It was one of those last minute grabs from the shelf. I had a bunch of really good games I was keen to play but I felt I owed it to Guillotine to take it with me. I think it had nearly been a year since I last played it and I felt a debt to the game to offer it as an option. Turns out the group of kids I was playing with enjoy a good card game and were keen to give it a go.
I have played Guillotine quite a few times but never once I have I seen the game played with as much hilarious maniacal madness as I witnessed in the several games I had with this group. It was cutthroat from the instant we started and they didn’t let up. People were providing backstories and justifications for why they were playing cards that targeted other kids, some were using politics to direct attention away from themselves onto others and people were piling on whenever they got the chance to kick a person when he or she was down. And the thing was, it was amazing fun. We took a game aimed at beheading French nobles and used it as a chance to take a few swings at each other as well. To be honest, I had never even realised the game was truly a “Take That” game until I played with these kids.
No wait, that's not what I meant by "Take That".
That's Better! There are plenty of Take That games and it is a divisive genre of play. People absolutely hate playing a game where you could be targeted by one or more people for no reason whatsoever. Yet I love many Take That games including Cutthroat Caverns, King of Tokyo, Survive: Escape from Atlantis!, Smash Up, Bang the Dice Game, Cosmic Encounter, and many more. I love the power of interaction with these games and the chaos that can ensue. Yet when it comes to good game design for Take That games the topic becomes somewhat tricky. Unlike many other genres of game, I would argue that Take That games require the right people to play with. Sure, you can say this for all genres, but I have played many games where I was still able to enjoy the game and attest to its quality, despite the audience I was playing with. However, I cannot imagine any game in the Take That genre to be enjoyable with a bad group.
I used to love playing Munchkin. I loved the art of trying to pass yourself off as a non-threat and then sneak by with a victory. I loved the fun and crazy interactions the game provided, that was until I played it with the wrong group of people. This group loved the game even more than I did and lived by the rule that the owner of the house determined all rule challenges. I was targeted early on and taken out of the game, and I was Ok with that because it was all in good fun and that is what happens in Munchkin. Until I was about to king make. As part of the rules I could use my cards to help someone else, so in good Munchkin style, I was using my cards to aid another to victory to spite my villainous opponents. A rules challenge was made and the owner, one of the people I was hindering, made the call against my action and I was denied the support. Fine, that was all in keeping with the rules and the game. I accepted the decision was until the roles were reversed and the same situation occurred only it favoured the owner of the house. As was obvious I challenged the ruling in keeping with the decision made earlier that resulted in me being denied to give victory to another player. Now the ruling was different and the owner won. This angered me and soured my experience of the game. This was more than using the rules to have fun, this was being openly and directly inconsistent to twist the rules to win the game. I had never had a bad game of Munchkin until then but that one experience was enough for me to not want to play again.
This does not mean I think the game of Munchkin Is flawed in any way. It was designed with rules to be flaunted and obfuscated all in the name of fun. But that’s just it, all in the name of fun, not in the name of winning. My experience made me acutely aware of the subtle social contract I enter into with Take That games. The game must be about fun and not about winning. It seems that once the play becomes competitive the fun is sucked out, as it was in the Munchkin game I described. However, that game of Guillotine was perfect, and it was all because of the people.
The students I played with contained no malice, took nothing in spite, and rolled with every hit. They remained light-hearted and no one was so overly competitive that they tried to argue and twist rules to win. Who you play with matters and Take That games live and die on the group they are played with. And when you do find that group you can play such games with I think Take That becomes a fully enticing genre of game to play. So if you do find yourself facing a Take that game go into it with the right attitude, plan to be dedicated to the fight, but not to the victory and I guarantee everyone will want you back for good.