Overview: Cartoona is a funny tile-laying game in which you’re putting together goofy creatures (drawn by cartoonist Robert Burke). There are various types of body parts — heads, necks, noses, tails, feet — and your goal is to collect the most points by assembling high-value creatures before your opponents. With several variations, the game easily scales from young kids to adults. Cartoona is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter — the campaign ends April 5.
Ages: 3 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Retail: $25 on Kickstarter; planned MSRP of $34.99
Rating: Fun and silly. A little like Carcassonne, though everyone is building their own creatures rather than in a common area.
Who Will Like It? Little kids will love the crazy cartoons. Fans of tile-laying and puzzles may like the gameplay. There’s a high degree of luck, and the variety of different gameplay options broadens the appeal.
Theme: Wacky creatures! Ok, there’s not really a storyline or anything, so it’s basically all about putting together funny animals with weird body parts.
My copy of the game was a rough prototype, so I can’t speak to the final quality of the pieces. However, here’s what the game will come with according to the instructions:
- 94 creature tiles (ears, nose/mouth, head, body, front body, back body, front feet, back feet, tail, single-tile creatures)
- 70 game cards
- 1 scoring pad
- 1 scoring pencil
- 1 children’s game objective sheet
- 8 player screens
My prototype version didn’t have the player screens. You can see samples of them on the Kickstarter page: they’ll have the tile distributions on the back, so you’ll know, for instance, how likely you are to get a tail before you put down that back body that needs one. (Answer: not likely.) I also don’t know what the children’s game objective sheet will have on it, but my guess is something like “a creature with three eyes” and “a creature with wings and stilts,” various goals that the kids can try to achieve.
Since there are several different ways to play Cartoona, I won’t get into all of the details here. You can download the rulebook here.
Essentially, you have a hand of tiles, and you can play one tile per turn, trying to complete a creature. You can play on teams or individually — in team games, each player can only have one creature in front of them at a time, and in individual games you can have two. Once a creature is completed, you have the option of scoring it right away (and then discarding it) or saving it if you’re hoping to get a higher-scoring creature. However, leaving a completed creature out means that other players can play cards on it, possibly reducing the score.
You get double points if your creature is entirely made of a single color (or appropriate wild pieces). Depending on the types of body parts you get, you can create creatures as small as a single tile or as large as eight tiles. (The optional Long-Neck expansion increases that, since you can string together any number of the necks into one creature.)
The goal of the game is to be the first to reach fifty points.
In addition to the tiles, there are cards which can do all sorts of different things: some add or subtract points from a particular tile. Some will let you swap or steal tiles, or play front feet on the back of a creature. If you’re using the cards, you’ll get to draw a card each turn, and play one card if you choose.
The “Basic” game doesn’t use the cards, and is a little easier to teach younger kids (and kids who can’t read). For very young kids, you can also try the Children’s Game version. It can be played cooperatively or competitively, but you set a goal of some type of creature, and see if the kids can build one.
The best part of Cartoona is the tiles. As my kids discovered, they’re just fun to play with. After we played the game a couple of times, they wanted to just spread out all the tiles and build as many single-color creatures as they could, seeing how many of each type there were. It makes for a fun, free-form sort of puzzle.
I like the fact that the game can be played with different sets of rules, teams or individuals, with or without cards. It lets you adjust the complexity to suit whatever players happen to be at the table. However, without the cards, the game can feel more dependent on the luck of the draw. If you go for a six- or eight-tile creature, and then end up not being able to get a pair of back feet, for instance, you may sit with an incomplete creature for a very long time. There is some strategy involved: do you play the back part of a body which requires a tail, or that head that will need a nose and ears? Or do you hang onto them until you get the other parts, and then play them? They’re worth more points, but only if you can complete them.
Using the cards introduces another element of chance, in what cards you happen to draw, but since they allow you to affect scores and swap or steal tiles, they give you access to creature parts beyond just what you drew from the piles. Many of the cards can be used to provide bonuses or inflict penalties, either on specific tiles or on creatures with certain characteristics. Others just let you take particular actions, or prevent other players from using their cards. I would definitely recommend playing with the cards if all the players are old enough, because it adds another layer of tactics that you can use and you aren’t wholly dependent on what tiles you draw.
The single-tile creatures are a little iffy: they’re worth a few points, but the rules I got say that you actually get a bonus for having two, and another bonus for having all three. You either draw them or you don’t — and if you draw all three of them, then you get quite a lot of points between the creature score and the bonus score. They are optional, though: you can just pull them out of the game if you want, and my kids thought the “free points” aspect wasn’t really fair, so we didn’t use them. When I mentioned this to Burke, he said they’re testing another rule, where you can get the bonus points for multiple single-tile creatures, but only if you have them on the table simultaneously. So that means you can either score the creature right away (and forfeit the bonus) or you can leave it on the table until you get the second and third creatures (which gets you the bonus but also allows others to steal it away).
Since the rules are still being fine-tuned, things might still change a little bit here and there as Burke tweaks the game. However, from what I’ve seen, I think Cartoona is an excellent game for families. There’s enough there for adults, as long as you don’t mind the element of chance and a good bit of direct conflict as you play cards against each other.
Wired: Wacky creatures are really fun to assemble; lots of humor mixed with some medium-weight strategy.
Tired: High luck factor in what body parts you draw from the pile.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.