Reviewed by Herb Levy

CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS (Amigo Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 45 minutes; $34.99)


In a different world, the Royal Monstrological Society holds an esteemed position. Members of this society are the most renowned and respected experts regarding monsters and monster lore throughout the empire. Oh, to be a part of it! Fortunately, ONE applicant is accepted each year to join their ranks and – in this new Richard Garfield design – players will find themselves competing for that single spot by proving themselves worthy by collecting a magnificent menagerie of monsters to be presented at the Society’s annual banquet: the Carnival of Monsters.

Players begin with their own identical individual player board and 4 gold. (Remaining money is placed in the center of the circular communal board, surrounded by Loan cards, Season cards, Hunter tokens, the Royal Hunter dice and a large stack of Carnival cards.) The 10 starting Land cards are shuffled and two dealt to every player which are placed, face up, by their player board.

A game consists of four seasons with each season marked by a card draft. To begin, the 7 Season cards are shuffled and four randomly chosen as the four seasons in the game. (Unchosen cards are removed sight unseen from play.) A Season card reveals which type of monster is the most popular in this season. Players will receive money when/if they “capture” a monster of that type and the player with the most desirable monster of that type when the season ends (determined by Victory Point values) will earn the trophy for that season. Now, the Carnival cards are shuffled and a hand of 8 dealt to each player. 

From that hand of cards, each player will “capture” one and either choose to play it OR keep it in reserve. (Remaining cards are passed to the next player, passing left during the first and third seasons, passing right during the second and fourth.) Play of the card depends on what type of card you have as there are several types of Carnival cards in the game. 

Land cards – There are six different (basic) land regions in the game and land cards will show (by color and symbology) to which region that card belongs. Land cards display a certain number of Land Points. Most show 1 Land Point. Higher valued Land cards are considered “Distant Lands” and you will need one or two previously played Land cards of that region to add them to your holdings. The seventh Region is Dreamlands and operates a bit differently. Dreamlands Land cards are of higher value right from the start and there are no “distant lands” requirement for their use.

Monster cards – These cards display a Land Point requirement. You need to have that many Land Points of that particular region in your holdings in order to play them to your display. Dreamlands monsters are again an exception as you may use cards from OTHER regions, in whole or in part, to pay for playing Dreamlands monsters. Monsters are worth Victory Points at the end of the game but the more VPs a card has, the more dangerous that monster is and that is shown by red-faced “Dangerous Monster” symbols on the card. On the other hand, some monsters, although of lesser VP value, will compensate by rewarding you with being able to draw additional card(s) from the Carnival deck and play them (or keep them for later use).

Staff cards – Rounding up monsters can be tough work and assistance can be very welcome. Staff cards are assistants who, when played, cost you an initial outlay of funds (2 or 3 gold) but can then serve as a 1 value Land Point for ANY region of your choosing, generate additional funds when certain monsters are played or for certain Land cards in your display and more.

Event cards – These cards are all good, played at once and discarded. They can provide you with Hunter tokens and extra money. (In this game, you can never have too much money!)

Secret Goals – These are cards that will reward you with VPs at the end of the game for fulfilling specified conditions. 

If you can and want to play the card drafted, the card goes into your display with any effects applied immediately. But if you are unable or unwilling to play that card, you may keep it – but at a cost! Each kept card goes into your “Kept Card” stash and you have to PAY 1 gold for the privilege. A card may NEVER be discarded: it’s either Pay or Play! (Cards kept may be played on a later turn in addition to the turn’s drafted card without penalty.)

Drafting continues until all cards have been played or kept. Now comes the Danger Check!

The number of Dangerous Monster symbols found on cards in each player’s display are totalled and the Hunter dice are rolled. For each cage rolled, one Monster symbol is neutralized. Any remaining symbols may be negated by the play of the appropriate Staff card and/or Hunter tokens. For each symbol NOT stopped, the player MUST pay 3 gold! Unable to pay? Then loans must be taken out. Each loan gives you 3 gold – but costs you 5 Victory Points at the end of the game! (And, in case you were wondering, loans, once taken, can NOT be paid back!) With the Trophy of the season now awarded to the player who played the most VPs in that monster type, all played monsters are placed in players’ “menageries” (to be scored later). Land cards (and Staff) in play remain in play. A new season card is now revealed and new hands of 8 Carnival cards are dealt. This continues until the end of the fourth and final season when final scoring occurs. 

Victory Points from all monsters in each player’s “menagerie” are added. (All cards in the “Kept” stash are valueless.) Secret goals are now revealed and VPs awarded for them. (One of the Secret goals awards a player 7 VPs if he/she is in 1st or 2nd place at this point. When playing with 2 players, we suggest removing that card from play. Another one awards 2 VPs if you have at least 2 Land Points in each region. That is an  error. You should get 7 VPs for accomplishing that feat!) Each gold in your supply is worth 1 VP as is each unused Hunter token. Each Season Trophy held is worth 3 VPs. To that total, 5 VPs are DEDUCTED for each loan taken. The player with the highest final total has proven his/her worth as the winner of the competition and is warmly accepted into the Royal Monstrological Society! (Tie? Then the win is shared!)

It is apparent that Richard Garfield enjoys card drafting. His recent release, Bunny Kingdom (featured in the Winter 2018 Gamers Alliance Report) makes great use of this and Garfield has returned to this game mechanism once again here. There is a decided 7 Wonders influence as players not only draft and pass 7 Wonders-style but also focus on set collection in gathering and “displaying” monsters. This results in the game claiming a LOT of table space. (Ironically, the circular board of the game is actually a bit too small to hold the “bank” as there is considerable “spill-over” of the money pieces.) But this is no 7 Wonders clone. Dreamlands, in particular, give a flexibility to play as they offer potentially great rewards with the monsters of that region but also provide definite risk with dangerous monsters which can cause havoc with your finances. And, speaking of finances…

Money is very tight here. It’s not impossible to generate extra funds (through the timely play or lucky draw of a card) but you can’t count on it. What you CAN count on is needing to take out loans. It is better to play a less than optimal card when you can rather than paying 1 gold to stash it for later use. (Being able to simply discard a card might have made the money flow easier to handle but the rules prohibit that.) 

It should be noted that the ambiance of the game is greatly benefited by the all-star cast of artists that have been assembled. No fewer than SEVEN quality artists including Loic Billiau, Martin Hoffman, Dennis Lohausen, Michael Menzel, Oliver Schlemmer, Claus Stephan and Franz Vohwinkel have been assembled to utilize their talents in this effort. 

Although Carnival of Monsters has a 7 Wonders feel with its card drafting, the game is more straightforward and more easily accessible as it manages to avoid the tons of iconography found in 7 Wonders. Add to that its fast play and appealing monstrosities and you’ll find yourself wanting to experience and enjoy that Carnival of Monsters again and again. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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