by Chris Garcia
Every now and again, you accidentally find yourself in the perfect place for the perfect event: you find a dropped 100 dollar bill in the middle of the road, a diamond in your Campbell’s Soup, or end up in the path of a Home Run ball worth 3.81 million dollars. I had a moment like that in Philadelphia this past December, where everything lined up and I got to be present at a party where a group of game designers were showing off their first presentation: a miraculous game called Showbiz Shuffle.
I had come out from California for Philcon to be on a few panels and down a few Philly Cheesesteaks, no idea that my life would be changed by attending a party. There, the designer—the uproarious Joan Wendland—and friends who had play-tested the game sat me down and taught me the basics of Showbiz Shuffle (2-4 players): try to assemble an actor, director, and some supporters. The first thing you notice are the cards, featuring caricatures of Hollywood personalities, past and present, drawn by professional caricaturist Lar deSouza. It’s fun just to test the knowledge of those you play with to see who can name the most stars from their pictures, a game in which I am the undoubted Sunnyvale, CA champion. The cards though, aside from being pretty, also contain the essentials of the game: point values used to determine the success of a finished film, and a color-coded section which tells you the genre of films the player can appear in. Some cards, such as the Studio Favorite (which I believe is Mr. Martin Scorsese) tell you to draw a Biz card, allowing you to improve your movie, or hurt others by doing things like winning Oscars, or causing their stars to be Upstaged. The cards are classy, but how do they play?
Each turn is like taking a meeting in the classic Hollywood boardrooms of the Studio era. Who do we cast to star in our new romance picture? Who in the stable can direct a family film? What’s that Wood fellow doing casting Clint Eastwood? You keep a hand of five “Bod” cards, contract players who are potential stars, directors or supporting players. There is a Cattle Call of five more Bod cards that every player can pull from on their turn. Every turn, you can cast one Bod from the Cattle Call and two Bods from your hand into your latest opus, but they must be able to fit into the genre of film that you are making. You can also play one of your Biz cards each turn, allowing the fun to add up. You can only have one director, two Stars, and a pair of supporters in each film, which makes casting harder as there are lots of supporters, while directors are precious indeed. When you have completed the five Bods needed, you total up the points from your actors, Biz cards, and any of the little bonuses, such as playing the Classic (Kate Hepburn) with the Final Bow (Spencer Tracey), giving you +2 to your film, and write it down (though, recently we’ve been using poker chips to keep track, mostly so we have something to do with the poker chips we got for Christmas). After you have run through the cards once, the player who draws the last card plays and then every other player gets one turn to complete the movies that they have in the works. If you fail to complete a film, the points you put into it count against you, since your studio blew all that cash on casting and got nada out of it. The one with the most points wins, just like in Hollywood.
Now, the room in Philly where I ended up was a Blood and Cardstock party where they were teaching folks to play the game. As soon as I started playing, I knew all of my friends back west would want to get a piece of the action; after all, Cali is where a good Hollywood game would be most appreciated. It’s a blast, especially as folks start to screw their friends by playing Drug Problems on others stars, or sticking their films with the dreaded NC-17. The power of the game is the simplicity, the fact that you can complete a game in half an hour, and there is just enough room for movie fans to make cinema references and talk trash, which a film geek like me specializes in.
Showbiz Shuffle is the first game from Blood and Cardstock games, and they are planning an expansion deck featuring the golden age of Hollywood. You can order the original at www.blood-and-cardstock.com. Their next card game—Counting Sheep, the surreal game of dreams you play while you’re awake—will be released this fall.
All in all, a great game for anyone who loves card games or movies, and the perfect game for those of us who live in both worlds.