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Subject: A cleverly dramatic comedic game of animal actors. rss

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Chris Baylis
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When HISTRIO (the title word means "stage actor") arrived for review I had no idea what to expect. I hadn't before played or reviewed a game published by Bombyx and thus had no previous experience of their style or quality. However the colourful box illustrations, front and back, by Jeremie Fleury, showing a traveling theatre troupe on stage being, and being watched by, a variety of woodland critters, certainly drew me to the game. Then I saw that the designers were Bruno Cathala and Christian Martinez and of course Bruno is very well known as a games designer. I have to admit that this is the first time I have heard of Christian Martinez but if this is a sample of his work then he has a very bright future (I do hope he isn't already famous for something and I'm being a real dope though it wouldn't be the first time. I'm the guy who saw Queen as support for Mott the Hoople and said "they might actually be successful one day"). I should mention that the artwork throughout the game is super attractive on the eye.

Each player has a set of Caravelles (ships) and Managers (Mini "ham" actors) plus a set of Travel cards and they are trying to please the King by putting on shows that the King wants to watch. They do this by collecting Actor cards in two colours and then at the end of the season when the grand festival takes place the King's mood is known - red (drama) or yellow (comedy) - and each player adds up the number of cards they have of each colour, subtracts one from the other and that shows how much the King liked (or didn't like) their show.

Okay so I opened the box (I'm going back to the very beginning here folks) and punched out all the pieces - carefully. I put the theatre stage together and then thought it would look really cool if I filmed it. So I set up my camera, broke the stage down again and started to film. When I had finished I looked at the camera and for reasons best known to someone who understands cameras, it had filmed just 10 seconds. Thus I broke the theatre down again - it is ideal to not keep breaking it down once you have constructed it - and I took camera shots one after the other to show its progression, but that has nothing to do with the game, what is to do with the game is that once you have assembled the stage leave it so; it fits into the box constructed along with all the pieces.

Having assembled the stage it is put aside, from now on it is an essential part of the game. It has a swing-arrow that shows the mood of the King (in need of seeing a Drama (dark) or a Comedy (happy)) plus the stage can be a good place to score money (aka VPs). Below the stage the Street is laid out (this is a long folding board that features the 8 different Cities the traveling troupe can visit; these cities are numbered 1-8 as well as named and the players each have a colour coded deck of their own cards also named and numbered 1-8.

The main mechanic of the game has been used many times before. At the start of each turn all players select one of their City cards and place it face down in front of them. Once all players have chosen, the cards are flipped over and then placed, along with one of their Caravels (player pawns) below the chosen city. If all players select different cities there is no problem and the cards available at those chosen cities are actioned. If more than one player chooses the same city then none of the cards at that city are actioned, but each player gains a secret mission card.

The idea of the game is to gain money (Ecus) and have the most after two seasons of touring. The players collect a troupe of actors from the cities they visit (as explained previously - cards are collected from visiting cities) and either placing them in front of themselves face up to show their actors or discarding them and using the card colour (red or yellow) and number (1-5) to adjust the King's mood (by moving the swing arrow above the Theatre). The theatre stage is assembled with a revolving backdrop (very clever idea by the way) which shows the star bunny in a dramatic or comedic pose, depending on the King's mood. If the King's mood changes then all Managers (the other pawn dobbers of the players) on the stage are removed. Managers are placed on the stage when specific cards are played and Ecus are gained each time a manager enters stage left (that's theatrical speak) gaining one Ecu per manager on the stage (including the one just being placed).

Some of the city cards are Acrobats (one of which is the Chameleon who has his own rules) which are collected like Actors, in front of the players, but do not count as Actors. Each Acrobat has a special ability that can be used once per season and unlike the Actor cards they are not discarded at the end of the season. Similarly at the end of each season during scoring the players are allowed to play one of the Secret Mission cards they have collected and this also stays in play and counts again at the end of the second season; thus there is a good balance between collecting Acrobats and Actors (of each drama or comedy) whilst ensuring you have at least one useful Secret Mission for each season.

The game mechanics are simple, there are enough options for all the players, and even when you do select the same card/city as another player (or players) it is not a completely blown turn. Points are scored at the end of each season and paid out as cash (plastic money coins which show heads on both sides, one smiling and one sad). Extra cash is earned by having cards that match the King's mood and even extra cash gained if their show matches the King's mood. So if the King's mood is comedy and you have 4 yellow Actor cards and 5 red Actor cards (Chameleons can count as red or yellow but do not count as Actors) you would score 4 cash points for the yellow cards as they match the King's mood but you wouldn't get the bonus cash for the round for also showing a play that matches the King's mood because you take the 5 red from the 4 yellow and end up with -1 drama. If you had 5 yellow and 4 red with the King's mood being comedy then you would gain 5 points for the yellow plus a bonus (there is a decider as to who gains the larger bonus but everyone who agrees with the King gets a bonus) for showing a play that matches the King's mood. This may sound confusing but it is actually neither complex, confusing or complicated.

When players take cards from their chosen city they have to activate them in the same order they appear in, last played to first laid. Apart from Actors and Acrobats some of the cards give cash (VPs) some cost cash to use, some can be Actors and also allow you to send a Manager to the theatrical stage. Some are used to form your troupe and others to influence the King's mood. HISTRIO has exceptionally good quality pieces and as a game it has play-ability, like-ability and fun-ability (okay I made that one up) and plays well with 2, 3, 4 or 5 players. It is also a game that holds interest, doesn't knock players out of the game and in most cases it isn't possible to tell who has won, or even who is winning, until the final count up at the end of season two.

If I have a question about Histrio, and I do, it is why are the Actors all animals ? It's a fine game because the mechanic works so well, so perhaps the theme of animals is simply because they are much cuter than humans ?
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bruno cathala
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Chris Baylis wrote:

If I have a question about Histrio, and I do, it is why are the Actors all animals ? It's a fine game because the mechanic works so well, so perhaps the theme of animals is simply because they are much cuter than humans ?


answer to this question is very simple...

Actors are all Animals, in the tradition of Fables, like Espe's ones, or mors closer to us, La Fontaine's ones
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