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Subject: Roustabout - a Carnival review rss

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Steven Stout
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Preface:
I jumped on board with Carnival as soon as I saw it on Kickstarter. The whole presentation was sharp and keen. The designers seemed keen and excited about their new product, and their campaign showed it. I pledged for a copy with the expansion, and seriously considered going for more copies to share. I mention this because I want you to know where the review comes from.

My initial impression of the game was that it was a relatively lite game with some interesting subtle tactics and strategic elements and some nice combative(screw-over) player interaction.

The arrival:
I was really excited when I got Carnival in the mail. I carefully combed through the box to reveal all the components. There was a little packet with all the expansion cards as well as the promotional dice which looked awesome. The game packaging was excellent, and the game art was top-notch.

The one pet peeve I had was the rules, which weren't a succinct as I would have liked. They looked nice aesthetically, but the layout was a bit erratic in spots. The designers did some rules clarifications in their kickstarter updates though, and I'm sure future releases will be updated. Also, there was a video on gameplay that cleared up almost any possible questions I could have.

The Honeymoon phase
My initial impressions of the game were entirely positive. I played it 2-player with my wife, and the first couple of games were pretty fun. I beat her both times. Gameplay was quick and smooth. The iconography on the dice board used to tell what actions you take took a bit of getting used to, but that was easily supplemented by the very well done player aide cards.

And after...
At first the game seemed to have a level of tactical smoothness to it, and even some decent strategic play. Another 10 games though gave more an impression of randomness. My wife is a pretty good gamer in her own right, and I beat her all 10 games due to small measures of luck. The tickets were used almost exclusively to block midway steals, but were occasionally used to modify die rolls and stop discard draws. This was about as deep as the tactics got though. Most of the games seemed to be won based purely on initial draws and wild cards.

We did play a couple game of both co-op and free-for-all. Co-op played fairly well, but the rules seemed to lack polish. It seemed a bit unclear if teams were supposed to share a single midway. And if not, did the 4 rides required to win have to be different colours? Playing free-for-all was just annoying and took too long. It increased the randomness factor exponentially.

My wife and I played another 10 games with the expansion wilds and the wild die. We both liked the wild die, since it left options besides midway steals(that usually just get blocked), and allowed for more creative options. The expansion wild cards were pretty pointless though, which is unfortunate since they are gorgeous. Unfortunately the times when discarding a wild card to, for example, have an opponent lose a ticket instead of replenishing your hand, blocking an action or modifying a die roll would be pretty rare. For the record I won all 10 games again.

Conclusion
I think it's clear that I don't love this game. It's just way too random. Any game where you are matched against someone roughly as skilled as you where you manage to win 22/22 games indicates potentially a high degree of variance. I of course understood that there would be a fair amount of luck involved when I got this game, but I feel that it's even more random than it appears on the surface. This randomness combined with the screw-over factor of the gameplay can get frustrating(just ask my wife!). I'm actually a big fan of screw-over mechanisms in games, but these can seem a bit arbitrary a lot of the time.

I would still play it 2-player if asked, but I wouldn't seek it out. I think there is probably a market out there for this--especially based on all the accolades it has gotten from others. Unfortunately it's not my kind of game. I was going to say that the 4-player aspect is pretty much broken, but as I was writing this I came up with a variant where both teams share a midway. Maybe with each player only having 3 cards to start? In any case, I found the free-for-all 4 player boring as hell and wouldn't recommend it.

All that being said, I'm definitely keeping an eye out for more games by dicehateme. They put a lot of heart in this game and it shows. I'm really looking forward to supporting Viva Java, which doesn't appear to involve any dice!

Update:
There was a bunch of criticism of my calling having a 20 game winning streak "variance". I agree that I didn't really make a very good case for it. What I will say by way of addendum is that the the games felt very random, and that a lot of games seemed to be won based on one player being able to empty their hand a couple times early in the match OR if one player gets extra wild cards.

I think this game would definitely appeal to people that like uno, especially if they like "take-that" elements, but would not be good for someone looking for a strategy game.
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Steven Stout
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I can see your point. Perhaps I should have said that I felt my wins were almost entirely not because of skilful play, but more dependent on initial starting hand, getting wild cards, and dice rolls.

As an example, in our first 10 games I was the only one to get one or both extra wild cards which was a major factor in winning. Other games were won based on having the right card combinations to dump my hand and draw 3 cards every turn.

Even if I did have a skill edge I didn't feel any of my actions made much of a difference, and couldn't really enjoy victory. It felt a lot like a cut-throat game of uno. There are some interesting elements with the discard pile, action choices and the tickets that made for interesting moments from time to time, but they seemed few and far between. It felt like good plays would affect the ending by 1-3%, but a good card draw would increase your odds by as much as 5%-20%(numbers pulled out of butt of course). I can't deny that there is some skill involved in this game, I'm just saying that it was less a factor than I expected even in a lite deck-draw/dice-roll filler game.
 
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Neil Christiansen
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Your data argue against your point about randomness.

If it were purely luck, you would only win 10 times in a row around 1 time in 1,000 times playing 10 games.

If it were purely luck, you would only win 22 times in a row around 1 time in ONE MILLION times playing the 22 games.

I would conclude that luck played little, if any, roll and your opponent had a clearly inferior strategy.
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Steven Stout
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chris1nd wrote:
I would conclude that luck played little, if any, roll and your opponent had a clearly inferior strategy.
I don't think there's a lot of strategy there to scrape that kind of winning streak. I think Tom Vasel said it better than me when he stated "this isn't a strategy game" and that it's "a rummy variant... I can see the Uno crowd liking". Your actions are pretty much dictated by the dice. There are some tactical decisions made turn to turn, but I just don't think there are enough to make victory feel satisfying.

I'd agree that winning 20 games would be a stretch of luck in a random game(albeit possible), but even if I did have a better strategy than my opponent or made better tactical decisions it never felt like my decisions impacted the game. It would take more than 20 games and 2 players to prove empirically how random the games are, but it definitely feels random, and won't appeal to people looking for any sort of strategy game, and it lacks tactical options to make it satisfying for me.
 
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Brett Myers
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chris1nd wrote:
Your data argue against your point about randomness.

If it were purely luck, you would only win 10 times in a row around 1 time in 1,000 times playing 10 games.

If it were purely luck, you would only win 22 times in a row around 1 time in ONE MILLION times playing the 22 games.

I would conclude that luck played little, if any, roll and your opponent had a clearly inferior strategy.


Funny thing about random results is they're rarely evenly distributed. Your conclusion is quite a leap in logic.
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