So here’s the basic idea of Histrio: you’re in a Shakespearean-style setting, trying to get animal actors to please the King who can’t make his mind up on what kind of play he wants. Yeah, animal actors. Stick with it, it’s far better than the theme might suggest.
Firstly, what’s immediately obvious is how great the game looks, mainly due to the flat-pack 3D stage which sits at the heart of the game. It’s quite jarring opening the box to find some IKEA-esque instructions, but it only took me a few minutes to put it together, and the effect is really good – you don’t need to take it apart to re-box it either, which is handy. The stage shows you what mood the King is currently in, and you’ll be flipping a coin to find out what he’s looking for before the game starts, be that a comedy or tragedy production. The back of the stage rotates to show the current request, which is a really neat touch too, and gives players a permanent reminder of what kind of play they’re currently striving to put on.
The game itself is pretty easy to play, and can be completed in around 45 minutes which is a pretty comfortable amount of time considering it takes hardly any time at all to set up (well, once you’ve built the stage that is). Apart from the stage, the main game area is the strip of eight locations, each with one or more cards in front of it depending on the stage of the game. In each round every player decides which of the cards they want to try and get, and plays the relevant numbered card from their hand face down in front of them. Once everyone has played a card, they’re revealed all at once and a ship (of which each player has their own colour) placed at the location revealed by each player – if you’re lucky enough to be the only player in that location, you get to keep all of the cards at that position. If not you pick up a special request card, which only comes into play when each of the two seasons finish, but can give you some big rewards if your actors are lining up in just the right way.
Once you’ve played a certain numbered card you don’t get it back straight away, and to remind other players of which areas you’ve already picked your ship moves onto the location board itself and stays there – very handy when trying to decide later on which locations other players might be focusing on.
The cards which you’ll be collecting from the locations will either earn you some money, or give you an actor from either the comedy or tragedy genre. Some give you little bonuses such as stealing coins from other players or letting you take your cards back, while others make you pay to pick them up but might be more valuable in the long run. You might also get to place a manager on the stage which also earns you money, and as more managers end up on the stage the value increases – the first manager only earns 1 coin, but if there are already 4 managers up there and you add another, you’ll be grabbing 5 coins from the pile, and it doesn’t matter whose managers are there, it still adds up the same. The other possibility is that you’ll get a acrobat which sit in front of you and give certain abilities, such as changing the King’s request or playing multiple cards.
After each round a new set of cards are dealt out into the locations, and where there’s still cards from previous rounds these get added to, so it’s entirely possible that within a few rounds some locations have 3 or 4 cards on; a more attractive prospect certainly, but also more likely to attract other players and therefore harder to win. Do you go for the smaller, less popular piles or go for the big win and chance getting another special request? By the 3rd round that’ll be a very real consideration. You can, if you want to, remove one of the cards from the pile you’ve picked up, so if there’s something in there that’s no use at all you can discard it, but doing so will change the King’s mind again and flip the stage. That might be exactly what you want to do, especially later in the game when your cards are leaning more towards one kind of play than the other, but it’s also something that another play can also potentially do immediately afterwards, so it’s another risk you’ll have to consider.
Once the cards have run out, that season ends and the mood of the King starts to have an impact. Each player checks the various values of their actors and totals up the comedy values and the tragedy values separately. If the King ended up wanting a comedy, for example, the total comedy points would be added up, then have the tragedy points from the actors subtracted to leave an overall total. Whoever has the most suitable play available even wins extra money. Hooray!
Then season 2 starts and everyone loses their actors, but keeps their acrobats and money. The game continues to play through in the same way until the cards run out again, at which point the same process occurs and the winner is whoever ends up with the most amount of money across both seasons. The whole “do it again” idea initially seemed a bit weird to me, but after playing it through the reasons behind it became more and more obvious. It’ll become clear by the end of season 1 who’s winning, and it’s not unusual in games for the winning player to become a bit of a target. In that respect this is no different; players try to change the King’s mood to lose the leader some points, or if a card allows you to steal money it’ll be the leader who tends to get stolen from. Having two seasons like this allows those thoughts to build, and gives the opportunities for players to start teaming up, backstabbing each other and forging faux partnerships which were always designed to screw over the other players.
I really liked Histrio, far more than I expected to. I don’t know why the animal based art work put me off initially, it actually works extremely well, and probably gives the game far more charm than if human imagery had been used. This is a game which is nice and easy to learn, relatively quick to play and will probably get played several times across an evening once everyone’s figured out the very straight forward rules. Certainly one to recommend.
Available Now, RRP £34.99
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