Guillotine is a fun, quick, bloodthirsty little card game that would grace any group's collection. It is very simple, which is just as well, as the rulebook errs on the side of vagueness.

There is one card, though, where it's hard to work out how the creators envisaged it to be played. The Master Spy goes to the back of the line after any action card is played.

There are two ways of interpreting this. Either the action card is fully resolved, and then the Master Spy goes to the back of the line. This means that, basically, the Master Spy cannot be executed except fortuitously, when he is the only person left standing at the end of a day.

The other interpretation is that the action card is played, the Master Spy goes to the back of the line, and then the action card is resolved. So, supposing you play an action that reverses the line: the Master Spy goes to the back of the line, then the line is reversed, and then THWACK! It's off with his head.

The latter way of playing appeals to most of the groups I've been part of, simply because it allows for clever play (or at least as clever as you can get in a game like Guillotine). I do suspect us of approaching the game too much like diehard Magic: the Gathering rules lawyers: drawing a fine temporal distinction between a card's being played and a card resolving is probably not something that would occur to casual card players.

I was wondering, if anyone else here has ever played Guillotine, how do you play the Master Spy? (I can't imagine Guillotine is a serious enough game for there to have been an "official ruling", but if there has, that would constitute an even better answer!)

8 Answers 8


The Master Spy is quite hard to kill!

Boardgamegeek posed this question a while ago and got this response from Wizards of the Coast.

there is no way to play a card to get the master spy to the front of the line without him just going back after the cards effects.

For further reference, a secondhand account but the ruling was during a WoTC run game.

This is the way I've always played it as well. He's the Master Spy! Of course he's hard to kill :)

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    Pshaw, how do we know the Master Spy didn't intercept the transmission from WotC and replace it with his usual false propaganda? (Good to know that it isn't just me who's lost sleep over this question, though!) Jan 25, 2011 at 7:23
  • @the - he is that good, which is just another reason not to mess with him!
    – Pat Ludwig
    Jan 25, 2011 at 7:29
  • Despite this official response, I agree with the sentiment in the original question: it's more fun to play with a spy that moves before the card takes effect. I also think a bumbling master spy goes along well with the flavor of the game. Oct 18, 2011 at 20:31

Pat's response is spot on, I think (and bonus points for the official response). However, you can still influence whether you get to kill the spy. The most obvious way would be to use a "Double Header" to kill two nobles if there are only two left in the queue. Also, if there are as many cards left as there are players, then you could try playing a card that makes you kill no nobles at all that turn and hope that the other players will all kill exactly one noble - which would leave the master spy for you.

  • I actually killed the Master Spy with a "Double Header" at our games evening last night - very satisfying, and it works however your group interprets the rules! Jan 25, 2011 at 18:16
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    I prefer having him show up first in line and neglecting to play a card before terminating him :)
    – Pat Ludwig
    Jan 25, 2011 at 20:54

I actually found a funny way in which he can die early. The card that reads "choose a player, the nobles will be randomly rearranged just before that player takes his next noble"(roughly). My opponent, sneakily chose herself. the spy moved to the back of the line. then... the cards got randomly re-arranged and she got lucky.

I see that the wizards may disagree, It seems to me that the card is played and the effect was to set up the randomness. The final randomness only occurs after whichever player is chosen is done with their action. It's genius to use it on yourself.

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    I like it! I think almost half the fun of Guillotine is trying to work out complicated ways to kill the Master Spy :) Dec 12, 2011 at 12:07

I have always been of the opinion that it is impossible to kill him until he's the "last one left standing" because he ALWAYS moves AFTER the action takes its effect. We played tonight and a friend played the card that shuffles the line just before his wife would collect her noble. Naturally, she played an action card that had no effect on the line due to the upcoming shuffle and argued that her card took effect when she played it even though the Master Spy was already at the end of the line. As luck would have it, Master Spy popped up at the front of the line as a result of the shuffle and she claimed her card had already taken effect so she collected Master Spy. I feel vindicated to see she was wrong as ruled by Wizards of the Coast.

That being said, we actually had a game where Master Spy was fourth in line at the beginning of the day, preceded by two high point cards and Unpopular Judge. The first two players simply collected their heads without playing an action card. I was third up, but prevented from playing an action card due to the Judge's flavor text. My wife, who was next in turn, happily played no action card and snatched Master Spy from the front of the line since he hadn't moved! So, it is possible to get Master Spy before the end of the day if the right set of circumstances arises.

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    Actually, in this case I think your wife was right -- the Master Spy moves AFTER she player her card, and the line reshuffle happens BEFORE she collects a noble.
    – Chris Dodd
    Aug 22, 2011 at 23:52
  • @Chris - I don't think so; I believe we established that the official ruling is that the card is played, all its effects are carried out, and then the Master Spy goes to the end of the line before a head is collected. Seems less fun to me, but I'm pretty sure it's official. Aug 23, 2011 at 10:12
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    But in this case, the reshuffle is not an effect of the card she played, its an effect of a card that was previously played by another player.
    – Chris Dodd
    Aug 29, 2011 at 20:59

There is only one way it makes sense and it is that he moves to the end of the line so you can't collect him. Otherwise there is no point in them even changing his specific rule. The card is resolved, then he moves to the end of the line making him impossible to catch without waiting it out or not playing action cards.


The Master Spy text is, 'After each action card is played, move this card to the end of the line'. The text implies multiple action cards may be used in one turn, which at first seems to be against the rules. But, it is possible for the Master Spy's effect to be triggered twice in one turn, such as with a 'Confusion in Line' action card (choose player. Randomly rearrange the line just before that player collects his or her next noble). According to a previous post in this thread, WotC official response implies the Master Spy moves 'prior' to collection. Thus, the Master Spy will avoid being collected if randomly reshuffled to the front of the line, as he will just slip to the back of the line after the shuffle.


It has to be one of either two ways, and can't be both. The card reads "after each action card is played".

1). "Played" means put on the table. E.g. I play double feature but the moment I put it on the table the spy moves to the end, and I collect the next two nobles (not the spy). E.g. 2 I play reverse the order of the line, the moment I put it on the table the spy moves to the end, then the line reverses and I collect the Spy.

2). "Played" means the execution of the text on the card. E.g. I play reverse the order of the line and execute the action, reversing the order, then the spy moves to the end. I do not get the spy. E.g. 2 I play double feature and execute the action, collecting the master spy and the next noble, or a noble and the master spy depending on their order. I get the spy.

It has to be one or the other. It rests on the definition of the word "played". Either reversing the order works or double feature works, but not both or neither.


You're referring to the action card 'after you.' You play the card and place the noble in the front in another players score pile, that's the action card effect, then you collect the noble at the front of the line for your turn.

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