One of my favorite genres of board games are tile placement games. I generally like the genre because most tile placement games do a good job balancing between simplicity and strategy. In most games you need to figure out the best way to place the tiles in order to score the most points. When I first saw Cartoona I was intrigued as the game looked interesting. In the game you are tasked with creating various weird creatures with the tiles that you are dealt. While there have been other board games where you create creatures, this sounded like it could make for a fun game. The game looked a little kiddie though so I hoped it would work for adults. Cartoona is a fun little tile placement game that families should enjoy even if it has some issues.
How to Play Cartoona
- Players decide whether they want to play solo or in teams. Players in a team game should sit so the teams will alternate turns.
- Players will choose whether they want to use the single tile creatures. If they don’t want to use the tiles they will be returned to the box.
- Shuffle the tiles. Place the tiles face down into draw piles.
- Shuffle the cards and place them face down to form a draw pile.
- Each player will draw five tiles and two cards. These tiles and cards will be hidden from the other players.
- Each player/team will choose a scoring marker and place them on the scoring track. Each player will take a player screen to hide their cards and tiles behind.
- The youngest player will start the game. Otherwise the player who scored the least points in the last game will start the game.
Playing the Game
Each player will begin their turn by drawing one tile and one card. The player then has the choice of taking two actions.
- Playing a card.
- Placing a tile.
The player can take both of the actions, one of the actions, or neither of the actions. If they choose both actions they can perform them in whatever order they prefer.
After a player has taken their actions play will pass to the next player clockwise.
Placing A Tile
The objective of the game is to assemble creatures in order to score points. On each turn you will be allowed to play one tile. When playing tiles the following rules must be followed:
- If you are playing solo each player can create two different creatures at a time. If you are playing in teams each player can only build one creature in front of them. Players will be able to play on their teammate’s creatures though.
- The first tile played for a creature can be of any body part.
- All creatures must face left.
- All tiles will be played horizontally so the numbers/letters are right side up.
- When placing a tile, that is not the first for the creature, it must be placed next to a tile that has already been played.
- All tiles must be placed where all edges of the tiles are lined up. You may not play a tile if it does not line up perfectly with the tiles next to it.
- Creatures that only have two legs may only use front feet tiles (indicated by a F).
- Creatures must be built so the other players can see them at all times.
- Every part of a creature does not have to be the same color. If a creature is all the same color though it will score bonus points (see Scoring section).
- When a player plays a tile with two colors it can act as either color. The player can change the color that the tile represents at any time.
On each turn a player has the option of playing one of their cards. Cards that are played to a tile will be attached to that tile. If that tile is swapped the card will go with the swapped tile. If the tile is stolen or sent to the discard pile the card(s) will be discarded. Multiple cards can be played to the same tile. If there are multiple point cards they will all apply to the tile. If two cards contradict one another you will follow the card that was played most recently.
Most cards can only be played on the player’s own turn. Instant and special cards can be played during other players’ turns though.
There are a couple special rules regarding some of the cards.
- When a player “swaps” tiles the swapped tiles must be the same type of body part. The swapped tiles must also follow all of the tile placement rules regarding the creature that they are now part of.
- When a tile is stolen and it separates two tiles that make up a creature, the separated tiles will still make up the same creature. On a future turn the player must play a new tile that connects the disconnected tiles.
- Point cards are scored when the associated tile is scored.
- Cheater cards allow a player to secretly steal a tile. They must steal the tile and discard the cheater card without any of the other players noticing. If they are successful they will get to keep the tile. If a player notices them cheating though they will call out “cheater”. If they call them out before they discard the cheater card the player will be caught. They will have to put the tile back and discard their cheater card. If a player is caught cheating without a cheater card or they don’t discard the card after cheating they will lose 25 points and they will have to discard all of their cards.
Once a player completely finishes a creature they will have the option of immediately scoring it. The player can also choose to keep the creature in front of themselves in order to add cards to it to increase its value.
When a player chooses to score a creature they will count up the numbers on the tiles that were used to create it. They will add and subtract points from any cards played on any of the tiles that make up the creature. The player will move their scoring marker forward spaces equal to the points they scored. All of the tiles that were used to create the creature will be added to the discard pile. If the draw piles ever run out of tiles the tiles in the discard pile will be reshuffled to form new draw piles.
If a player completes a creature and all of the tiles are the same color they will double the number of points that they would normally score.
When a player plays a single tile creature they can score it immediately for the number shown on the tile. If a player decides to hold the tile though it will not count as one of the creatures that they are building. If the player acquires two of the single tile creatures they will score five bonus points in addition to each tile’s individual value when they score them. If the player acquires all three single tile creatures they will score twelve bonus points when they score the tiles. Once the single tile creatures have been scored they will be removed for the rest of the game.
End of Game
The first player/team to score 50 points will win the game.
These games follow the same rules as the main game except as noted.
Solo Basic Game
- The cards are not used in the game.
- Each player will draw two tiles on their turn. They may play one of their tiles each turn.
- At the end of their turn each player will have to discard one of their tiles.
- Single tile creatures will score their base values, but there is no bonus for having two or three of the creatures.
- The game will end after a player takes the last tile and finishes their turn.
- The player who scores the most points will win the game.
Team Basic Game
This mode follows the same rules as the Solo Basic Game except for the following changes.
- Each player will only draw one tile each turn and will not discard a tile at the end of their turn.
- The members of each team should alternate turns.
- Players can either play a tile on their own creature or on their teammate(s)’ creature.
- The team with the most points will win the game.
Solitaire Basic Game
In this mode the player is trying to complete a creature of each color (magenta, yellow, blue, and purple). The following rules are changed from the normal game.
- Cards are not used.
- The player can only play tiles of the same color to each creature.
- Each turn the player will draw one tile. They will then take one of the following actions:
- If a creature of the color hasn’t been created yet, the new tile will start that creature.
- If the tile can be played to a creature that has already been started, the player can either play the tile or discard it.
- If the tile matches the color of a creature that has already been started but it can’t be used it will be discarded.
- Dual color tiles can be used as either color.
- Single tile creatures are not used in the game.
- The game will end when either the player runs out of tiles or the player completes all four creatures. If the player completes all four creatures they will win the game.
In this game an adult or another person not playing the game will come up with the type of creature they would like to see. The players will then take turns drawing one of the tiles. If they think they can use the tile they will take it and start building their creature with it following the rules from the main game. If on a later turn the player no longer wants a tile they may discard it to the memory pool instead of drawing a tile. If the player does not want the tile they may also add it to the memory pool. On future turns players may take a tile from the memory pool instead of from the normal draw piles. The first player to finish the chosen creature will win the game.
My Thoughts on Cartoona
When you first look at Cartoona the game looks like it was mostly designed for families with younger children. This is mostly because of the game’s artwork, but there is also the fact that the game is pretty simple. Basically players draw cards and tiles and play them in order to create creatures that will score them points. This might be a slight oversimplification, but I don’t think it is much of one. The gameplay for the most part is really straightforward. You are basically connecting tiles to one another to try and maximize your score. Thus you can teach the game to most players in just a couple minutes. The game’s simplicity allows the game to work for children of almost any age. The main game is pretty simple itself, but the game also includes some variant games that make things even simpler. From the main game that supports ages 8+ to the children’s game that supports ages 3-8 the game is simple enough for pretty much everyone to play.
Between the artwork that was designed for children and the game’s simplicity I thought Cartoona wouldn’t have a lot of strategy. The game is far from a strategic masterpiece but it actually has more strategy than I initially expected. Most of the strategy comes from what creatures you ultimately decide to make. The creatures you decide to make are going to depend on what tiles you draw as you can only use the tiles you receive. There is some strategy in figuring out what creatures you should make though. The first decision you have to make is whether you want to make smaller or larger creatures. Smaller creatures allow you to complete them quicker so they are less likely to be messed with. Larger creatures are vulnerable to other players’ cards for longer but they can score considerably more points. You also have to decide whether you want to just complete a creature or if you want to build it with all of the same color tiles. Using all of the same color tiles will score you twice as many points, but it will likely take considerably longer to complete.
Outside of taking longer to score points, leaving your creature exposed for longer carries some risk. As long as you use the cards there are plenty of opportunities for players to mess with one of your creatures. The game features a lot of cards that allow you to place negative points on a tile or change its color. There are also cards that let you steal/swap tiles with other players or force them to discard tiles. The game gives players plenty of opportunities to mess with one another. In this way the game kind of reminds me of games like Munchkin or Fluxx. Figuring out the best way to create your own creatures is important, but it is almost as important to find the best use for your cards to help yourself/hurt your opponents. Players are going to mess with one another in the game and it can become pretty mean at times as one card can really mess with your strategy.
The other reason you don’t want to be stuck with creatures for too long is that you can only build two of them at the same time (or one for each player in your team). This puts a limit on what creatures you can create. Whenever you start your second creature you need to have a plan on how you are going to finish one of the creatures. Once you have both of your creatures started you are basically locked into only playing tiles that will complete one of the two creatures. If you don’t have any tiles that will work with one of the creatures that you have already started you won’t be able to play any tiles on your turn. This is why you need to really consider how large of a creature you want to make. A larger creature will lock up one of those spots for longer which will limit your options when playing tiles. This is why you don’t want to be too aggressive in creating your second creature as you may be stuck with it for a while.
While there is more strategy to the game than I originally expected there is still quite a bit of luck to the game as well. That is to be expected as any game that has you randomly drawing tiles and cards is going to rely on some luck. Some cards in the game appear to be considerably better than others which will give an advantage to the player who gets the best cards. Most of the luck comes from the tiles you end up drawing though. As the gameplay revolves around completing creatures, if you don’t draw the parts that you need you are going to have a hard time winning the game. Some parts are more valuable than others as well. There will be times in the game where you will go several turns in a row not being able to play any tiles since you can’t draw the tile that you really need. Making good choices on what creatures to build will improve your odds of winning, but your strategy will not be able to overcome bad tile draw luck.
Other than the reliance on luck I would say that the biggest problem with Cartoona is that it takes considerably longer than it should. With its higher reliance on luck and lighter strategy most games like Cartoona are best when they last around 20-30 minutes. Unless we got really unlucky it seems like most games can last closer to 45 minutes to an hour. That is too long in my opinion and is one of the reasons why the game started to drag a little towards the end. I attribute the overly long length to a couple things. The most obvious culprit is the fact that players have to draw the right tile in order to complete creatures. If players can’t draw the right tiles the game will take a lot longer than it should. The other culprit is that throughout the game you start to accumulate cards and tiles from turns where you aren’t able to play or don’t want to play. With more tiles and cards to look through it takes longer to analyze your options before making a move. I think the best way to fix this problem of the game taking too long is to reduce the number of points that you need to win to either 30 or 40 points.
As for the components I have some mixed feelings. On the positive side I really commend the publisher on the tiles. The tiles are really thick which makes them really durable. The game’s artwork is going to really depend on the player. I think a lot of people will like the more kid friendly style, but I can see some players hating the art style. I thought the artwork was pretty good. The best thing about it is that the tiles allow you to create some truly unique creatures. The game also includes quite a few different tiles so you can easily create thousands of different creatures. The main problem that I had with the components is that the scoreboard is pretty bad. The problem is that it is so small and feels a little cheap. You can barely fit one pawn on each spot which forces you to stack pawns that share a space on top of one another. While I usually prefer having a gameboard to record score instead of writing it down, in some ways I think that may have been preferential to just write down the score.
Should You Buy Cartoona?
Honestly Cartoona is one of those games that I can’t exactly explain my feelings as it is an up and down experience. At first glance the game looked really interesting but after reading the rules it seemed pretty average. As I started to play the game though it started to grow on me. The game may be a little on the simple side as pretty much everyone can play it, but there is more strategy to it than you would first expect. There is strategy involved in determining what creatures you should make. While not a huge fan of take that mechanics I thought the cards added some variety to the game. Ultimately Cartoona is a fun little tile laying game. It isn’t a revolutionary game by any means but I enjoyed my time with Cartoona with it being a simpler game that you didn’t have to put too much thought into. The problem is that the game does rely on a lot of luck since if you don’t draw the right cards or tiles you can’t win the game. This luck also leads to the game taking longer than it should.
Ultimately my recommendation comes down to how interesting you think the game sounds. If you mostly only play highly strategic games or don’t think the game sounds all interesting it probably won’t be for you. People who are looking for a lighter game though and think it sounds interesting should have fun with Cartoona and should consider picking it up.