Guillotine Review

Guillotine Box Art

Game Info

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

Year Published: 1998

Number of Players: 2 to 5

Play Time: 30 minutes

Set-up Time: Less than 5 minutes

Learning Curve: Low

Ages: Rated 12 and up (suitable for 10 and up)

Table Size: Small


It’s the French Revolution, and you are an executioner tasked with beheading nobles. For the next three days, your job will be to corral the royals and make sure none escapes his fate. To make things more interesting (as if that weren’t interesting enough) you’ll earn prestige for offing the most influential nobles, but be careful not to kill anyone the people don’t have a beef with or your reputation will suffer.

Guillotine is a simple card game playable in about thirty minutes. Players take turns beheading one of twelve nobles in line, each with an associated point value. For each noble beheaded you gain those points, and the person with the most points at the end of three days is declared the victor.

To help you perform your job you are given five action cards, playable once each turn. Action cards let you rearrange the order of the nobles in line or perform special actions not covered by other rules. As with many card games, the rules are printed directly on the cards so you don’t have to worry about referencing the manual every time you wish to perform an action.

Turn order in Guillotine is comprised of three easy steps:

  1. Play an action card
  2. Collect a noble
  3. Draw an action card

It’s easy to learn and get started, but there are a lot of small considerations and simple strategies.

Each noble has a point value, ranging from negative points for Martyrs and the Hero of the People to five points for Marie Antoinette and King Louis. You only get one chance to play an action card, then you must collect the noble at the front of the line.

Many action cards allow you to alter the line order in some way. Some will say “move a character up to two spaces in line,” while others might say “move a character exactly four spaces.” With a little luck of the draw and a bit of strategy, you can manipulate the line to get you the most possible points — or to at least stick your opponents with the bad cards.

Not all action cards manipulate line order. Some act as bonus points, others let you draw an additional card, and still others, such as the Scarlet Pimpernel, force the day to end regardless of how many nobles remain in line. Unfortunately not all action cards are created equal, but for the most part there aren’t too many cards that unbalance the game in a serious way.

To add one final complication to play, a few of the noble cards have their own special actions. The Master Spy moves to the end of the line every time an action card is played, making him tricky to capture. If you have the Count and the Countess together you get bonus points, and Palace Guards are worth extra points for each additional guard in your collection. Each of these special cards adds another element to play and can make a big impact on whether or not they’re worth capturing.

Overall, the game is easy to learn and quick to play, making it a great game to bring out at the end of game night, during parties, or when the relatives come over for dinner. Everyone will enjoy the art and the generally high production value of the game, and youngsters especially enjoy the game’s unique prop — part of the box’s interior turns into a pop-up guillotine! This game is easily recommendable to everyone, both casual and serious gamer alike.


Guillotine is a simple, fun, and straightforward card game suitable for most ages. That being said, there are a few things to consider in regards to ease of access.

In-game Text: Every action card and many of the Noble cards possess some amount of important in-game text. As with most card games, the text is small and can be difficult to read for people who are low vision. It may be necessary to carry a magnifier to read your own action cards. For Noble cards, which are always laid face up on the table, I usually have someone read the card details to me.  It would be difficult to braille every card; if you have no vision or if a magnifier is not sufficient, you may need to keep a database and track your hand electronically.

Finally, the language on the cards is relatively simple, but in some cases there is a lot of it. You only need to scan each card for a couple of familiar key phrases (such as “up to 2 spaces”), so even if you have reading difficulties it shouldn’t be too much of an impediment.

Line Order is Important: Twelve Noble cards are placed on the table at the start of each day, drawn randomly. Because the game revolves around which Noble is at the front of the line when it is your turn to collect, and because the line order shifts and changes constantly, it is nearly impossible to memorize which Noble is where at any given time. If you have problems seeing, you may need to ask which Nobles are at the front of the line when it is your turn, or where a specific Noble might be if you have a card that calls for one.

Use of Color: Each Noble card has one of five colors associated with it. For the most part these colors are inconsequential, but a few action cards do reference them. If you have problems with color, it’s okay to ask others for assistance — rarely does the game reward total secrecy.

Fine Manipulation: You must constantly manage a hand of cards. Each player starts with 5 action cards, but because it is not necessary to play an action card each turn you may wind up with a large hand. If necessary, you can use poker card holders or Scrabble stands to help you manage your hand.

Theme: Guillotine is a game about beheading nobles during the French Revolution. While the game is certainly simple enough to play for children of most ages, parents may wish to consider this before deciding whether or not to let young children play. Generally speaking the thematic elements are limited, but there are cards called “Fountain of Blood” and “Piss Boy” that some may find objectionable.


4.5 / 5 stars