Overview: Carnival is a set collection card game from Dice Hate Me Games. You’re the manager of (what else?) a carnival and you’re putting together your rides. You need to collect all of the various parts, then assemble everything on your Midway. But there’s a twist. Instead of just getting all the right cards and playing them, you roll dice. The dice determine what actions you can take against your opponents, which adds a fun tactical element to the mix.
Ages: 10 and up, based on recommendations at BoardGameGeek
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Retail: $25 on Kickstarter, $35 for Carnival and The Sideshow expansion
Rating: The game has a great look, a fun theme, and the gameplay is as entertaining as a real life carnival but without the actual carnies (though carnies are available in card form, if you get The Sideshow)
Who Will Like It? If Ferris wheels and bumper cars really get your calliope whistling, and you love card games, then Carnival is for you.
Carousels and rollercoasters and carnies, oh my! If you’ve ever been down the midway of a state fair or local carnival, then you’ll know what to expect here. The deck is made up of cards, all coded to specific rides that one finds at a carnival. Each ride has a number of parts necessary to build it. You have to build all your rides and open your carnival for business before your opponents do.
The artwork is spot-on, with colorful-yet-dingy illustrations of your favorite carnival rides. When was the last time you ever wandered a spic-and-span midway? Didn’t think so. Carnival‘s aesthetic mimics this perfectly. Everything is scuffed and faded just enough to make it charmingly thematic, but not too much to be downright ugly.
The theme and the gameplay aren’t inseparable, but they’re a great match for each other.
I’ve only played a prototype copy of Carnival, but I’ve played retail games that were less polished. As mentioned above, the art is near-perfect, and the tableau that helps you remember the dice effects is clear and easy to understand. The game comes with:
- 80 Parts cards (20 each of banners, lights, materials, seats)
- 20 Midway base cards (4 each of bumper cars, carousel, ferris wheel, rollercoaster, swings)
- 6 Wild cards
- 12 Tickets
- 3 Dice
- 1 Tableau
- 4 Reference Cards
The Sideshow expansion, which is only available to Kickstarter backers and will never be offered for sale elsewhere, includes a few additional items:
- 6 replacement Wild cards with special characters from the carnival sideshow
- Special antique marble finished dice from Chessex
- Lucky Dice game
Carnival is, at its core, a trick building game. Each player starts out with a hand of cards and has the option to either roll the three dice and choose two of them to perform the actions on the tableau, or to discard a Wild card (should they have one in their hand) and some of their cards to draw new ones.
The goal of the game is to build 4 out of the 5 possible carnival rides on your Midway (the space directly in front of each player). Each ride has four parts: banners, lights, materials, and seats. The Wild cards can substitute for parts, but a ride that is completed with a Wild card is never safe from your opponents’ sabotage.
It’s the dice that give the game its unique strategic spin. Depending on the results of your roll, you can choose to take a card from the deck, take a card from the discard, or take or trade cards from other players’ hands. You can also take or trade cards with another player’s Midway, but only with incomplete rides or rides that have been completed with a Wild card. You roll three dice and choose which two you’d like to use. If you roll triples, you must perform that action three times.
Each player can spend one of three Tickets, by either re-rolling your dice or bumping one die’s roll up or down by a single pip. You can also use Tickets to cancel out an opponent’s action against you. To regain Tickets, you must build “natural sets” of rides (those built without the use of Wild cards).
For more information about how to play, check out the video below, or download the rules.
I had a lot of fun with Carnival. It’s casual — something that could cleanse the palate between meatier fare — but to call it “simple” doesn’t do it justice. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved with Tickets: when to hold onto them and when to effectively use them. You also have to think quickly when deciding how to use the dice you rolled. It’s a game with a two page rulebook, but there’s a lot of meat hidden between those two pages.
Carnival is currently available only on Kickstarter. It hit its funding goal in 16 hours, but now the developers, Cherilyn Joy Lee Kirkman and Chris Kirkman, are planning Phase Two. What’s Phase Two? Well, aside from an updated goal of $10,000, they’re hoping to expand the print run and bring per-unit costs down. This would likely result in something special for all the backers.
This is Dice Hate Me Games’ first publication. If you watched the video up above, you know that Cherilyn and Chris are passionate about games. Chris has been running the Dice Hate Me blog for over a year, reviewing games and being a great all-around ambassador for the gaming hobby, and he and Cherilyn host the bi-weekly State of Games podcast. If it’s one thing these two know, it’s games, and now they’re making them (the next on the list, VivaJava, looks like a blast). They’re asking people to help them out via Kickstarter, and in return, they promise more awesome games for us to play.
Wired: Quick and satisfying set collection card game with unique dice mechanic, great theme, warm fuzzies for helping a great gaming company get off the ground.
Tired: Probably won’t scratch your grognard itch.
Disclosure: Chris Kirkman, the artist and publisher of Carnival, happens to be both my friend and my landlord. And no, he didn’t give me a discount on rent for writing this blog post. I also playtested the game in its early development stage.