Blood and Glory Await You in CarthageAugust 20, 2018
The moment Carthage hits the table, you’re immediately transported to the blood-soaked dirt of the ancient Colosseum, where gladiators clashed and history was made.
Taking its aesthetic cue from Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, Carthage leaves no doubt to what the game’s objective is: kill or be killed. It eschews lengthy narrative for primal, hand-to-hand combat. No special missions, no secret powers; you’re either victorious as the last gladiator standing or you’re carried out on your shield.
How to Play
You and your opponents enter the arena by selecting a character, player board, and a deck of 10 starting cards. Like other deck-builders-with-a-board (Trains, Tyrants of the Underdark, and Clank!), Carthage uses the classic deck-building mechanism popularized by Dominion to power game play: movement and combat are done through the cards.
On your turn draw five cards from your personal deck then play them one at a time in turn order. Cards feature various icons for movement, combat, armor, and favor. Favor is the game’s currency; at the end of each round players may buy more powerful cards for their deck.
Health is tracked on each player’s board. Playing an armor card allows you to regain health, while playing a damage card eats away at your adjacent opponent’s health. When someone’s health reaches zero, they’re done. In Carthage, player elimination is the name of the game.
Play continues until only one gladiator remains standing and is declared the winner.
Get in the Arena
While nothing beats Dominion for a pure deck-building experience, I prefer games that feature the mechanism as one part of a more robust game. In Carthage you’re trying to vanquish your foes; while it helps to optimize your deck, even if you haven’t stripped away all of your weaker cards you still have options to damage your opponents.
I loved the quick turns in Carthage: it’s tense and thrilling from the opening blow to the final battle, as players move throughout the arena to inflict damage on each other. During the end-of-the-round phase, players take turns using favor to buy new cards for their deck or take one of the standard actions that determine first player, remove a card, reset the market of cards, or select a specific theater card for the next round.
There are several ways that Carthage keeps things from devolving into a draw-a-card-and-play-a-card snoozefest. First, a theater card is drawn before every round. This changes the rules of the game for the round and, depending on which one is drawn, it can benefit everybody or only certain players. If the Inquisite Horde, for example, is drawn, then all players except the starting player gain one favor. Or if the Get In The Fight card is active, then any players outside of the inner ring at the end of the round will lose two health.
Likewise, during setup you can add various arena tokens that limit movement, cause additional damage, or offer rewards. There are also several advanced modes and modular rulesets that allow you to modify the game to your liking. So, if your group doesn’t want player elimination, you can use the Arena Beast Mode, which allows any eliminated players to come back into the arena as an animal. They fight as normal and can’t win the game, but they can damage and kill any survivors.
Carthage is an in-your-face game of tactical combat that uses deck-building in a fresh way. With several variable setup configurations and options, the game can be custom-tailored to your group’s tastes. As long as your players enjoy no-holds-barred combat, then Carthage will be a welcome addition to your game night.
Our thanks to SAS Creative for the review copy of Carthage.