24/02/2024

Carnavalesco, a colourful dice-drafting game of arranging Carnival [Review]

It is the biggest nation in Latin America. Brazil sweeps almost the whole western part of this continent. They triumph over their neighbouring countries not only in football, but also how to celebrate festivities, and you might already know what I am referring to even without glancing at the title. It’s the nation’s pride Carnavalesco. What started as some impromptu and decentralized movement has become the yearly creative powerhouse. The Brazilians really sets the bar high in this facet with this admirable annual phenomena. No wonder, Ronald Halliday created this game in an attempt to capture this vibrant and cheerful event…

…and Carnavalesco, the game, received a warm welcome from 126 adoring Brasileiros during their crowdfunding. Neither Kickstarter nor Gamefound. The game secured the funding in Catarse, their local Kickstarter-ish website. Precisamente did a stellar job. And indeed, they wouldn’t stop there. Rafael Nunes mentioned their intention to bring this game to the international market, and this time, through the aforementioned, global-clawing crowdfunding platform.


A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis

As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.


First impressions on Carnavalesco

Ron’s newest Magnum Opus is not my first rodeo with some Brazilian-crafted tabletop games. It definitely heightened my anticipation. Anyway, refocusing back to this game at hand: Carnavalesco endeavours to recreate, if not replicate, the gaudy and opulent festivities. A Herculean task, I must say. The parade radiates every hue our eyes can behold, and condensing such a kaleidoscope of colours in a small and tight box is not an easy feat. Yet, they were successful. Here we stand, with the colourful dice as its staple components. Carnavalesco, in fact, emerges beyond just a piece of game. It shines as an exquisite artwork.

Carnavalesco revolves around enlisting crews and arranging them to harmonize within the nine elements in your samba school. The crews are practically the randomly picked dice from the bag. Which, for me, pretty much realistic enough. Mind you, the carnival is not a mere frivolous affair, since all samba school exerts their utmost effort to attain the highest accolades. Each element imposes its requirements. And the crew we line up will perform under the scrutiny of the judges. The requirements vary greatly. From just a trivial uniform in colour, up to more complex dice arrangement of four. Carnavalesco transcends trifling amusement, for its significance goes far beyond that.

MY TWO CENTS

Carnavalesco presents an intriguing challenge that belies its apparent simplicity. The troupes of samba schools pose puzzles of pattern-building, with the dice serving as the very building units. The value and colours of the dice can either provide a solution or present a vexing, headache-inducing problem. Although the latter does not become apparent until late-game. In the early game, we can still enjoy a degree of flexibility. Beware, don’t get caught by the convivial flow. The conundrum nature of Carnavalesco manifests itself as the game progresses.

Strategic placement is a perpetual quandary in Carnavalesco, as the dice introduce substantial randomness. Nonetheless, it is not impossible to mitigate the situation by engaging each of dice placement with risk management.

Easier said than done, but achievable. We cannot control the colours and values that each round bestows upon us. Yet, it’s still possible to seize perfect points by strategically selecting the most appropriate dice. For instance, avoiding dice that share similar values, colours, or positions as our opponents is indispensable. Obvious move, of course. It’s to avoid unnecessary competition in those aspects. From there, it becomes a matter of astutely placing the dice within the corresponding elements. However, I must acknowledge that luck plays a pivotal role in this game. There are many ways things can go south.

Even when the odds are against us, Carnavalesco rewards us with points for imperfectly solved elements—a significant feature. There is no means to skip dice placement or replace one die with another. This implementation allows us to extract the most from the worst-case scenarios, making the game less punishing. Nevertheless, players still need to exert effort to maximize the possible points. The dice must be placed in accordance with the more permissive requirements.

That being said, Carnavalesco may not be suitable for those averse to heavy randomness or allergic to dice. However, there are many aspects to appreciate here—the components, the solid gameplay, and the ease of bringing Carnavalesco to the table. The replay value is undoubtedly there. Thanks to its simple rules and gameplay, teaching new players to join in is not a daunting task. The duration causes no problem, either. With a playing time of less than an hour, players are more inclined to give it a try. Carnavalesco is, in my personal remark, another board game that deserves recognition as a must-play for family game nights.

Conclusion

There’s nothing new under the sun. And as such pertains in the world of board games, too, especially with many new releases flooding the market recently. Hence, new games are prone to getting compared with the similar predecessors. A wicked repercussion, indeed. And thus, it is permissive, if not forgivable, to infer Carnavalesco and the potential classic, Sagrada, were peas in a pod. The dice drafting and the placement, creating a pre-configured pattern — they do share this mechanic. Nevertheless, the vibe and the thematic implementation radiated from both games are like chalk and cheese. We will still get two games which are pole apart. Thus, if you hold dear Sagrada in your heart, acquiring Carnavalesco would be the next best thing you’ve ever had besides enjoying your cold beer during the real carnival.

Another noteworthy attribute is the flamboyant dice within the game. They are vibrant, bright-coloured. It’s a nice, added value to Carnavalesco, which whole gameplay has been a full swing for my gaming group. Carnavalesco ticks all requirements to be a good family game… If not to reach the rank of the classics. There might be hardly any other game that epitomise the joy of dice allocation mechanic than 30×30×8 cm of board game ecstasy itself, Carnavalesco.

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