Updated: Dec 3, 2019
The review here is one I wrote that was originally published in Games & Puzzles magazine in 1977. Although to modern eyes, the wooden tiles may seem ‘meh’, they looked good in comparison to most game components 40 years ago. Having said that, some of the ratings given this game by the Games & Puzzles Games Testing Panel seem generous with hindsight. The score they have for the rules seems higher than is justified: the Panel logged a lot of queries for such a relatively 'uncomplicated' game.
Cartino (Ravensburger) was also published under the name Cardino.
Presumably owing its origins to the game of dominoes, Cartino utilises not spots but playing card faces for its playing pieces to make an attractive and uncomplicated game where, as the rules proclaim with unashamed eclecticism, 'skill, concentration and a bit of luck too, are decisive!'
The main ingredients of the game are a set of 64 playing tiles which are marked with the designs of playing card faces from Seven to Ace in each of the four suits - there being two identical tiles of each design. These, plus the two Joker tiles also provided, are placed in a bag from which each player draws five tiles, and from which players replenish their hands after each turn. Play proceeds with players in turn laying tiles on the printed board. All tiles laid in each turn must be from the same suit, and each player must lay at least one tile, and players score points for every tile that is adjacent to the tile they have just laid. Thus although in the game an Ace is worth 5 points and a Seven is worth only one point, as the spaces for these tiles are adjacent on the playing board a higher score will be obtained for laying an Ace first and then a Seven of the same suit than for laying the Seven first and then the Ace. This would be the case even if the initial laying of the Ace scored nothing at all. In addition to scoring for positional laying of tiles, a bonus of 10 points is given when a player is able to lay all five of his tiles in one turn, and there is a further bonus of 10 points for the player who ends 'the game by being the first to use up all his tiles after the supply of tiles in the bag has been exhausted.
The method of recording scores is one of which games manufacturers, especially Ravensburger, seem to be particularly fond, but which members of the Games & Puzzles magazine Games Testing Panel seem to find particularly irritating. Gauges marked from 1 to 20 are provided on each edge of the playing board, along which players move a wooden marker. When a player's score reaches 20, he is given a counter to record the fact and his score marker is returned to the beginning of the score gauge. The main fault with this system of scoring is its fragility in play as the marker can so easily be jogged out of the correct position in the course of the game. A more elbow-proof system would certainly have been preferable.
With this small reservation however, the presentation of the game can hardly be faulted. The Cartino playing tiles, each about an inch square, are stamped in wood more than 1/4" thick, and the board, although not quite as durable, is equally attractive. The rules, being a multi-lingual arrangement, are not all they might be, however, as the English translation leaves something to be desired and is confusing in particular in its references to the number of tiles (it refers to 32 tiles when it should read 66), but Cartino is a sufficiently simple game to be understood in spite of these faults in the translation.
Where the rules are less clear, however, is in their statement that the player with the lowest tile of the lowest suit (in ascending order Spades, Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts) begins. The rules do not state whether the player has therefore to play as his first tile the lowest tile of the lowest suit. The point is not academic as such a play may put the opening player at a disadvantage (as in the Seven and Ace example). The rules are also unclear over the use of Joker tiles which may be played instead of any tile and which score accordingly.
Presumably, although the rules do not explicitly say so, players score for laying tiles adjacent to a Joker as if it were the tile it represented, and presumably when, as is allowed, a player replaces a Joker with the tile that Joker represents, he scores as if he had laid the tile in an unoccupied space on the board, although again no guidance on this is given in the rules.