Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Designed by Luke Seinen and published by SAS Creative, Carthage is a deck building game involving tactical movement and combat between players’ gladiator minis.
Players each start with their own (identical) action deck of 10 cards from which they draw a hand of five. These cards are played in turn one at a time. They give movement, attack damage, armour (health) and ‘favor’ (the currency used to buy more cards). Playing your action cards will involve moving your gladiator and, ultimately, attacking opponents to inflict damage (reduce their armour). The winner of the game is the last gladiator left standing (ie: when all the others have had their armour reduced to zero).
Favor that is racked up in the action phase is spent in a discrete favor phase. Players take turns to spend their favor either by buying one of the five displayed cards or taking one of the other favor actions on the board. Favor is ‘use it or lose it’: any unspent favor is lost rather than carried forward to the next round. The cards that are bought will naturally be more powerful than those in players’ starter decks. As is usual in deck builders, purchased favor cards go into that player’s discard pile and only become available for use when the player’s deck is reshuffled. Among the other favor actions is the option for a player to pay favor to remove a card from his deck: weeding out the least powerful cards to increase the likelihood of drawing more powerful cards into your hand. It can be a winning strategy in this game to initially focus on buying up attack cards and then sharply thinning your deck of favor cards so that all of your actions concentrate on dishing out damage to your opponents.
Carthage plays fast and can become a tense and closely fought game, although it can sometimes end up as a chaotic slugfest. This makes it an unusual meld of eurogame and ‘Ameritrash’, as such games are sometimes disparagingly referred to.
Carthage comes with a huge deck of favor cards, a beast deck allowing a player who is knocked out still to take part, and a big bag of hex tokens to enliven the board. This makes for a game with a lot of replayability. The minis look great but the artwork may otherwise divide opinion. Some of the Board’s Eye View team particularly liked the monochrome art with its blood splatters evoking Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300. Others thought it too dark and sketchy, preferring the artwork of Gale Force 9's similarly themed Spartacus games. We all would have preferred it if the player boards had more of that player’s colour. History buffs among us also griped that it was Rome rather than Carthage that glorified gladiatorial combat.
These are all minor quibbles, however, for a game that delivers so much play value. According to the (unnecessarily large) box, Carthage plays 2–5. With two, it’s more of a sparring match, with hit and run combat. Games can sometimes end as a cat and mouse chase. With five, Carthage becomes a fun, high-octane free-for-all. The rules also offer the option of team play, including play with ‘chained’ gladiators, where teammates can never be more than one hex apart.
And if that wasn’t enough, as a bonus, Carthage can even be played solo or as a fully co-operative game thanks to the availability of a free app. The app pitches players against Essedari Maximo – a chariot mounted gladiator that offers very tough opposition. Sadly, the game doesn't come with a chariot mounted mini.
Gird your loins. Fire up an appropriate Hans Zimmer soundtrack. Nos morituri te salutamus!