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The Board Gamer: Guillotine

Written by Gregory Huber on Thursday, March 17 2011 and posted in Features

Unleash your inner revolutionary!

Game Title: Guillotine
U.S. Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Developer: Paul Peterson

Numbers of Players: 2-5 (3-4 is best)

Box Description

This irreverent and humorous card game takes place during the French Revolution. Players represent rival guillotine operators vying for the best collection of noble heads over three rounds.

Will you be skillful enough to bribe the guards and collect Marie Antoinette? Or will you lose points for beheading the Hero of the People.


Guillotine is a card game, rather than a board game. Over three days (rounds), each player, acting as headsmen, works to collect the heads of various members of French nobility and royalty during the Terror of the French Revolution. The nobles are broken down in 5 categories. Purple denotes the royal court(e.g. not just the King and Queen, but also counts, dukes, and the Royal Piss Boy). Blue represents the clergy, red the military, green signifies civic officers (judges, tax collectors, etc.), and gray corresponds to the innocents unfortunately caught up in the chaos. Each noble has a point value, ranging from characters such as the Cardinal and royal family being worth 5 points to the Hero of the People being worth -3 points. At the start of each round, 12 nobles are lined up. The round ends when the last noble is collected. The winner of the game is the player with the most points at the end of the third round.

The one requirement of each turn is that the player must collect the noble at the head of the line, no matter its point value. The strategy of the game comes in trying to continually rearrange the line to maximize the value of the noble one collects. To that end, there are action cards that allow the player to do just that. Five are dealt to everyone at the beginning of the game. During each turn, the player has the option to play one if they wish. Different cards of course do different things. Some allow you to move a noble forward up to two or three spots (some allow a noble to be moved exactly two or three spots. Still others allow extra nobles to be added to the end of the line, allow someone to completely rearrange the first five nobles in the line, and sometimes just add points for every noble of a certain color, including turning grey nobles, who are all worth negative points, into being worth positive one point. And there of course are the coup de grace cards: one allowing the player to immediately collect Marie Antoinette if she is in the line, or actually steal a noble from an opponent's pile.

It is up to the player whether to employ a very aggressive strategy and target his opponent, or focus solely on his own noble pile. Additional strategy comes in that sometimes getting the right combination of nobles is more important than merely landing the king or queen. For instance, the Count and Countess by themselves are worth only two points each. However, if one gets both of them, their point value doubles giving eight points in total. Similarly, the heads of Palace Guards are equal to the number of Palace Guards collected. Meaning if you collect four guards, each guard is worth four points giving a total of 16 points.


Guillotine is not the most complex game ever created. It does not have the strategic depth of many Eurogames. It is however, a very fun, fast-paced game that is very easy to pick up. Games are never really the same twice, as there are different nobles in line and different action cards always in play and there is enough of a strategic element to keep it from being a mere luck of the draw type game, giving the game a high replay value. And as the average game only takes about 30 minutes or so and lacks any small pieces, it is perfectly suitable for families. Though because of the setting, it may not be suitable for young children.

Despite the rather macabre setting (It does deal with one of the darkest chapters in Western history, after all and involves people's deaths) the artwork and tone is kept decidedly light. The creators obviously had their tongues firmly planted into their cheeks when designing the overall aesthetic. Action cards have such titles as The Scarlet Pimpernel, which ends the day automatically, and Clothing Swap (with art of caricatured nobles switching pants with each other), which allows the player to replace the noble first in line. Kudos must be given to the designers for the humorous art style and the easy to understand text.

Winner of the Origins Award for Best Traditional Card Game in 1998 (it was discontinued at one point, and re-printed just a few years ago), the game's strength is that it is simply fun. There is no pretension in this game at all. It does not pretend to be anything other than it is. It is a great game for the casual gamer, and a great introduction to Euro card games.

Online Version

There is an online version of the game at the Game Table Online Website, though it is not one of the more popular ones and can thus be difficult to actually find a game. Personally, I prefer just playing in person with a real deck by a very large margin.

Final Word

I won't mince words; Guillotine is probably my favorite card game. It is easy to play, has just enough strategy to keep it varied, and is simply fun.

The game has the added bonus of being very inexpensive; it can be purchased for $10-$15.

Written or Contributed by: Gregory Huber

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