THEATRE IN A BOX
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Theatre in a Box is a board game designed for those who love Broadway musicals and who can recite lyrics and facts about their favorite plays. Designed to be played by either 2-5 individual players or 2-4 teams, the goal of the game is to collect the most tickets as the players wend their way through the seats of a theatre, responding to challenges in five different categories.
At the start of each game, each player (or team) is dealt three cards, a Director, a Musical Director, and a Choreographer. These cards are kept hidden from the other players, but each is worth a specific number of tickets to be redeemed at the end of the game. However, random acts throughout the game can result in the creative team changing, which will impact how popular the individual's production is. Otherwise, as play occurs, each play roles the dice and lands of seats indicating one of five categories: Alpha Theatrical, Song, Tears & Cheers, General Knowledge, or Entertain. Most cards are drawn by the next player in line who will read a question, hum a song, or challenge the player whose turn it is. Successfully responding results in the play receiving tickets and failing costs them tickets. As the player's tokens move to the more expensive seats of the reserved and VIP sections, ticket values (both positive and negative) are doubled or tripled.
The shows used in the game run a gambit in time, from classic musicals such as Guys and Dolls to jukebox musicals like Beautiful: The Carol King Musical to more recent musicals like Wicked. The breadth of musicals means that practically no individual will have knowledge of all of them, which is a place where team play can become important, especially if the teammates are selected strategically. Having players who can sing or hum is also a major benefit to playing the game. The questions are also broad, with some cards calling for acting out lyrics, singing them, rolling a die to determine what response needs to be given, or answering general trivia questions. The Alpha Theatrical category, for instance, may call for the player to roll a d20 and come up with a song for each letter rolled or a series of musicals that ll begin with the same letter.
The game does have some quirks. Ostensibly about Broadway musicals, it has multiple questions about Hollywood musicals. Additionally, because the game is published in Australia, occasionally an extremely Australia-based card will crop up. Those oddities are just that, oddities. What is more infuriating is knowing the answer, even being able to sing the song in question (or others from the show), but not being able to come up with the required fact. Similarly, not all players have the some knowledge base. In some cases, if a player who is supposed to hum or act out a song or show was unfamiliar with the specific song they were supposed to give as a clue, my play group decided they could either substitute another song that would elicit the same correct answer or ask other players for help in getting the clue across.
The cards, board, and box are decorated with cartoonish drawings of the various creatives the players are dealt at the beginning of the game, each of whom has a humorous or punning name. While these illustrations don't directly impact the gameplay, they do set a mood for the game, reminding even the most cut throat players that the purpose of the game is to have fun (as well as win). Of course, with a game that requires the players to randomly break out into song the idea that it is supposed to be fun is unlikely to get lost.
Overall the game is well paced and fun for aficionados of musical theatre. The rules aren't always entirely crystal clear, but players can discuss and agree on any discrepancies in the rules. For those who enjoy the game, there are at least two expansion sets of cards: VIP and Return Season. Both decks are made up of cards that can be mixed into the main deck and even though the backs are labeled with the expansion name, that doesn't give-away their content. Other cards in the deck are labeled for All-Play which slightly changes the mechanics for that card and allows for a more random distribution of tickets.