If it bleeds we can kill it! Wait that’s not right... Uh... Revenge is a dish best served cold... Nope still not right, I mean, it applies here, but... hang on I’m gonna go re-watch Gladiator, and I will be right back...............................
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?! Well I guess you aren’t yet... But dang it, you will be. Carthage is a game currently being developed in my home town, so I reached out to the makers, and lucky me, I got to try it out for a few rounds. And let me say upfront, a few rounds wasn’t enough. I left wishing I could murderize the other players a few more times. I am totally looking forward to its May 17th kickstarter launch date, and if it doesn’t get funded, I may have to burn down the internet.
The easiest way to describe Carthage is basically Gladiator the deck building board game, and it plays so good. Each round you fight for board position, attack your fellow players, build up your armor, and win the crowds favor, allowing you to add stronger cards to your arsenal.
With its modular rulesets, theater deck, and assortment or arena tokens you can put anywhere on the board, no two games have to be the same. So how does it play? Well let’s jump right on into that shall we?
Each player recieves a card for tracking your current life, and favor, as well as a starting deck of ten cards. Tokens are placed on the board indicating spaces that can’t be entered, or bonuses the player can receive when they enter the space. There is even a crocodile pit that you can knock other players into... and it’s so satisfying when it happens. Shuffle the theater deck, and action deck and place them on the board, and flip over five action cards (these are what can be purchased). Finally if you are playing with any modular rule cards, lay those out. Players then place their miniature on any space on the outside edge. If you are familiar with deck building games, you basically already know how to play. Now with all that set up completed it’s time to play! I hope you have injured yourself recently, cuz the player who gets initiative is the player who most recently bled their own blood...
The game consists of three phases. First up is:
1) The Theater Phase
Flip over the top card of the theater deck. This sets the stage for this round. Theater cards can do all kinds of weird things, like blocking players from enter and exiting the inner circle, damaging players near the edges, disabling tokens for the round, and granting bonus movement or damage to the weakest player. During this phase, any flipped over arena tokens are placed face up again so they once again can be used. Once you’ve completed the theater phase, it’s time to move onto:
2) The Action Phase
Ah, now the good stuff. Players draw five cards from their deck (if at any point you don’t have enough cards in your deck to draw five cards, shuffle your discard pile, it now becomes your deck again and draw the remaining cards you need). Starting with the first player, each player plays a single card, and resolves all actions. Keep moving around the table till nobody has any cards left to play. Now seems like as good a time as any to go over the symbols on the cards I suppose.
- Movement (Boot) - Move your piece X spaces on the board
- Attack (Blood Splatter) - Attack an adjacent player for X amount of damage
- Armor (Helmet) - Move your life cube up X spaces on your Player card
- Favor (Cup) - Move your favor cube up X spaces on your player card
- Impact Bonus (Red Splatter and White Burst) - Anything after the white burst only happens if you connect with the attack. (If you connect with the attack you get a bonus, if you don’t connect, anything after the white burst is lost)
- Knockback (Hex with an Arrow) - Damaged opponent is knocked back a space. Great for sending people into the crocodile pit. If players are unable to be knocked back (say they are next to a wall or a pillar) they take an extra one point of damage)
Most cards have more than one symbol, if that’s the case, resolve the actions in order shown on the card. If the icons are divided by a / then the player chooses the actions on one side of the / mark. Once all players are out of cards it’s time to move onto:
3) The Favor Phase
Now we get to reap the awards of playing to the crowd. Starting with the last player, players now start spending their favor on a whole mess of options.
- Purchase new cards - Players can purchase cards from the lineup by paying the favor cost indicated at the top of the card. After a card is purchased it is placed into the players discard pile, and a new card is immediately added to the lineup.
- Initiate (1 Favor) - A player may spend favor to take the initiative token. This can only be purchased once per round. (We did play one round with a modular rule where it could be purchased multiple times, with the cost increasing by one each time).
- Focus (3 Favor) - Remove a card from your discard pile and place it in the focus pile. This allows you to get rid of your weak starting cards... Looking at you stumble... so you are more likely to pull your strong cards when you draw a new hand.
- Evaluate (2 Favor) - Replace all cards in the line up, and if you want/are able purchase one of the new cards by also paying its cost.
- Lobby (2 Favor) - Did you really like one of those theater cards earlier? This let’s you search the theater discard pile and choose a card to place on top of the theater deck.
The Favor phase ends when everyone has either passed or spent all their favor. Remember, favor doesn’t carry over between rounds, anything not spent is lost.
That’s basically the whole game. Keep doing this till everyone is dead. But I can hear you saying “But when I die, I’ll just be out of the game! What’s the fun in that?” Well I’ve got some good news for you my friends if you happen to die (and oh man will you...) you get to come back and try to enact some sweet sweet revenge in the form of one of seven arena beasts. My first game I died then came back as a charging rhino, and proceeded to charge around the arena attempting to gore the person who murdered me. Other arena beasts include things like the rare sabertooth, the old lion, and the deranged fan...
I also got to play a 2v2 chain match which was super fun (we all remember that bit from gladiator where the teams are chained together right...). In this mode you are chained to your teammate and can never get further than one square away from them. It really added a level of strategy to the game. My own teammate kicked me, knocking my over one space causing me damage, but lining me up to smash one of the opponents into the crocodile pit.
All this talking of how to play just makes me want to play it more...
What is excellent about Carthage? Almost all of it really. It’s super easy to learn, and games are fairly quick. I really like the art style the decided to go with:
Matches are exciting, with players cheering and taunting each other. One player hits you, and you hit them back harder and faster. The whole mechanic of playing to the crowd works great with cards like “Circle and Taunt” (move and gain favor) and “Humiliate” (attack an opponent and they lose favor) really leading the pack thematically. The whole idea of the game is to kill the other players, and it happens so fast that there’s no time for players to get angry at each other... They knew what they were getting into...
It’s kind of hard to put things in the decent category. I liked it all so much that it’s all pretty much excellent. As nuch as I loved the art style of the game, on some of the cards it’s hard to actually tell what is on the card. I guess that goes in this category? I suppose? Ugh this section feels so bare... Here’s a picture to fill it up...
Ugh... This kills me a little... Look I love this game, I really do... I just have one complaint... And it’s pretty minor, and I can see why it’s not included but... Okay... When I played the miniatures weren’t actually ready yet, but I did get to see some pictures of them. And dang it they look cool:
Right? They look pretty awesome? And I just took up miniature painting! And the characters are being advertised:
“The gladiators have been unleashed! Who will be the victor? The agile, swift, and precise Retairius? The popular, risky, and brash Thracian? The raw, powerful, and bullish Gaul? The brave, studious, and wise Murmillo? or the wild, angry, and bloodthirsty Dimachaeri?”
So what’s my problem you may be asking? They are all exactly the same, none of the characters has any special abilities to differentiate them. If it just had maybe some optional replacement starting cards for players who wanted them to feel a little different. Maybe give the Gaul a couple extra knock back cards to start? A bit of extra movement for the Retairius?
There... I said it, my one complaint. Who knows... maybe a stretch goal... Or I’ll just have to homebrew my own...
So what did I think Carthage? I’ve never actually funded anything on kickstarter, but I’m really thinking that’s gonna change. It’s crazy fun, crazy easy to learn, and it allows a nice healthy way to murder your family and friends...
Carthage is hitting Kickstarter on May 17th, but in the meantime, be sure to check out their website. If you love tabletop games like me, give it a shot, I guarantee* you won’t regret it.
*(Not an actual guarantee, comments based on personal experience, others expierences may vary, but I really think you would probably enjoy it if you gave it a shot...)