A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post where I talked about how I’ve been playing small card games in order to learn what makes them tick and how I can apply that knowledge to improve my newest game, Compact Carnival. Today, I’m talking about Compact Carnival, how it came to be, and what I hope for it to achieve.

Compact Carnival is a small card game where the players are all siblings of an amusement park family. The head of the family has tasked you with creating a new theme park together that will carry on the legacy of the family name. However, each of you really wants the glory for themselves, so you’ll be trying to make the most out of your plans to have the best influence over the park.

To do this, you’ll play attraction cards from your hand to the table. Each card must be placed adjacent to at least one other card already present. Each card type has its own scoring values based on its adjacency to other attractions. Additionally, you have the option to instead use an ability that will let you manipulate the park by swapping, removing, or doubling the value of attractions. Once everyone is out of cards, the game ends, and players total their influence. Whoever has the most gets the credit for making the park a success.

The beginning of Compact Carnival

A couple of things came together to get me to make this game. The first was UnPub. I took Astroventure to UnPub 7 this year and had a great time. (Read my recaps here, part 1 and part 2). I got a lot of good feedback, but it was more of a table hog then, and not exactly easy to just set up and tear down at a moment’s notice (though that is changing). I would look at other tables that had several small card games that they could set up in a minute and had them available for testers to choose what they wanted to play. I thought, next time I do this, I’m bringing some small games.

Jump forward a month or so, and Renegade said they were looking for a 25 card microgame. I thought, I could do that, and if nothing else it’d be a neat challenge. So I put together a city building game, kind of inspired by Between Two Cities and Quadropolis. I missed the mark at 31 cards, but I put it together and gave it a shot. Rachael and I tried it a couple times and the idea and mechanics were good, but it had some issues (which is normal for a first draft).

Rachael suggested that I switch the theme to amusement parks instead of city building because there aren’t as many of those. I liked the idea and with a little retooling, the change was made and it was ready to go. The problem was, I only had tested it with 2 players. I wanted it to play with up to four, but didn’t know how it would work, or even if it would. Because there aren’t many restrictions on where you can place cards, it’s possible to have it all be one really long line. (You won’t score very well based on how the cards are designed, but it is possible.) If you then just doubled the cards I had to make it 4 players, this could get really big and massive. I was concerned, but printed them out anyway and took it all to Origins.


I had a table in the UnPub room at Origins. I took both games with me, but set up Astroventure the first day. I got some good feedback for it, and felt the feedback was focused enough I could try putting out Compact Carnival only the second day. I had a few people come by and try it in two player. The big comment was that scoring is awful. It takes about as long as it takes to play the game. I think if you didn’t walk through it with players, it would go faster, which is true, but it still doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s just an awful scoring experience. Based on some of the feedback, I’ve attempted to simplify the scoring and reduced the number of cards you have of each type to make it more straight forward. Tests are still inconclusive since I can score it pretty quickly on my own, so I need to get it in front of some new players to see how it does.

Additionally, I switched from standard poker sized cards to square cards. They’re the same size as Power Grid or Fields of Green, and it does help with some of the table space issues. I tried playing a simulated 4 player game with the same amount of cards as before, and the table space isn’t that much of a problem. It still feels like it might be a bit much with 4 players though, so I’m thinking of only using some cards in 2, 3, and 4 player games where players have less cards the more players there are. This should help somewhat at keeping table space and game time consistent across player counts.

The idea going forward

The goal for Compact Carnival is to have a small puzzle game for 2-4 players that plays in about 15-20 minutes (and scores in absolutely never more than 2 minutes tops). So far, I’m on target for getting there. A few more tweaks and it should be there. In the last post I said that I want the placements to flow well, comboing off each other in interesting ways to score points and make you feel good about placing well. When you have those “take that” moments from the abilities, I want you to be able to visually see what is a good choice without having to guess at what’s valuable or what will do the most work. I want some cooperation in 3 and 4 players. Being able to work together with your placements to benefit you both in order to catch up to a player perceived in the lead is a good plan. Scoring is a bit obtuse, so some way to quickly see your progress with each attraction is something on my mind as well, though I still like counting score at the end instead of doing so during the game. Lastly, the spatial awareness of the game where cards interact with each other in natural ways is fundamentally what I want to see here.

I’m still a ways off from this, but I think it’s going to be good. It has a light footprint with depth as well. The randomness of the cards means your placements will never be the same each game, and the abilities are a nice touch to give you a bit of an edge in a moment’s notice. I’m very proud of it so far, and you can look forward to more information as the game design progresses.