The roar of the crowd intensifies as blood soaks into the arena sand. Two gladiators face off, trading blows and vying for the favor of the mob. Wild beasts circle the combatants waiting for any signs of weakness. It all ends with a single victor. Hopefully, it’s you.
This is Carthage, a deck building game of gladiatorial combat from SAS Creative. It’s now available after a successful Kickstarter campaign that ended in June of 2017.
Carthage starts with each player taking a Player Board, a miniature, some wooden cubes, and a starting deck of cards that match the symbol for their character. The board is laid out with whatever tokens needed and the Theater Deck and Action Deck are shuffled and placed on their spots on the board. One Theater Card is discarded and 5 Action Cards are laid out to form the current shop. The players place their miniatures anywhere on the outer edge of the arena as long as they’re not adjacent to another player. At this point, it’s time to spill some blood!
At the start of the game, players have 15 Armor, 0 Favor, and a small deck of cards. Each round there are 3 phases:
- Theater Phase: Any Tokens that are face down are flipped face up. A new Theater Card is drawn and resolved. Some cards have instant effects while others may resolve at other times.
- Action Phase: Each player draws 5 cards from their deck and takes turns resolving one at a time. Card actions must be played in order and consist of movement, melee damage, and Favor. If a player doesn’t have 5 cards to draw they shuffle their discard pile to form a new draw deck.
- Favor Phase: Starting with the last player, each player takes turn spending favor on either new cards from the shop, placing that card in their discard pile, or on one of 4 Favor actions:
- Initiate: Take the Start Player Token
- Lobby: Take any card from the Theater Deck and place it on top of the deck
- Focus: Get rid of a card from their Player Deck discard pile
- Evaluate: Replace up to 5 cards from the shop with new ones
Once all three phases have finished a new round is started. The game ends when all players but one have lost all their armor.
There’s a bit more to the Action Phase, as well as some optional pieces to the game (described below), that can be found in the full rules.
- Box 👍
- Miniatures ⭐️
- Colored Wooden Cubes 👍
- Cards 👍
- Game Board 👍
- Standee Bases 👍
- Tokens 👍
- Player Boards 👍
- Rule Book 👍
(👍 = Good, 👎 = Bad, ⭐️ = Exceptional)
Straight out of the box and with the basic rules Carthage feels a bit underwhelming. Drawing cards, going back and forth playing one card a time, then buying some better cards to continue doing the same until one gladiator dies isn’t very exciting. It’s either a base-to-base slugfest or a game of cat and mouse with one player chasing down another trying to get a hit in. It’s not a bad game, but it doesn’t feel as much like a deck builder as I was led to believe. The pacing and the amount of cards that can be acquired during the game just feels a bit … off.
Carthage redeems itself once you add in all the option components or use the companion app for solo/co-op play. The different pieces that can be added in are as follows:
- Arena Beasts – Once a player’s armor is reduced to zero they enter the arena as a beast with varying abilities
- Modular Rule Cards – Cards that can be mixed and match to add new Favor Actions of Active Conditions
- Theater Legend Cards – Add a bit more depth and excitement to the Theater deck
- Equipment Cards – A set of 3 pieces of equipment for each gladiator that be used with cost, the reinitiated with a different cost
By adding in all of these you get a game with a bit more depth and excitement. Still not as much of a deck builder as many other deck builders out there, but a solid game nonetheless. The solo and cooperative modes, especially the cooperative mode, add more versatility to a game that doesn’t really seem like much upon first reading the rules.
With the whole shebang on the table and the excellent graphic design, Carthage becomes a game worthy of its almost $50 price tag.
A copy of Carthage was provided free for review by SAS Creative.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.
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