Theme and What is It?
Step right up ladies and gents to see the legendary, spectacular, inconceivable and bone-chilling Invisible Man! Or maybe a hairy, curious Girl-rilla? Or would you rather see a bewildering, extraordinary, and electrifying crystal skull? These are just a few of the attractions that can be seen in Barker’s Row, a fast strategy game for 2-4 players. Players act as carnival barkers who are trying to fill their grandstands with “Rube” meeples.
At the start of the game, players take a grandstand in the color of their choice and are dealt five attraction cards. They must choose three of them and discard the rest. They also hang their colored Tower Marker on the Strongman Tower. This determines the value that attractions are scored.
There are three parts to the game area: Barker’s Row, the Midway and the Strongman Tower.
In the Barker’s Row area, there are three face down barker cards. The barker cards have four different suits: Oddities, Freaks, Horrors, and Beasts. The suit can be seen on the back of the card but not the value. In the barker card deck, there are also wild cards that can be used for any suit.
Each turn, players are required to play one of the cards from Barker’s Row face-up into the midway area to reveal the card’s value. This can be done at any time during the players turn. In addition, the player can also score an attraction or use an attraction’s ability.
To score an attraction, players spend barker cards from the midway that match the value of their Tower Marker on the Strongman Tower. When an attraction is scored, the player places the attraction in front of them and then using their finest barker voice shares the barker cards that are used to score that attraction as they discard them. Then the player moves their tower marker up on the Strongman Tower, adds two rubes (meeples) to their grandstand and then draws a new attraction card. The ability on the attraction can be used on the current turn or later turn. When the ability on an attraction is used, the attraction is then retired and placed behind the player’s grandstand.
A player wins as soon as they have filled their grandstand with thirteen rubes.
I came across this game on Kickstarter and was immediately drawn to the uniqueness of the meeples. Overworld Games did a great job of marketing this game on Kickstarter. Not all Kickstarter campaigns have fully developed rules during the campaign, but this one had a video demo of the game being played. I was hooked and immediately became a backer.
Game Build Quality
There are many components to Barker’s Row: the strongman tower, the grandstands, the meeples and cards. The attraction cards are tarot size and the barker cards are standard size. The meeples are one of the better components and are painted which means…….. No stickers! However, it would have been neat to see the meeples have a role in the game instead of just being used for scoring.
Now, let’s discuss the strongman tower and the grandstands. I know there were a lot of issues getting the strongman tower exactly how they wanted and although it isn’t horrible, it is still not one of the better components of the game. It does wobble on the table making it difficult to move the tower markers up. I solved this by putting felt pads underneath it to make it level and now it is fine. On the other hand, the grandstands are great quality. The cardboard is sturdy but I have a hard time keeping them together in storage. Although this was probably not the intent, I would prefer them to stay assembled to decrease the amount of wear. I cannot decide if I want to try to glue them in place, but I am certain it would work.
I was a Ringmaster backer during the Kickstarter so along with the retail version of the game, I received a neoprene play mat and card sleeves for both types of cards. Both of these items can be purchased now, separately from the game. The play mat is just the right size. I LOVE card sleeves and these were custom designed for the game. The barker cards have a clear opening on the back so that the suit can still be seen in Barker’s Row. The insert is pretty standard and the rule book is easy to follow.
In my opinion the artwork has a fun, yet spooky appeal. It is all very colorful but in a dark, comedic way. The design is to give one the feeling of being at a carnival in the midst of the unfamiliar and it is successful in doing that.
Barker’s Row is meant to be a quick, light-hearted game and not for anyone to get caught up in heavy strategy. We have played it a few times in our regular gaming group and it is a great filler game. It always seems that someone is extremely ahead but then they get stalled when their tower marker is higher so other players catch up. It is interesting that the cards needed to score attractions are shared by players so there is some careful decisions to be made to avoid setting other players up.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The age suggestion is 13+. I believe the mechanics could be easily understood by the age of ten, but the theme could be considered a little more advanced. I certainly would not define this as adult content but I believe that the dark, carnival theme could be the intent behind the 13+ rating.
Barker’s Row is a great little game. It has a quick setup and fast gameplay with a small amount of strategy. It is not at the top of my game shelf but definitely not at the bottom. It is a great “gateway” game for new gamers getting into the hobby. It was one of my first Kickstarter campaigns to participate in and I am happy to have it in my collection.