Carnival of Monsters
- Designer: Richard Garfield
- Publisher: AMIGO
- Players: 3-5
- Ages: 12+
- Time: about 60 mins/game thus far
- Times played: 4, with early prototype copy (2017) provided by publisher; 1 with new edition provided by Amigo (2019)
In this newly released game, players act as competing carnival owners trying to collect the most important set of monsters in order to create the best carnival. The game was previewed here in the past for a failed Kickstarter campaign – AMIGO was trying something new to get multiple artists for the cards. As you might expect with a game from Richard Garfield, the game has plenty of different cards, each with some special abilities. In the game, there are 240 different cards, and one of their goals was to have distinct card are for every card in the game. Unfortunately, the KS backers did not agree, and the project did not get off the ground. However, the game is still solid, and AMIGO ended up taking a more traditional route and brought the game to market in the normal fashion – well, each of the suits is done by a different artist which gives some interesting character to each.
I will re-use most of my description from the 2017 prototype version as the rules are the same; and I have replaced the pictures with images from the 2019 version.
The game is played over four rounds (called Seasons). At the start of each round, a season card is revealed – this shows a bonus possibility for the end of the round for having the most monsters of a certain type. There is also a one-time bonus that all players can achieve this round for playing a card of a particular type.
Each player is then dealt 8 cards. They are examined and then each player “captures” one of the cards by placing it face down in front of him. The remainder of the hand is passed to the next player, and they are put facedown in a special place on the player board. Now, each player returns their attention to the captured card from this round. Players can choose to Play the card or Keep the card. There are five main types of cards – Land cards, Creature cards, Staff Cards, Event Cards, and Secret Goal cards.
Most land cards can be freely played to the table, though some require previously played cards of the same suit. There are six different types of lands. These land cards are used to pay for the cost of playing Creature cards. Note that Land cards can only be used once a Season to capture a Monster though.
Each Creature card has a cost of land points in the upper right corner – you must have this number of land points showing on the table in front of you in order to play that creature. Note that some Creatures also have a danger rating on them. This will become important later in the round. Some creature cards also allow to draw a facedown card from the deck to be placed in the Kept Cards stack.
Staff Cards give special effects that are on-going for the rest of the game. There is a cost in gold coins in the upper right of the card.
Event cards are one-use special ability cards, but they have the advantage of having no cost to play (unlike the Staff cards).
Secret Goal Cards are never played. They are placed in your Kept cards pile and revealed at the end of the game. Each of them has conditions on them which allow you to score points at the end of the game.
Again, you can choose to play you card. If you cannot play your card OR if you don’t want to play your card, you can keep it. It costs 1 coin to do so. If you do not have enough money, you can always take out a loan which grants you 3 coins but will cost you 5 VP at the end of the game if not repaid. Cards that are in your Kept Cards pile can be retrieved and played at almost any time in the game so long as you have the necessary prerequisites to play that card.
Once each player has dealt with their captured card, they pick up the hand that was passed to them and choose a new card to capture for the next round. This continues until all players have captured 8 cards and chosen to play/keep each of them.
Once all eight cards have been dealt with for the round, there is a Danger Check – each player must have enough Hunters available to match all of the Danger icons on their played creatures. A die is rolled which shows 0, 1 or 2 Royal Hunters on it. All players will get this number of hunters as their base value for the round. This number can be supplemented with Hunters or Hunter tokens which are generated from Staff and Event cards. As long as you have more Hunters than Danger icons, you’re good. If you do not have enough, you will have to pay a 3 coin penalty for each Hunter short. Again, if you do not have enough coins, you’ll have to take out Loans to pay for them.
Now, the season moves into the trophy phase. Each player counts of the VP value of the played creatures that match the type specified on the Season card. The player with the highest total takes the card (and the bonus VPs that are on it) and puts it in his scoring pile. All of the played monsters are then removed into each player’s scoring pile. All of the Land cards remain on the table to be used again in the next round. They are all reoriented to show that they are all available for use in the next season.
Continue this pattern through four seasons. At the end of the fourth round, there is a final scoring. Players total up their points:
- VP on each Monster card in your scoring pile
- VP on each Secret Goal card in your Kept cards stack
- VP on each Season card collected during the game
- 1 VP per coin remaining
- 1 VP per unused Hunter Token
- -5VP for each loan card you still have at the end of the game
The player with the most VP wins!
My thoughts on the game
Carnival of Monsters (CoM) is a game filled with familiar concepts from Mr. Garfield. The main mechanism here is the card drafting – spread out over four different seasons. One of the interesting things about this one for me is the opportunity to draft cards for the end game right from the start. In CoM, there is only a single deck in the game.
Therefore, you might see one of the more powerful (and therefore most Valuable) monsters early on in the game, perhaps in your initial hand of the first round. You have the opportunity of select this card on the first round, and keep it in your area at the cost of a coin. As you can play the card at any point later in the game, you could easily draft one of these powerful cards early on, and then use that as the base of your future strategy in the game.
Of course, you can’t only plan for the future. In order for you to be able to capture monsters, you have to also be drafting land cards to be used now and in later rounds. Additionally, trying to keep up with the seasonal bonuses can be a valuable source of points. As you can only use each Land card once in a round, you cannot simply wait for the end and score everything at once. There is definitely a good challenge in drafting the right cards at the right time as well as knowing when to play them.
Keeping track of your Hunter situation is also a good idea. In the early rounds, this usually isn’t an issue – generally the lower powered Creatures that you are able to put into play in the first two rounds do not come with that many Danger icons. However, throughout the course of the game, I have found it wise to try to stockpile a few Hunter tokens OR Staff cards that help give protection for the final rounds when you’re really trying to get out the larger creatures. The 3VP/missing hunter penalty can be a severe one when it hits you!
For some, the single deck has been a negative; and I would agree that it can make a frustrating game on your first few plays – when you are not familiar enough with the cards to be able to make good judgement calls on what is worth saving from an early turn. Yet, only that familiarity is created, there are enough different cards to make this decision challenging at times.
Unlike some of Mr. Garfield’s other games, the strategy seems fairly straightforward. While some of the cards have events/actions on them, there is not the same sort of synergistic card effects to wade through like many of his other games. This change leads to a more accessible game, allowing you to include casual gamers easily. The other thing that helps this game appeal to the more casual gamer is the fixed universe of cards. Over the course of the first one or two games, a player will see most of the cards that are in the game – whether in their hand or when played by other players.
The art in the new set is great; and frankly, I think people would have backed a KS campaign that simply promised artwork by Vohwinkel, Lohausen, Menzel, Hoffman, Schlemmer, and Billiau – but, I am apparently a notoriously poor judge of what the KS world wants. But, no matter – the game was done in the usual fashion, and it’s another solid release from Mr. Garfield.
I’m glad that this game has made it to the market, and I think that those gamers that are looking for a new drafting challenge will find something to their tastes here.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor