Barker’s Row has you trying to create carnival attractions which bring crowds to your stands by trading in various workers looking for jobs! Depending on the attractions you have in your hand, you must try to fill your entire stand before any of the other acts in the carnival fill theirs. Playing the right acts at the right time, and using their abilities, will help you move forward, creating the best experience for your stand. Having a packed stand and plenty of attractions for people to view is your main goal – as soon as you are sold out, you have won the game.
Barker’s Row comes with a large variety of components for a card game. You have a selection of well crafted wooden ‘rubes’. These represent your fans – there are a bunch of them, from children holding fish to clowns waiting to see the show. The craftsmanship on these little people are really wonderful, with a good mix of fans to fill your stand.
The stand itself is made of cardboard and can be easily slotted together. Pillows represent the number of people you need to fill it. On the back of each stand (which is facing you) there is a quick 4-step guide to turns, so you can take a look if you need too.
There is also a cardboard tower that can be constructed to show where each player is in their carnival’s progress. Each player has a different colored plastic piece that moves up this tower each time they create a new attraction. The large number represents the number of people needed to run an attraction, while the smaller star shows the number of people you will gain for moving up the tower.
Most importantly, the game comes with two different decks of cards. An attraction deck of taller cards showing all of the different attractions that you can have at your carnival. A normal sized deck of cards provides the workers for each attraction. There are a variety of types; Freaks, Beasts, Horrors, Oddities, and Wild Cards. Each attraction comes in these types (apart from Wild Cards, which can be any type they want to be). The artwork on these cards is memorable, with a very distinct style.
At the start of each turn you are able to move a face down card from Barker’s Row into the Midway. The Midway is a path from the tower across the middle of the table. This row is full of carnival workers looking to take on an attraction. Barker’s Row features three face down cards (which show you the type of card, but not the number of workers it counts for).
Then, you are able to look at the various workers in the midway and see if you can play an attraction from your hand. You will always have three attractions in your hand – though if they are all the same type then they can be discarded for a new set of three.
If you are able to play an attraction then you must place it in front of your stand. You will also get to place two of the rubes onto your stand to see this new feature. Each attraction has their own unique ability, which can be used once. You can decide to use those whenever you want. Once you have used your attraction’s abilities it will retire and go behind your stand.
You can only play attractions as long as you have the right color and number of people in the midway to match the ranking your of your plastic piece on the tower. This will then remove the workers from the midway and put them back into the Barker’s Row deck.
If you play your attraction, you can then move your plastic prong up the rank on the tower. It then moves onto the next person’s turn.
Although the artwork is cool and the attractions have great abilities, I found that there were just too many attraction cards. Playing with four people and once with two people, I felt that I never really got to see that many attractions or had enough of the right type of workers in the midway to play them. Most of my turns were just flipping over a card from Barker’s Row, and passing the turn to the next person. You really need to get attractions out at the start when they need less workers, then use the abilities to gain more people to your stands. In that same vein, I feel like there should be far more people cards — having to shuffle them over and over isn’t ideal.
It might be that the large number of attractions provide for a bunch of different playthroughs, but as it is quite challenging to play them, you end up not seeing them.
With that said, the various pieces of this board game are really, really polished. Not only is the artwork unique and well designed, but the various cardboard pieces are all very functional and well crafted. Running a carnival takes a lot of skill and using your actions at the right time is really key.
I also feel that if you are the last person to take a turn, it isn’t that fair for you. A lot of the time, the entire midway is cleared by the person who goes first, leaving you with no one in the end to use to make your own attractions with.
Though Barker’s Row does have room for improvement, the concept behind the game is unique and the pieces themselves are well designed. Personally, I preferred playing with two people, as it made the game seem more fair.
The attractions are entertaining and I really enjoyed just checking out the various cards and exploring the different ways to attract loads of fans. It does take a few games to completely understand what is going on and how to best play to your fans!
A copy of Barkers Row was provided for review purposes, and can be purchased from all good local games stores. For online purchases, please visit 365 Games.