Michael Wenman’s The Great Bard has a lovely conceit, whimsically and wittily told: you are all Shakespeare’s theatre company, making up plots while the Bard himself snores drunkenly in the corner. To do so you randomly generate a setting, a chief protagonist and a style, then proceed to construct scenes using the game of Thirty One. Each new card dealt out adds a description to the scene, and the highest hand gets to tell how it concludes. Distinctions can help raise or lower the value where appropriate, as can the strength of your relationship with other PCs, and the suit of the cards tell you what humour an action is aligned with. Cleverly, nobody plays the protagonist, and everyone else is simply trying to influence him as minor characters, as well as achieving their own dramatic endings (dealt out as cards). You work through the Act structure (again!) until the appropriate questions are answered and then have a denouement.
I love a rigid strucutre, I like thirty-one and I love the idea of playing the non-protagonist characters. I also really like how strength of relationship matters regardless of whether it is positive or negative – nemeses are just as important as true loves, and both more important than casual pals. Unfortunately, the game is kind of incomplete. It’s not clear how distinctions really work or how tokens are awarded in relationships or precisely when the humours of the protagonist are changed, or how precisely the cards give scene elements – and many other things indeed are equally unclear. But at least what structure it does have avoids the handwaving or “just do a scene” stuff from other contenders. I like rules light games, but I never consider that an excuse for shortcuts or lack of structure!
Like everything Wenman does, it looks gorgeous and reads like melted butter, and has some kind of insane graphical and gamer genius to it. Hope to see it finished, or moved along some more.