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Karnickel - Wascally wabbits and a choo-choo train

Trains chase rabbits
Publisher (Lookout Games)

Karnickel

Rating:
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You should know, right from the get-go, that Karnickel (German for rabbit) is primarily a children's game. Thanks to a single mechanic - the ability to move either your own or your opponents' rabbits - it can be played by adults in a calculated kind of way that offers the opportunity to set your opponent up for some damage. This mechanic, in fact, is what elevates this game just a notch above a 'roll and move' game that most serious gamers wouldn't ever bring to the table.

Here's what happens. You have a set of eight, interlocking railroad tile sections that go down on the table and create a circle. Each section has a picture of either one (4), two (2), or three carrots (1), with one section picturing an exploding carrot. The rules recommend that you set these tiles up in a pre-determined order until you get used to the game, at which point you can opt to place them in random order or some personal option. There are 36 cardboard carrots, which are placed in the center of the circle, and each player (up to 4) takes one, as well as a cardboard rabbit, inserted into a plastic stand. A cardboard train goes into another plastic stand and is placed on a specific starting tile for it.

Now before you can get going with this, you're going to have place 42 stickers onto all sides of seven blank dice. Four of six types of the stickers have two colors - blue/yellow, yellow/red, red/green, and green/blue. The other two types contain either one or two black arrows. There is no stated rhyme, reason or rule for the placement of these stickers - six each on each die, except of course that each die must contain all six different stickers.

Now take your plastic-stand rabbit and in turn order (youngest first), place your rabbit on any one of the eight railroad tiles. Multiple rabbits can occupy a single tile, and the tile with the train in the plastic stand. First player rolls all seven die, and places any die showing one or two black arrows in the center. Using the remaining die, a player selects one color of his choice and moves the rabbit of that color as many spaces as the number of times that color appears on the die. Each color, of course, appears twice on each die, and with any set of die, there's the potential for moving the appropriately colored rabbit a lot of spaces. As noted at the beginning, you can move your own or an opponent's rabbit. The turn passes clockwise, but the new player is rolling (presumably) with fewer die, since any 'black arrow' die that were rolled were placed in the center.

Round and round the rabbits go, as the passing die diminish in number, each time a black die (or more) is rolled. At some point, usually when the dice have dwindled down to one, a player will roll all black dice (this can happen, of course, with two, three, four or more die, but that won't happen often). At this point, the player that came up with all black dice, picks up all seven dice and re-rolls them, once again, separating all the black dice. This time, though, the arrows on all the rolled black dice are counted and the train moves that number of spaces. Each time the moving train passes a track section with a rabbit on it, that rabbit is removed from the board; thematically, the rabbit hears the train coming and gets the hell out of Dodge. When the train stops moving, any rabbits left on the board collect the number of carrots depicted on the space they're on. There is one railroad tile, referred to as a tunnel, upon which rabbits may remain if passed by the train (they ducked off the track and hid to one side). However, when the train stops, rabbits on the tunnel section lose a carrot from their collection.

Carrots are gathered, the dice are passed to the next player and the rabbit movement process is renewed. The first player to collect eight carrots wins the game; 12 carrots if you play with only one opponent.

So. . some obvious observations. You're going to want to keep your rabbit behind the train, preferably about one space behind. At the same time, you'll be looking to move your opponent in front of the train, preferably a single space ahead, so that when the train moves, your opponent's rabbit jumps off the track and doesn't collect any carrots, as you, behind the train, grab yours. Given seven dice, though, it's likely that on a round of play before movement of the train, the rabbits are going to move completely around the circular track, at least once. And then, when the train movement occurs, there is a distinct possibility that the train is going to clear the board of rabbits completely, except for the rabbit(s) on the tunnel section.

Most adult gamers like to have the sense that they're capable of influencing the outcome of a game by the application of some level of strategy and tactics. A certain amount of randomness is expected in most games to keep things interesting, but when all you're doing is rolling and moving, hoping to a deity that the dice rolls are going to fall in your favor, a game can get old, quickly. Not so, of course, with children, who'll be caught up in the whole rabbit-trying-to-dodge-the-train process, and thrilled that they're playing with you.

That said, there are a few decisions available to adults who might opt to get this game out on a table for a lark, and again, they're centered on the ability to move your own and opponent rabbits. The seven dice at the start are going to assure that the rabbits will circle the board at least once, so the chances that your movement of an opponent rabbit onto a tile, one space in front of the train, isn't going to hold up for very long. In the beginning, you might, therefore think about placing your rabbit immediately behind the train and moving only your opponent's rabbit on your turn opportunity. Of course, your opponent, being no fool, is going to try the same thing.

It's when the dice start to diminish down to three or four that you're going to have to think about things a little more; assessing whether it might be wise to get out in front of the train yourself (instead of allowing an opponent to move your rabbit), and hoping to get two or three chances to move your rabbit again, and once again, be behind the train. The trick decisions will be the ones that will put a rabbit directly in front of the train, and more than likely be denied carrots as it jumps off the track.

Ultimately, though, you're going to be at the mercy of the train move dice roll, and the number of black arrows that will show up when that happens. Any number of arrows, eight or higher, is going to clear the board, in which case the player that moved the train gets one carrot from each player.

Not a bad game, all things considered, especially if you have or include children in your gaming sessions. It's not getting a lot of love on BoardGameGeek (5.2 average from 54 ratings), but it's new and might end up growing on a few people. Recommended start age is 6 with this one, and while the older crowd might not consider it to be worthy of much attention, the kids'll have a great time.

Karnickel is designed by Brett J. Gilbert, with artwork by Klemens Franz and is published by Lookout Games. Can be played with 2-4 players, and as noted above, begins with an age range of 6. It'll take between a half hour and an hour to play, depending on how the dice roll. Retail cost starts at about $20, but, of course, it can be found for less