This is a 30 minute (according to the box) game for 2-4 players who are trying to create the best possible Carousel at a theme park, by positioning the riding animals in the better positions to score you VPs.
The components are excellent, though be careful of the connecting arms of the Box Office as they are weak and will tear off easily if you break the box down after each game. The large under-board is there for one purpose only, to keep the round Carousel board stable when it turns. My first thoughts on seeing the board and the pieces was that you spun the Carousel round and tried to dislodge opponent's pieces or customers, but it is nothing like that at all. The Carousel at fairs looks bright, colourful, cheerful and has loud music drawing you towards it. Once you set yourself aside an animal you hold the pole and it goes up and down while the Carousel goes gently round - it is one of the most attractive attractions yet one of the softest and safe rides; you cannot make it go faster or do anything other than what it is supposed to do.
On the face of it this is a fast-play family game that should easily play within the allotted time once everyone knows the rules. BUT!!!
The round Carousel board is double-side printed for 2 or 4 players on one side and 3 players on the other. The game I took the photos of that are shown here are of a 3-player game. It is more fun with 3 or 4 players and more tactical with only 2 players.
Tactical! That is the word that, in my opinion, stops this from being the fun, family, 30 minute game it is designed to be. The rules and the setup of the pieces make this a game that experienced and core gamers can, and will, take advantage of. Each player begins with three cards in front of them that can be any arrangement of the four colours of the Clients (shown as balloon-type tokens). You have to arrange the client pieces on the Carousel in a straight line (not diagonal) so that they match the colours of the cards in front of you; they can be in any order as long as they are the same colours.
Each player also has a set of animal tiles, including two dragons (jokers that count as any animal) marked in their colour at each corner for easy identification. The lines you make on the Carousel can be of any player colour but the more of other players tiles you use the less points you get and the more you give away; when a line is completed the cards in front of you go to the player/s whose tiles make up the line, according to the colour of the tiles and cards.
As the Carousel turns after each round of play you need to look more at what is coming up and what other players will be getting in front of them than you do what is currently in front of you. There are two scoring phases each round, one before the Carousel turns and one after it turns, so it is possible to score twice in the round. Whenever you score the cards in front of you are handed out and new cards are immediately drawn to replace them, with luck, tactics and planning, the Carousel may turn and leave a scoring line in front of you.
It is also possible, and more likely, that when the Carousel turns you cannot create a line or use your cards. This can occur many times on the trot and gets quite frustrating.
There are some things you might be able to do depending on the cards you have already won, as each has a special effect you can use. Each player has a set of their own cards (colour ID on the flip side) and each round they must select one of these and an animal tile. The card chosen must match one of the numbers shown on the sector, in an unoccupied space, of the park currently in front of you; the card played is discarded and the tile played onto the Carousel in the correct number.
All play is simulataneous. There may be a little confusion as to which order the cards are decided if you play an effect on your turn as these are played with the Client card and the Tile for the Carousel. We play that your first action is the Client card and the Tile and then the Effect, though there have been times when this has caused a little upset because playing the effect first may have been more advantageous. As more than one player may be playing an effect the order these take affect is also not made clear and again can be very important - this isn't made clear in the rules and as there is no 'first player' at any time in the game. The way we resolve this is that all effects are chosen at the same time as you choose your Client card and then all are openly played before any take affect.
I like the idea that you can use the effect of a card then discard the card, making it a one-shot (at least it cannot be used more than once in a round), but if the game ends with it in your discard pile you still count its value towards your total score. One of the card effects is to return all the cards in your discard pile to you, which means the effect/s are once again open to you to use.
The Dragon card send the Carousel off in the reverse direction, but only when it is first played. At the end of the game it is worth 3 points but its effect cannot be used a second time or more than once per game.Also at the end of the game the randomly dealt Mission cards which sit face up throughout the game are brought into play - all players that can match the details of any/all cards score the appropriate bonus. The rules don't state it but house rules (and commonsense gaming understanding) that we use prevent players using their cards more than once when scoring the bonus. For example a player has 3 Fish and 3 Tiger cards. If the mission cards require 3 Tigers on one, 3 Fish on the other and one of each Fish & Tiger on a third. You can either score the points for 3 Fish and for 3 Tigers or you can score for three lots of Fish & Tiger, you cannot score for 3 Fish, 3 Tigers, and 3 times 1 Fish & 1 Tiger; it has to be one or the other, not both. That's how we play it.
Each game we have played has started off well and has ended with the scores being very close. If you play with 3 players the fourth colour is a sort of 'dummy' player, they don't do anything but all cards they win (when you use one of their colour cards) give them a score at the end through their value. Most of our 3 player games has seen the dummy beat at least one of us, but hasn't won a game as yet.
Great start, close finish, but because we spend so much time trying to decide what card and tile to play, where to play it, the affect it will have, what other players need and will your tile affect them/give them a score, can you line up tiles so that as the Carousel turns you have a line already there or waiting for a tile to complete. Lines do not have to be totally in your sector of the board but they must have at least one tile in your sector.
We like CARROSSEL a lot, but it is a bit of an enigma. For starters it is priced at around £60.00, which in my opinion, even with the nice components, puts it out of the fun, family bracket. It is supposed to play in 30 minutes, when in fact with 'games players' it is more likely to take 60-90 minutes. It is aimed at 8 year olds an up, but, again in my opinion (which basically is what this review is - my opinion) it is unlikely that many 8 year olds will understand the nuances of the strategies and tactics, plus they won't have the patience if (as often happens) there is nothing they can do on their turn except go through the motions of the mechanics and play a card and tile into a space - they probably won't even understand the implications of 'just' playing a tile.