Showtime: A four-sided game review

Showtime* is a family board/card game that plays in about 45 minutes. It’s fine with two to four players but better with three or four, as it relies on interaction to really sing. The box says for years eight plus, which is about right (bright younger gamer children will be able to pick it up easily).

In the box you’ll find a modular game board, 17 cards per player (including one attempting to explain the game’s iconography), plus a few cardboard and wooden tokens. So why the ridiculously large box? It’s a small box game in a euro-sized box, which means it looks better than it might but is also a little overpriced for what’s inside.

But the theme falls squarely in the plus column. The idea is that you’re each trying to seat your cinema goers in the bet seats in the house, for which they’ll score points – but your opponents are trying to do the same, while trying to ensure your cinephiles have a miserable time! This comes across really well, although the artwork is pretty average and there is some pretty dodgy gender politics on display (as well as inclusion issues) – but more on that later.

Teaching Showtime

The game is played over three rounds (films), in each of which every player will place four of their patrons (cards) into seats. The cinema board is modular, four seats per piece, so is built for the number of players – meaning the round is over when all the seats are full.

Each player shuffles their 16 cards at the start of the game, drawing four of them (each player has identical cards, except for their colour). Each time you play a card you immediately draw another one, so you always have a choice of four – and you’ll see all but one of your cards during the game.

Each card has a special ability, plus a genre of film they prefer (although some of the cards simply prefer a second genre, instead of having an ability). A genre of film is randomly picked at the start of each round, so any cards you play that prefer it will score two bonus points. Each seat also has a point value (the better seats are in the middle, nearer the back), but it’s the special abilities that really give the game its appeal.

The theme shines through here. If you’re sat behind the tall guy, you’ll lose points – but you’ll also lose points if the little girl who puts her feet on the seats is sitting behind you, or if you’re in the same row as the boy who keeps needing the toilet. Other cards score bonus points for you: the older man who is hard of hearing will score more points if he’s in the front row, while the chatty teen scores points for girls she’s sitting next to.

Once the cinema is full, you score positive and negative points per seat and, once you’ve done this three times, the person with the most points is the winner.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Designer Stefan Kloß (joined this time by Anna Oppolzer) made a pretty good impression with his previous design Beasty Bar, and Showtime is in the same ballpark: a clever and smooth take-that card game. The theme works better here, but I found the game less engaging – and it had similar problems for a gamer: the illusion of choice soon fades, as you realise there’s normally a ‘right’ thing to do with the cards you’ve been dealt.
  • The youngsters: We enjoyed it as it was a fun game and we could beat our parents! It is sometimes simple to figure out, as what the characters do make sense and can be funny – but some of the the cards are hard to understand at first. We still sometimes need to be reminded what people do and the icons don’t make enough sense, but we still like putting people on the chairs to see what happens to them so overall we think it’s OK – but not one of our favourites.
  • The trasher: The Essen release of Showtime included a small expansion which offers some extra cards. These are essential for me, as they add more tactical options which you can replace the ‘boring’ cards with (the ones that just have two genres and no powers). This may make it a bit much for younger players, but I’d say they’re essential (maybe after one basic play) for players who want to get in each other’s faces! You also need three or four players, as otherwise the very limited number of seats make several of the more fun powers relatively useless.
  • The dabbler: I quite enjoyed the game, but it wouldn’t be one I’d personally see jumping off the shelves for me. The theme is great and really funny the first time you play, but if you don’t have the mean gene you’re simply not going to do very well. However, it would be a good example of modern gaming to play with non-gamer friends who love the cinema – or with children who like watching films. It’s funny how often children and non-gamers immediately latch onto games where they can be really mean to each other too lol!

Key observations

Coming from a publisher as big, established and well respected as Pegasus, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a bit if due diligence done on Showtime in terms of both sexism and inclusion.

While you could potentially claim a couple of the characters have a slightly non-white look, you’ll find no ‘people of colour’ across all the cards; or even in the crowd outside the cinema on the board. Maybe this is just a sensitive Brit thing, but I don’t think so as a surprising number of people have noticed and then mentioned it.

But even worse, for me, were the gender politics. The pretty, busty blonde who gives male characters points for sitting next to her (and negatives for females); while a male character (that we’ve nicknamed sex pest…) receives bonus points for each female next to, in front of or behind him. What were they thinking? It is also completely heteronormative, but I guess that’s less of a surprise. I was proud of the inclusion we managed with Pioneer Days – and it’s not as if it makes the job of the artist any more difficult. It just needs one person in the process to say, ahem, this really isn’t on. Sure, not everyone will be offended – but it takes no extra effort to avoid these issues.

In terms of game play, one criticism is the fiddly scoring. It’s quite possible, once you all know the game, that the scoring at the end of each round will take longer than the card-play: not great. Each seat can be affected by multiple other seats and abilities, both positively and negatively, so it’s quite easy to miss something. Hopefully you have one player in your group that’s good at this sort of thing – and that you trust!

Finally, in terms of the first play experience, the iconography could’ve been better. Luckily this is largely overcome by the fact the theme works well – and that, after a couple of rounds, the players will have seen and understood how most of the cards work. But it can be particularly annoying for those players who want to win every game (even their first) and who misunderstand a card they’re playing: even if they choose then not to play it, everyone knows they have it in their hand as an option.

Conclusion

Showtime was one of my most anticipated Essen 2018 games, so I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment – but that’s certainly not to say it’s a bad game.

If you’re looking for a family game, especially for friends/family that enjoy the cinema, this has a lot going for it. It’s simple to teach, the theme makes sense and the game play is smooth and quick.

But it won’t be staying in my collection: as a gamer I found it over simplistic and lacking in decisions that had real depth. That said, I’ve passed it onto a family who have already started to enjoy it – and if I happened to be over there and they wanted me to join in, I’d happily sit down and play it with them. It does take that in the right way which helps make Showtime a solid and thematic release, if you can overlook the dodgy politics – it’s just not for me.

* I would like to thank Pegasus Spiele for providing a copy of the game for review.

One thought on “Showtime: A four-sided game review

  1. I thought the game appalling. I am with you on your criticisms. Even leaving out the gender stereotyping (not just illustrative but in the roles the characters have), the fiddley scoring was so unintuitive as to make the game impossible for kids to grok. So they have misfired on every level.

    I loved Beasty Bar, a real gem, so was very very disappointed.

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