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Game Preview: Carnival of Monsters, or Richard Garfield Drafts Another Challenge for You

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Carnival of Monsters
Board Game: Carnival of Monsters
Covers old and new
In 2017, German publisher AMIGO attempted its first Kickstarter project for Richard Garfield's Carnival of Monsters, a drafting game in which 2-5 players attempt to build up impressive menageries of creatures by drafting land that allows them to support said creatures. The Kickstarter project focused heavily on the artists involved in the project, touting additional images from all as a lure to get people to back it, but that approach didn't find favor with KS backers.

Nearly two years later, AMIGO is debuting the completed Carnival of Monsters at Gen Con 2019. The game lasts four rounds, and in each round you start with a hand of eight cards — a random assortment of lands, monsters, staff, events, and secret goals from the deck of 215 cards — and you draft a card, play it or store it, draft a card from what's handed to you, play it or store it, etc.

To put monsters into play, you need the land to support them. Each player starts with two level 1 land cards at random, but that's enough only for the dinkiest of monsters. You can draft level 2 and level 3 land cards — distant lands — but you need one or two other lands of the same type before you can put them into play. (You can't travel to the distant areas without first finding something close to you.) At the end of the round, you store all the monsters you played to clear the lands for use in the next round.

Board Game: Carnival of Monsters
Table hogs are not one of the creatures available for drafting

You want to draft and play the largest monsters to score the most points, but until you set up those environments, you can pay a coin to put the card in reserve. The problem is that you might have to do this a lot, e.g., stashing secret goals that score you points at game's end if you meet the right conditions, or placing staff in reserve that you don't have the coins to pay for now. You can't choose to discard a card; everything must be played immediately or placed into storage — and if you don't have the coins to pay for storage, then you're forced to take a loan for three coins, which will cost you five points in the final tallying. Hope you did something worthwhile with that money!

Some monsters have "danger" icons, and they can wreak havoc on your menagerie, costing you coins (i.e., points) if you don't cage them. Some cards grant you hunter tokens that can cage, and at the end of the round, someone rolls three hunter dice to see how many cages are granted to each player. Maybe everything will be boxed up safely, maybe you'll need to take a loan to repair the damage. You decide how risky you want to be when deciding which monsters to draft...

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Hate draft the kraken! (for possible release later)

I've played Carnival of Monsters four times on a review copy from AMIGO, each time with three players, and the games have varied widely from round to round in terms of how they've played out. My first game I was flooded with land, building for larger creatures that didn't come or that were drafted by others, sometimes only to keep them out of my hands. After all, what's one coin spent against another player not scoring 16 points from the largest creature in the game?

As with Garfield's Magic: the Gathering, arguably the best game on the market for decades, you need to find that balance between lands and creatures, between drafting the supporting staff that will boost your engine and protect you from danger and paying for endgame goals that might fizzle out should the cards not fall your way. If you've played drafting games, you know how such things work out sometimes.

Carnival of Monsters is a big box game, but at heart it's a card game that fits inside AMIGO's long tradition of cards games, and with the U.S. division of AMIGO trying to build itself up, it's been given a chance to demo and sell this title first at Gen Con 2019 before the game debuts in Germany at SPIEL '19. For more details on the game, watch my overview video:

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