“Wait,” I say. “What did that book just say?”

My daughter knows this game and is already looking for the remote control.

“Are you serious?” my wife asks.  She knows that the sooner we finish this movie the better the odds we don’t get permanently interrupted.

“I could have been seeing things, but I could swear the book he’s reading from has a big word with a capital S on it. Which would be weird because you’d expect Complete Works or something and his name wouldn’t be the first word.”

My daughter has skipped a good minute or so before the scene, so we wait it out.  I get up and stand near the screen with my camera ready.

Shakespeare in Pretty Woman

“Ha!” said I.  “Not my first rodeo.” If you can’t read it from the picture, it’s “Shakespeare Quotations.”

I actually went back just now as I’m writing this to rewind the movie (on the computer) and try to figure out what he’s reading.  You hear, “deaf heaven” and “my bootless cries.”  Son of a gun, they’ve got him reading Sonnet 29. Awesome. Better than something totally cliche out of Romeo and Juliet. I’m a little annoyed that they’ve got him reading from a quotations reference book rather than a Complete Works. It’s like neither of the characters knows anything about Shakespeare and thought, “Oo, that sounds romantic, we should read that” but wanted to get just the highlights or something.

Not only have I never noticed this, I’ve never seen a reference to it. Not that I was looking all that hard.  Googling “pretty woman Shakespeare” does indeed show some of those “25 Facts You Never Knew” type lists about the movie, and at least a couple of them do drop what Richard Gere is reading.

Is there a larger Shakespearean comparison or parallel we can make? You’ve got all the obvious Galatea / My Fair Lady stuff.  But is there anything else in this movie that connects to Shakespeare? In other words is this scene entirely coincidence, or is it a hint to a larger connection?

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Will This Stratford-on-Avon Drama Have Any Shakespeare?

Jo Joyner and Mark Benton

Here’s an interesting twist. How about a modern day murder mystery series set in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford on Avon?  Jo Joyner and Mark Benton (the names mean nothing to me) star in the new BBC (ah, that explains it) show.

The female lead will be named Lu Shakespeare of course, and I’m hoping that means that each episode will have the opportunity for some Shakespeare references, jokes, plotlines, or just general what have you.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to see the show, being in the US and all with limited BBC access, but I like to look out for my people.  Who knows, maybe it will be a smashing success and spawn a US version based in Stratford, Connecticut.

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Also Based On Shakespeare

Once again the other day I walked into another Lion King is Hamlet conversation. Twice. It always goes like this:

Lion King is Hamlet.”

“Seriously? I had no idea it was based on Shakespeare.”

“Timon and Pumbaa are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

Yes, there were three people talking. How the middle person hadn’t previously heard this story I have no idea, it seems like I hear it at least once a week.  There’s always somebody that brings it up, somebody that has no idea, and somebody that goes “Oh, sure…” and promptly parrots back what they saw on Buzzfeed last week.

I’ve decided that I give up. It’s no longer fun to explain to people that the number of ways in which Lion King is NOT Hamlet far outweigh those in which Lion King is Hamlet.  Instead I’m jumping on the bandwagon.  Enlisting the help of Bardfilm (who no doubt will be responsible for the best bits), I present:



Psycho is based on Coriolanus because it’s about a guy that does what his mother tells him.

The Shining is actually based on The Tempest.  They both take place in a remote location and involve apparitions.

Seriously, though, Titanic is really The Tempest.  Not only is there a shipwreck, but at the end an old person throws valuable stuff in the ocean.

Goodfellas is really Julius Caesar because that one guy gets stabbed a lot.

On The Waterfront is a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice because both are on the waterfront.

The Silence of the Lambs is based on Titus Andronicus. We know all about Hannibal Lecter’s main course of liver with fava beans and a nice chianti, but he never talks about the pie he had for dessert.

Twins (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny deVito) is really Comedy of Errors because both involve twins.

No Country for Old Men is King Lear, for obvious reasons.

Four Weddings And A Funeral is The Taming of the Shrew, only with more weddings.  (The funeral being for Petruchio’s father, which is technically before the play begins, but when has that ever stopped the movie people? )

The Godfather is King Lear.  I don’t know how, but apparently people really do think this. Hmmm, might require a separate post…

Purple Rain is based on Romeo and Juliet because Prince is a character in both.

The Wrestler (2008) with Mickey Rourke is a sequel to As You Like It, looking at what happens to Charles after the events of the play.

The Wizard of Oz is Twelfth Night.  It’s so obvious. Storm causes girl to be shipwrecked alone in a strange new land? The Wizard is Orsino, and Glenda is Olivia.  The Wicked Witch is a gender blind Malvolio.  Not buying it?  I don’t see why not, it makes about as much sense as saying the meerkat and warthog are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

My goal is to own the Google search results for “Lion King is Hamlet” so we can set the record straight and stop people from including it on all those lists otherwise reserved for 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man.  Help Bardfilm and I achieve this goal by adding your comments below!  More content on the page helps drive up the quality score 😉

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Is Romeo and Juliet an Anti-Irish Rant?

There’s not much Shakespeare content in Neal Stephenson’s The Rise And Fall of D.O.D.O, much to my dismay. But there is a bit that’s new to me and worthy of discussion.  The story is a time travel one, and when our hero is transported back to Elizabethan England to hang out with an Irish prostitute, he wants to talk about Shakespeare. He notices that Romeo and Juliet is currently playing.

“It’s a shite play,” she responds, “Just a court sponsored rant against the Irish.”

She then cites her evidence:

  • the “villain” is a Catholic friar, and “everybody knows” Catholic is code for Irish.
  • his meddling is the cause of all suffering and the reason why the play is  tragedy and not a comedy
  • the friar’s name is Lawrence, obviously named for St. Labhras, who was martyred by a poison of his own concoction.

Is this a well known conspiracy theory, or did Stephenson make it up?  He’s got other examples, less specific – the one about the “terrible drunk Irish character staggering about the stage wailing about how all the Irish are villains and bastards and knaves” or the “English king who went to conquer Ireland, and he said the Irish live like venom.”

So, did Shakespeare hate the Irish?



Cressida and Desdemona Don’t Get Along

You may recall that the moons of Uranus are named (for the most part) after Shakespeare characters.  Looks like 27 of them at last count with 3 (by my count) not being from Shakespeare.  Ariel doesn’t technically count because Ariel and Umbriel were intended to be a reference to Alexander Pope’s The Rape of Lock (the idea being that those two, along with Titania and Oberon, were the fairies attending Uranus, the god of the sky).

Well, apparently there might be fewer of them very soon.  Popular Mechanics reports that Desdemona and Cressida are going to crash into each other in about a million years.  That’s totally “soon” on an astronomical level 😉

I guess it has to do with the irregular orbits, particular Cressida’s.  It’s bringing her closer to Desdemona, and the great thing about space is that without anything to get in the way, it’s easy to plot the math and physics out over a few million years and predict with pretty good accuracy what’s going to happen.

Something I discovered in writing this up, though, is that nothing is ever new under the sun (ha!) in the astronomical community.  This new article cites a new paper uploaded to arVix.  But the Wikipedia page also references the “Cressida and Desdemona will crash into each other” note. “Wow,” I thought, “Those Wikipedia editors are really up on their links.”  Not really – they’re referencing a 1997 paper.

Given that Cressida and Desdemona were discovered in 1986 (along with 8 others) as part of the Voyager 2 flyby, I can totally imagine the scientists looking at the Voyager 2 data and saying, “Oh cool, Uranus has like 10 more moons than we thought it did.” <pause>  “Those two are totally going to crash into each other eventually.”

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Tupac on Shakespeare

No, he’s not back, he’s still dead.  Maybe he’s got a new album coming out, you can never tell.

I’m talking about Tupac Shakur’s interview in the LA Times back in 1995, where he drops a bunch of Shakespeare stuff.  I probably heard about this and never paid close attention – I never really knew anything about his work when he was alive, so I have no opinion on the man.  I think I basically assumed that he was just being subjected to the “modern Shakespeare” treatment as idol worship after his death.

Here’s the actual snip from the article.  Man’s more articulate than I thought (though maybe articulate isn’t the right word):

Q: You studied at the Baltimore School of Performing Arts. Does your theater background influence your songwriting?

A: It influences all my work. I really like stuff like “Les Miserables” and “Gospel at Colonus.” And I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories, man. I mean look at Romeo and Juliet. That’s some serious ghetto [expletive]. You got this guy Romeo from the Bloods who falls for Juliet, a female from the Crips, and everybody in both gangs are against them. So they have to sneak out and they end up dead for nothing. Real tragic stuff.

And look how Shakespeare busts it up with Macbeth. He creates a tale about this king’s wife who convinces a happy man to chase after her and kill her husband so he can take over the country. After he commits the murder, the dude starts having delusions just like in a Scarface song. I mean the king’s wife just screws this guy’s whole life up for nothing. Now that’s what I call a b—-.

I just realized that I don’t think he completely understands Macbeth (kill whose husband, exactly?) but I appreciate the effort.

So, here’s a question for those of you who know Tupac’s work better than I.  Does he have any overt literary / Shakespeare references that we should be looking at?  I’m figuring that if they were there and obvious I probably would have run across them by now, but you never know.  I’m open to learning more!


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Review : Will #10 (Series Finale)

I have to admit, now that we know it’s cancelled, I’m disappointed.  I thought there was a lot wrong with it, but seeing Shakespeare and his fellows on tv every week was kind of exciting.  I know more people are sitting down to watch Game of Thrones every week but I enjoyed having a show of my own to anticipate.

This will be something of a live blog as I watch.  I DVR’d it last night but it’s live to me 🙂  Total spoilers will abound, so beware.

Weird that last week’s episode ends with Will running through town, but now he’s walking. Step it up, man! You’re girlfriend’s getting choked out.

I don’t love how Walsingham became an important character with just two episodes left. You can’t just drop a name like that and expect it to mean anything without a chance to learn about the character.

Suddenly Topcliffe’s enforcer (Justice Young?) is a real human, with a conscience? Again, would have been nice to learn more about this character. Holy…?! Just as I write that he kills the jailer as a cover story for letting Will escape with Alice.  Yikes.

It’s weird to watch this and have context for the real story.  The real Topcliffe did eventually get Southwell, and does live until old age.  So I am not expecting him to get any sort of comeuppance in this episode.  But I still want to see how it plays out.

Bizarre that Will can carry a nearly dead Alice around the streets and literally nobody turns their head to look at him.

Will ends up at Amelia Bassano’s house (makes sense) so her personal physician can take care of Alice (with leeches, of course).  This makes everything all better, and soon Will takes her home.

So, to be clear — in the time Topcliffe had her, he never bothered to get her name? He doesn’t immediately head to her house?  Not a great interrogator, it seems.

Now the whole Burbage family knows about Alice and Will, and worse, that he’s a Catholic. So this is what the whole series has been about, even calling back the “Topcliffe was looking for a man with a cut on his hand” from the first episode.  I just don’t feel like it’s built properly to these kinds of reveals. Nobody’s really explained how Richard III is going to be so screamingly obvious to everyone in the theatre (the groundlings are not known for their post graduate degrees, you know) that it’s a scathing satire of Topcliffe.

Watching Will explain to Richard that he’s in love with Alice is oddly reminiscent of Chandler trying to explain to Ross that he loves Monica.  They go from best friends to “that’s my sister!” *punch* But then five minutes later they’re besties again.

Wait, Marlowe’s still in this?  We don’t have time for Marlowe.  Now there’s going to be no resolution to his story at all, I’m afraid.

Hunsdon? They have to convince Hunsdon? Who is Hunsdon?  Is he the one that they did Midsummer for?  I feel like I’ve lost a lot of these characters’ significance.  (Yes, Lord Hunsdon is Henry Carey, who was with Amelia Bassano, and a real character from history.)

I also just realized that the “Tommy” that Marlowe keeps hanging around with is Thomas Walsingham, son of Sir Francis.  The real Marlowe definitely did have a relationship with the real Thomas Walsingham. Now that makes sense, how Marlowe was able to call upon him so quickly last week.

Marlowe finally tells the story of who the old guy was in the bed a few weeks ago – Barrett Emerson.  Unfortunately this appears to be a fictional character.  There’s some theory that perhaps he’s modeled on Lord Strange, but that’s all I can find.

Marlowe gets lots of screen time in this episode but now it just feels wasted, knowing that we’ll never get to really explore anything with it.

…ok, wait, are you kidding?  Next up is a scene of Southwell and his followers self-flagellating (i.e. whipping themselves) while chanting in Latin.  That looks like something straight out of a Dan Brown DaVinci Code novel, and is a ridiculous plot twist.  Was their intent to make Southwell look like a nut? He’s been turned into the villain the last few episodes, but now he looks crazy.

Here we go, time for the play. I’m actually surprised that it took me this long to see this whole plot device as a Hamlet thing, the whole “catch the conscience of the king” and what not.  I’ve been looking too closely at the source material and not the bigger picture.  Shame on me.

The play is good. I like how Richard steps up to play the lead, I wish we could have seen him in some more of the good stuff.  The ending, I won’t spoil. I’ll just say that I approve of how it all goes down. A bit anti-climactic, just kind of “Will the plan work?  Ok, yup it worked with no complications at all.”


Well I guess that’s it.  Alice and Will get something of a Shakespeare in Love ending, which is really kind of a cop-out.  Maybe if there’d been a season 2 they would have done something with it, but now we’ll never know.  Marlowe never comes of anything, other than to offer an Elizabethan “Swive you, Shakespeare”.  Nothing ever comes of Moll and Richard.  Topcliffe is last seen playing with his torture instruments as if he’s going to do something to himself, with no payoff.  Marlow asks Shakespeare what he’s going to do next, and I’m dying for him to drop a hint about a big play – remember earlier in the season when he mentioned Falstaff? And how he was going to write the greatest plays man has ever known?  Instead he just shakes his head and says nothing.  That might be the most painful part of the whole thing. If he’d described his idea for Hamlet or something it would have been perfect.

I hope it’s generally looked upon as “Shakespeare on prime time can work.”  Probably not, but we can always hope.


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Alas, Poor Will. We Knew Him, Horatio

I don’t know that I was expecting any different, but it doesn’t look good for a season 2 of Will on TNT. What, not enough sex and violence for everybody?

I don’t really understand the expectation on new series, reading this article.  On the one hand, “it was the lowest-rated premiere for the network… ever.”  That can’t be good. I also find it hard to believe.  But later that the series was “performing better than most dramas on television… it’s performing at levels that many networks would call a hit.”

What qualifies as a good show for a network like TNT?  Do they pull HBO numbers, or NBC numbers? I’m not even sure in today’s market where the bigger audiences are.

I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we see a second season. Because that would mean that there’s enough people out there who aren’t Shakespeare geeks, who found the story of Will Shakespeare interesting enough that they want more. I’m ok with that.


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