I’ve been sat here in this stuffy dressing room all afternoon polishing my helmet until it gleams. I never knew cardboard could hold a shine so well. My sharpened, pointy stick at the ready, my freshly wallpapered shins and industrial truss also at the ready, I await that fateful call for me to enter the arena….
The crowd await your presence in the arena…press play and make your entrance
…we step into the arena. The salty air mixed with the pungent aroma of sweat and blood burns our nostrils. Having saluted the fickle crowd, we turn to face our opponents. Grim looks of determination meet our gaze. Only one of us will leave this arena.
Victory or defeat, history will remember our name in Carthage…d’oh! Of all the times to be called Trevor…that really instills a sence of fear into my opponents.
‘Here lies the bloody trail of Trevor as his lifeless body was dragged from the arena’ they will write!
What’s All The Fuss About?
Before I get started I will point out that this is not a paid review. These are my honest experiences and thoughts from playing the game well over twelve times before rambling on at length (game kindly provided for review by SAS Creative)
This is no Russell Crowe movie I must make that perfectly clear form the onset. This is the real deal. Gladiators fighting it out to the bitter end. Five may enter but only one will walk…hobble..limp…or otherwisw be dragged out the victor. Now that was what I should have been called. VICTOR. Win or lose, I would be the Victor!
Carthage is a deck building boardgame where the action decks we build drive our movement around a hex based arena, dictate how and when we attack our opponents and even allow us to eek favour from the masses in the cheap seats. This is a mixture of deck building, hand management and a whole lot of ruthless “take-that” combat.
Immersion or Subversion?
Fighting hand to hand in an arena filled with marauding crowds of moronic Carthaginians, lusting for blood. The theme doesn’t get more immersive. And it is the same for the game. We have action cards we must manage, add to (with more effective actions) and apply them to every step of our combat. We have full control of when to move, when to lunge, when to soil ourselves with fright. There is a very clever set of action cards (starting from very basic actions to more and more powerful ones that can be acquired as we become ever more favoured by the crowds. One can quite easily imaging carrying out some reckless, bloodlust attack that, potentially catastrophic, wins the admiration of the crowd…this allows us to build in confidence, to be more forward and be more and more daring (in reality, cards that are more powerful than our basic hand are acquired and added to our action deck of cards)
With a rousing backtrack, I most certainly felt this title lends its theme and gameplay to a gladiatorial combat arena experience…so much so that I could almost smell the fear. So I would argue strongly that the immersion here is so much more than mere pretty pictures!
There is rather a lot going on in this game considering it is relatively simple to play. We have an interesting deck building element that revolves around favour. Performing acts of stupidity, great bravery and the like grant us favour with the ground. This favour is, in effect, our principle currency. This favour allows us to purchase new and improved action cards , allows us to manipulate the gameboard (altering Theatre cards and allowing access to the process of thinning down of our deck). There is an element of hand management where we have to play action cards to facilitate movement, combat and increase favour. We have movement around a hex arena and a simplified combat system that does not require monumental mathematic skills. I ought to waffle on at great length but all that needs to be said is that the basic mechanics all meld together to create a rather interesting yet user-friendly system allowing a solo player to fully embrace the trials and tribulations of gladiatorial combat in front of a crowd calling for blood.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
An interesting art style..rather brutal, dramatic and a little dark in nature lends its self to a full gladiatorial arena event. The actual components are well printed and of a very substantial thickness…in fact all the components are well made and it all ties in together to make for a tidy package. It comes in a rather unusually shaped, elongated box which makes no difference to me but some gamers may prefer a more uniform or standardise size. The only aspect I felt warranted my attention was the need to manufacture my own Essedari figure on a chariot. The game has a hex token to represent him but this felt…hmmm…not as imposing as a champion ought to appear. It actually makes no difference to the gameplay, this was more for my own aesthetic idiosyncrasies.
There was a nice touch in that each player board was printed with male and female gladiators, one gender on each side…and they were illustrated with a very somber realism. None of this high gloss fantasy depicting this scantily clad female warrior nonsense, with ridiculously proportioned, silicone cleavage…Not at all. The female gladiators here are most believable.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Luke Seinen
- Artist/graphics: Luke & Sheena Seinen
- Special Credit: Vukasin Ivkovic, Nikola Damjanov
- Rules Booklet: Sheena Seinen
- Game Publisher: SAS Creative
- Playtime : 30-60 mins
- Gangs of one: 1-5 (1 player solo vs Essedari Maximo gladiator Charioteer AI app, Co-op mode also against Essedari AI, Live player vs player or team vs team)
- Age of Consent: 13+
- DOB: 2017
Carthage is first and foremost a head to head arena combat simulation type of game. It has, however, been cunningly fashioned in a number of guises. It can be played player vs player, team vs team (which is in effect 2 player vs 2 player but pairs of players are chained together, restricting movement, requiring figures to be no more than a hex apart), 2 players vs 3 players, cooperative against the AI app and, of course the all important solo mode, where we, the solitary gladiator take on the vehicular might of Essedari Maximo- Champion Gladiator Charioteer.
It is with this format that I focussed most of my game play experience (although I did try the co-operative mode too)
One may not expect a player vs player game to translate well into solo gaming and to a small extent that is still true. We do not get opportunity to face off against another chainmail clad, spear wielding lunatic, as multiplayers do. Instead a more ferocious opponent has been designed. A somewhat unpredictable menace aboard a chariot. speed, power, accuracy, and an array of multi-weaponed attacks face us head on…well, side on for the most part, as he whizzes past at an alarming speed, but he can turn on us without prior warning and plow us down in the dirt.
Although as soloists we do not quite achieve the multiplayer experience, we do get to use the game’s fundamental card driven combat mechanic. We still have to build our deck of action cards and still have to apply these said cards in such a way as to enable our little miniature to bean about the arena and land a hit or two on the top knot of Essedari.
The free application manages the AI health and movement/attacks. As he is already a major champion, he has no concern for the triviality that is favour and as such, does not buy cards or deck build. The app does present us with the move/attack to be taken each round of combat by the AI and, it certainly felt, upped its game the more wounds the AI accumulated. I don’t know if the app was designed as such or if it was just how it felt, but the more I wounded Essedari, the angrier he became and the more wild his movements and attacks were…I shudder to thing the number of times the sneaky beggar pulled a hand-break turn on me and ran me down with his chariot.
The app does a really nice job of controlling the AI, providing a serious challenge to we, the poor, lowly soloist. I would like to have seen some way to save results on the app and maybe a way to alter the difficulty…not that the challenge isn’t tough enough as it is. But over all, a nice way to make a rather exciting combat system available to solo gamers.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: I tell you what! This Essedari Maximo chap puts up a pretty good fight. He is strong, often sneaky and unpredictable, causing me the greatest of grief in the centre stage…makes me out to be a proper fool! It is a challenge playing the solo game, to be sure. Not unlike a real opponent, there is an element of predictability but just when we are lulled into a sence of false security and when we least expect or need it, he cuts across the arena and tramples all over us with his horses….most unsporting, I can tell you! It is not impossible to win but it is a real challenge to do so. The co-operative game (played solo) is a little less challenging…no, that is not strictly true. Essedari is more predictable but faster and stronger and so it poses a slightly different challenge.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: Probably one of the most unusual sized rule books I have come across but besides its odd shape, it does layout all the rules clearly with illustrations to clear up nay potential misunderstandings. The tn page booklet makes a good job at explaining the game concepts. Co-op and solo rules are also covered here but as those modes rely on an application to support them, additional iconography explanation are found within the app. There were only two areas that I felt needed further explanation or clarification. Firstly the Chariot movement had icons to explain its movement but needed, for my ease of understanding, slightly more explination for those new to the game…and some additional explination for the use of the Focus pile on the main game board. This is, I assume, used for thinning out our decks…to rid us of the less effective clutter.
- Lucky Buggers: combat is down to our skill of positioning and timing. Get it right and Essedari cops an unfortunate one…mess up and we could be in for a stamping, stabbing and a great net thrown over us for good measure. The AI movement and attacks are somewhat random, as would a real opponent, and the deck we have constructed is only as good as the cards we decide to purchase (also how well we thin out our deck) There is no dice rolling so that random luck element will not bother us but all other less predictable factors are all part and parcel of arena combat…certainly at this level of gladiatorial conflict.
- Highs and Lows: This is not a gigantic explorative campaign game so we do not build up such an affinity with our hero as we might, but that said, we do bond with them and do our utmost to survive…it is a survival as we are always…nearly always on the defensive against superior odds..but what better than to emerge victorious as the under dog against the odds? There are graphic references to the true nature of this style of full contact ‘sport’ but the gameplay and card play make the experience a little more abstracted/puzzle solving than a gore-fest. As such, the game is a fairly intense but upbeat affair as we are visually spared the gruesome end befitting the vanquished. There is such a high level of excitement (especially with the right sound track accompanying our play) and it is possible to walk away from a game feeling as if we really have been in the arena ourselves…well, at least I have, after several very close games.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The game has a rather unusual shaped arena board and comes with five gladiator player boards as well as the numerous decks of cards that accompany play. With some very creative planning, it is possible to play this game solo on a large tray (my photos show the game on a table-tray 67cm x 48cm…but you may feel comfortable spreading things out a little) Co-op and multiplayer games will obviously require more space to accommodate the player boards.
Me, Myself and I:
I had several rather differing views, in some cases somewhat conflicting with those of myself and as for me, well…the least said there the better. I bought in to the combat/movement/healing mechanic using the various action cards that, throughout the game could be removed if useless, replaced by more powerful actions and generally built as a deck. I also thought it was interesting to come across a game that offered face to face hand to hand combat as a solo game. I admit to struggling a little during the first couple of games as the app didn’t fully clarify how the chariot moved …especially its cutting across the centre of the arena skill. I even thought that perhaps this wasn’t the game for me. In retrospect the movement is simple and the icons do make perfect sence but I think either a little more explanation on the app or an example diagram would have enabled me to get into the game faster…once I realised what both Essedari and I were supposed to be doing, the game suddenly took on a whole new light. It did become very competitive and the app really made the AI work well as an opponent.
…but I couldn’t help feeling as a soloist, I was missing something from the multiplayer game. Yes, I could build my deck and manipulate certain cards as per normal gameplay, but there were no Theatre cards, no individual Skill cards and no modular ruleset cards. I understand the wording on several make them unusable in a solo game situation, but I felt I wanted that little extra game manipulation (chaos) as Theatre cards alter what I did during a specific round. And the same could be said for the gladiator’s personal equipment cards (as this gave each character a more unique feel) I have emailed the designer regarding this decision but at the time of writing, I have not had a response…I will add this when received.
I actually tried a number of games with some of these cards and still managed to lose so I don’t think they cause overpowered gladiators. I have yet to play multiplayer…although I have watched Youtube videos and it does look entertaining but do feel the co-op variant feels a little flat for me. The game is not bad but as Essedari is more predictable, that excitement from the purely solo game was missing. It still proved very difficult to beat and the characters had to really work together, so as a multiplayer co-op, I can see players enjoying this mode, but for me as a soloist I will stick to the solo mode…which after good ten more games really started to come alive as I began to understand where and when to use the cards I had, when to challenge, when to build up favour and became more selective with the cards I purchased with my favour.
Yay or Nay?
If I were to recommend this as a co-operative game for a solo player, I would have to say it may not “light your fires”. Good for multiple players to play co-op but lacking in the soloist department. However Essedari Maximo is one serious cookie when it comes to solely solo play. The way he performs and challenges makes for a superb combat experience. Admittedly we are not going head to head with a regular gladiator as in multiplayer, but we are facing the Champion Charioteer…a lethal killing machine that the multiplayers don’t get to face off against. We still get to involve ourselves in the game’s combat system but I wonder if there was a way we could experience the Theatre cards and Equipment cards just to fully experience all that the game has to offer. As such Carthage hacks, slashes and pokes a very sharp, pointy stick at the BSoMT 1d8 die for a roll of(6) This is an exciting solitaire combat game system and I would imagine, if I could incorporate the Theatre and Equipment cards, the 1d8 die would warrant a re-roll…and I suspect it will fare much better.
Edit: I have since heard back from Luke and the main reason for excluding the Theatre and Item cards revolves around many cards not being applicable to solo or the unfair advantage it gives a player…
…that said, it could be a way for players wanting to house rule the game to alter the difficulty in favour of the hero. Perhaps somewhere down the line a more complex/competative AI app will be introduced at which point we shall need all the help we can get?!
The sneaky bugger…he’s gon and cut across the middle of the arena again…and how did he miss the bear pit I cunningly dug as he ran his perimiter pass. That does it! I’m going to slash his bloody tires…here is a lot of blood on the sandy floor..which has, in turn covered his wheels…
I’m not sure bike wheels and a banana box are the most substantial of materials to make a chariot from!…and how did he get that V8 to sit snugly up front?
I feel woefully under equipped with a tin-coated goat hair shield and elastic waistband…
Something For the Weekend,Sir?
Carthage BGG page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/224403/carthage
Carthage available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CW6GBZP
Carthage also available from e-bay: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Carthage-The-Deckbuilding-Board-Game-SAS-Creative-Miniatures-2-5-Players-NEW-/142784289565
Carthage Game number 4 (5player)