Nominal Award: Best Alternative Game
Mechanincs: Card drafting, Action Point Allocation
Players are producing a play for the queen. The play is to have actors, costumes and a set, each of these contributes to its prestige, the scoring upon which victory is based. While prestige may be what players are gunning for, money is just as important. Every player must make enough money to pay his or her hires. Failure to do so will cost prestige.
Every player begins with an author, an actor and a cratsman. During each of six rounds, players recruit a new hire, a card that gives that player access to a new action. The hire also has a fee that must be paid by the end of the game. The stronger the hire, the higher the fee. A player must carefully weigh the benefits of the hire before they choose to bring it on. Furthermore, players are competing over the hiring field. First choice goes to the lowest bidder. Not the lowest bidder in coins, but in actions.
Bidding actions is a dynamic unlike any I have seen. By default, a player can have up to five actions. An "action" is the act of using one of his or her hire's abilities. To compete for a great new hire, players essentially must sacrifice the use of one or more of their other other hires.
After the bidding is over, players use the abilities of their hires to develop their play, make costumes and build sets. The elements that go into these aspects of the production are also open to all players. Therefore, players aren't just competing for access to new hires, but also production elements.
Scoring happens during the dress rehearsals, during which players compare their progress and tally their points and income. Altogether, a game is six rounds with two dress rehearsals. All hires are paid at the very end. Special objective cards may earn players a few additional bonus points.
I love, love, love the theme of this game. First, I am a sucker for a game with a unique theme. Second, the artwork is amazing, as each actor resembles a role from a Shakespearean play. Third, having been a theatre person myself, I am aware of the accuracy in how cutthroat producing entertainment was during Shakespeare's time. Even Shakespeare integrated seemingly arbitrary elements into his plays solely for the purpose of pleasing the queen. That is to say: this game, like many others, does contains some arbitrary scoring objectives, but thematically, that's what actually happened in history!
I gave this game the "Best Alternative Game" award because it is the best alternative to when you've played any of my top five games too many times. It has a theme as strong as Mymes or Food Chain Magnate, excellent mechanics to support the theme, no luck (other than drawing the supply and hires) and can be played in about two hours. The only reason it isn't at the top of my list is because I have not played it enough times to make a final decision on its ranking.
In fact, I do have a confession to make. I only discovered this game a week before publishing my list. In fact, at the time of writing this, I have only played the solitaire version. Barring a complete disaster, I am quite confident this will be a wonderful game to play with others, but I can't describe the competitive experience until I've actually competed! Nevertheless, I have played soooo many games and even the best of them that are not already on this list are lacking the one thing that I was looking for to fill the void of the #10 spot. They lacked something to distinguish them from every other game on the list. Cosmic Encounter doesn't offer anything that Imperial can't do. Antiquity is inferior to Food Chain Magnate. Agricola takes too long to outrank Myrmes. Istanbul, like Carcassone, in being modular, requires too much luck to stand against Isle of Skye. Shakespeare, by comparison, ties together everything: bidding, drafting, action point allocation, tile placement, but it add the aspect of bidding actions instead of coins and, all the while, remains thematically distinct.