Monday 20 November 2023

Carnevale Fluff/Rules Discussion

Disclaimer: This is less a review than a read through with a bit of dice throwing to test mechanics so has less depth than my usual reviews. I'd like to talk about it though as it meshes well with some of my recent game design musings on fluff, depth etc.

The rules are glossy, beautifully presented and full of interesting gaming inspiration.

Fluff: I've been thinking about the importance of aesthetic/background and Carnevale delivers this in spades. 150+ pages of it before you even get to the rules themselves.

But is it good? Yes. It is a self-contained and distinct setting - Lovecraftian Venice meets Assassin's Creed - delivering the strong atmosphere games like Mordhiem did so well. The factions are distinct yet familiar - Cthulhu Deep Ones/hybrids, vampires, mad scientists, inquisitor/crusaders, thieves guild, patricians and rogue mages. 

The setting is easy to connect to - the archetypes are familiar and although the setting is unique, it is easy to grasp what each faction's motivations and playstyle is at a glance.

The rules themselves link well to the setting. Swimming (and drowning) and rooftop parkour figure distinctly in the rules and are important tactically. The rules fit the setting well.

The minis are also attractive and thematic (though I'm not a fan of the resin).

Elevator Pitch: Basically, a magical rift appears in the sky, triggering shenanigans. The masked, debauched Patricians battle the Thieves Guild aka 'good mafia'. The Rashaar (Cthulhu) maintain a benevolent cult giving alms while secretly summoning monsters to snack on folk. The scientists mix magic and medicine, experimenting on human and monster alike.The Vatrican inquistors use dubious methods to 'purge' who they deem unholy. Dracula and his vampires take on the attributes of their prey. The (imo) least interesting faction is a grab bag of mages etc "The Gifted."

The pictures of gaming boards are very interesting. You actually get a decent cardboard terrain setup in the starter box.

You could use Carnevale as a RPG guide. It's very in depth. It paints an engaging picture, with a unique world with familiar (accessible) elements. I mean - Venetian Assassins vs Cthulu - it kinda sells itself. Oh, and it has a campaign - a la Mordhiem.

What about the rules?

Overhead is not vast - characters have Life (hitpoints), Movement, Dexterity (agility/dodge), Attack, Protection and Mind stats on a card. They also have 2-3 special rules. Pretty fair for a game with say ~6 minis per side. 

The game uses multiple d10, with rolls of 7+ being successes (called "Aces" for no discernible reason). One of the dice is designated a destiny dice and rolls critical successes/fails on a '1' or '10.' Opposed rolls just compare successes.  In attack rolls, the success is equal to the target dexterity instead of being 7+.

Characters have Will which you can 'spend' to get a 3rd action, or add extra dice to rolls. Leaders get Command which they can spend to likewise boost nearby allies or allow them to move out of sequence. Basically, it's like Might from MESBG was turned into two separate resources for no reason - I presume both are similarly finite.

The now-standard alternate activation makes its expected appearance, with a limited overwatch 'hold' action. There are rules for swimming and a cool 'double jump' mechanic where you get a free 2nd jump off an object allowing you to say cross a canal by leaping onto a gondola or a lamppost then jumping to the next object.  You can attempt a 'controlled landing' to jump from higher objects - it fits the Assassin's Creed vibe. There are rules for grappling (throw off roofs); drowning (hold 'em under, fishfolk!) and diving into water off buildings. You can row gondolas. Magic is a thing but does not seem dominant from my limited experimenting. 

There's nothing wrong with the rules per se - I just hate hitpoints (~12 human, ~20 for a monster). It's a human, not a 20,000 ton battleship ffs. Why the recording? They also offer some decent tactical choices and while reasonably straightforward don't attempt to be the 'superlite' rule which are trendy atm. They're actually got some nuance and fit the theme well with lots of acrobatics and canal swims - not just generic "unlimited move, unlimited shoot, if you need to do anything, roll a 4+ on a d6 and you do it".

The card terrain is decent. Pictured are some of my random painting tasks for the week (including, aptly, some fish-men cultists). Oh, and LoTR mini #445 for the year.

I've never seen so many scenarios before...   ....36!  They have primary and secondary (also ~40 of these!) objectives, and detailed setup rules. Again this adds to the RPG feel and there is obviously a lot of love lavished on the setting. Huge replayability and lots of ideas for other games.

I painted 46 minis yesterday. Lots of white - blurgh! Basing and final touches will have to wait but I rate them functionally table-ready. These are for my French-Indian Dinosaur War game but I notice these also fit the Carnivale setting/era. Maybe not redcoats, but I'm definitely adding Black Scorpion undead pirates in my own Venice.

Yes, there is campaign rules but they are less impressive. Given the amount of fluff and scenarios there was less meat on the campaign rules than I expected. It's typical generic 'rules lite' of a page or so which ticks the boxes but seems more an afterthought compared to the care lavished elsewhere. You can gain XP, gold, choose new skills (could be abused, but some skills do cost more or less than others) and buy new characters. Functional, but it ain't Mordhiem. I get the feeling it was meant to be played as a series of linked 'historical' or 'narrative' scenarios without progression/xp - which was tacked on afterwards.

Overall, while I don't particularly plan on playing Carnevale I regard the rules as a useful resource and inspiration and I'm happy with my starter box.


+ Excellent fluff, truckloads of scenarios provides a useful gaming resource.  Lovely rulebook.

+ The rules are fine (unless, like me, you hate recording/hitpoints) and very thematic and cinematic

+ The starter box has lots of terrain which could be used for a range of projects

 ~ Campaign is not super deep

- The starter box minis look thematic but are annoying resin


  1. Wow, this is really beautiful and well-concepted, especially the inclusion of terrain. Most skirmish games NEED a fair amount of terrain, so it's really impressive that a game includes an adequate amount right in the starter. BRAVO! The website shows boatloads of nice minis, too. The whole thing feels very much akin to Malifaux or Warmachine, so it's really too bad they're resin.

    - GG

    1. The concept and fluff IS top notch. What with all the acrobatics etc I find the rules more interesting and less 'gamey' than Warmachine and Malifaux. (Speaking of, I believe the Carnevale rules are free...)

      Given the factions are somewhat generic, you could proxy models instead - I'm using the terrain for a pirate game but I'm probably making a vampire faction (i.e. I could directly proxy Carnevale if I chose) using Reaper metals which are about the same price per unit.

      The terrain has inspired me to dust off and paint my Black Scorpion pirates & Navy to fight the Deep Ones. If I paint them all I may 'allow' myself to buy more for my collection....


    2. Yeah, the acrobatics and swimming are pretty cool elements that really stand out. I like how themed skirmish games like Carnevale and Dead Man's Hand are getting some real thought and attention by designers.

  2. Nice writeup, sounds like a tight ruleset oozing with theme! If you were doing a homebrew for this ruleset in order to eliminate the 'life points' to reduce the token clutter and bookkeeping, what would your 'go to' alternative solution be? Have the models in different states when they take damage like stunned/injured/knocked/prone etc or just make the rolls harder to damage overall and just remove the model once it does get that first unsaved damage?

    1. If it were me, I'd rescale HP.

      Max of 6 can track on a common d6.

      Max of 3 is more elegant because you only need uses a scratched / crippled token for the intermediate states - full has no token, while dead is dead.

      There's probably a knock-on with tweaking damage.

      - GG

    2. Quickest/minimal adjustment might be damage/3 and track on a micro d6? Though this likely has game balance implications as GG points out.

      3-4 'Statuses' is fine - stunned, knocked down, crippled, suppressed etc - as they all have a DIRECT EFFECT - you forfeit an action to get up, lose half speed if crippled, etc - which also has tactical implications.

      So like GG says, a few tokens at most - example: tip model on side, a clear token with small blood spatter gives you stunned and wounded with little effort or table mess.

      ....Token clutter can mess up a cool gaming table.

      If an injury is too small to effect a model (1 of 20 HP) , then, logically, it can be abstracted/ignored. Why record a paper cut? A broken arm, yeah.

      So I am OK with SOME hitpoints if each wound has an EFFECT. If it is meaningless, why record it?

      Some folk like HP and it IS more satisfying to do SOME damage to a tough enemy then to consistently bounce off (i.e. say a 5,6 to hit and a 6 to damage = 5% kill chance = feels quite futile shooting at something tough, but is equivalent to 1HP of 20)


    3. Personally, I am not a fan of large HP pools for humans because the human body IS fragile. Anything that "hurts" someone is actually going to HURT them. Skilled fighters don't get hurt because they dodge, parry, slip and block attacks. Or their armor passively blocks for them. I'm a big fan of opposed melee rolls to represent this in skirmish games, though it gets unwieldy in mass battle.

    4. ...

      Anyhow, 20 HP is an awful lot for a human. If there's an intent to have fatigue, then have fatigue with an in-game fatigue effect per EM. Don't force HP.

      - GG

  3. Me llama mucho la atención de las reglas como nadar, acrobacias, los tejados se presenta como el típico juego de escaramuzas.

    Conozco poco de Carnevale, en su momento también curiosee Rum and Bones (antes del barco y todo eso) que era muy parecido en pelusa y en las acciones especiales.

    Creo que esas acciones son lo que ayuda a salir de las 4Ms famosas. Bravo por esos diseñadores que se atreven a algo diferente, creo que sin ser "original" puede ofrecerse algo diferente que lo haga fresco.

    Muchas gracias. Un saludo.

  4. The rules look playable enough, but I can't be bothered with 150+ pages of fluff. I just want some brief theme & mood stuff. Couple of pages & some nice art do nicely.

    1. In that case you just print the ~30 rules off you need (they're free on the website)


    2. Carnivale is probably not the game for you, because it was very specifically created to cater to people who want 150 pages of fluff, first and foremost. If you're balking at that, you're not the target audience, and there are very likely a whole host of other design decisions that won't sit well with you. Per em, it might be worth your time to sift through the quick start for ideas, but you shouldn't be surprised if it's just not for you.

      - GG

  5. This might be worth it for the buildings and play mat alone, even if I never actually play the game.