A Girl's Best Friend?

Pevans reviews board game Carat

Carat is another in the line of Dirk Henn-designed games given the big company treatment by German manufacturer Queen Games. It is, essentially, an abstract game for up to four players.

Inside the box are a board, 49 chips (of values 1-5), 36 octagonal tiles and a score pad. The board is an interlocking grid of octagons and squares - a pattern I have seen in a number of games. The effect of this is that each octagon is adjacent to four squares and up to four octagons. Each tile shows four gemstones - one each in red, green, blue and yellow - and a value from 1 to 6. The sequence of colours round the tile varies, so the full set of tiles consists of one of each sequence for each value.

Players take it in turns to play a tile adjacent to one already placed (except the first, of course). Having played a tile, they pick a new one at random - in the standard rules players only hold one tile, but I prefer the optional rule allowing players to hold a hand of three. The game continues until all the tiles have been laid, filling the board, and all chips scored.

A chip is scored and turned face down when it is completely surrounded by tiles. The value of the chip is multiplied by the number of different colours next to it and this score goes to the player whose colour has the highest total adjacent to the chip. Thus players have incentives not only to increase the value of their colour around a chip, but also to play other players' colours there. If two (or more) colours tie for the highest value, the points go to the player with the next highest value - who may not even have his colour adjacent to the chip in question. This gives the tactical ploy of playing a tile to tie other players' values so that you can win the chip with a low value. If a chip is completely tied, no-one scores it.

At the end of the game, the player with the highest total score wins.

As you can see, there is absolutely no 'story' to this game. It's simply a question of evaluating the best place and orientation to play a tile. There are strategic considerations, but the game is dominated by tactics. With the full complement of four players, the board changes radically between turns. This means that there is little point in planning ahead - placing a tile next to a chip can mean that the chip has been scored before you get to play again. Of course, this doesn't happen with fewer players. With three, one colour is neutral, which adds further tactical options to the game. Two players can either play two colours each (scored separately, but amalgamated at the end) or play with two neutral colours.

The end result of all this is a fairly lightweight game. It is not without some tactical interest and there is clearly a skill factor involved - experienced players usually beat newcomers. However, I have to say that I just find it dull. If light abstract games are your thing, give this a try - but stick to two or three players.

Carat was designed by Dirk Henn and published (in Germany) by Queen Games. It is for 2-4 players and takes 30-60 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 5/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 130, April 1999.

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