Dr. Reiner Knizia is one of the most prolific game designers for modern hobby board games. Some of his games are among my favorites ever and his vast number of credits means there is probably a Knizia game out there for everyone.
Today we are looking at Kartel, a set collection game for 2-6 players from Dr. Knizia that has a roll and move mechanic driving it. It plays in about 10 minutes.
In Kartel, each player is a detective trying to bring down—or not—seven crime families. Each family is made of a crime boss, a number of gangster tokens, and a bribe token. All of the tokens are spread out into a circle around the table and the detective pawn is placed in between two of them.
On your turn, you roll a six-sided die that is numbered between 2-4. You can then move the detective pawn up to that many spaces. If you land on a gangster or bribe token you place that in front of you. If you land on the crime boss for that family, you place him in the jail in the center of the circle.
When a crime boss is put in jail, all gangsters of that color are then flipped over and put into a scoring pile as you’ve successfully put those folks into the slammer. However, the bribe token for that family is unfortunately now worthless.
The game ends when the fifth crime boss is imprisoned, leaving two still free. All gangsters of the free crime families score negative points for the detectives who have collected them. Players then add the points for any outstanding bribes and captured criminals and the player with the most points is the best detective.
A game based on rolling a die and moving that number of spaces is suspect at best, even with Dr. Knizia’s name on the box. There is a bit more going on here than say, Trouble, as you can move less than the number of spaces you’d rolled if you prefer, but that still doesn’t give you many options. The fact that the die results are numbered 2-4 only also means you pretty much can count on what your options will be.
I’ve always been a believer that randomness in games can be fun, especially in accessible games with a short play time. Kartel is certainly that as it takes about 2 minutes to teach and maybe 10 minutes to play. The fact that it can accommodate up to six players is nice.
But unfortunately, I’m not sure any of those six people will be having any fun playing. Randomness is fun when it leads to tense moments. Such as in press your luck games when you need to keep going in spite of the odds. Or dice-based combat games when you need a big roll at the end to pull out a victory. Kartel lacks all of that fun and excitement. Your only decision is which token to stop on and you are limited to 2 or 3 choices most of the time. Sometimes it’s useful to move past a crime boss if you have their bribe token, but whether you can or can’t isn’t that big of a swing where everyone is standing up around the table to see if you can roll a 4.
Roll and move games just aren’t ever going to cut it for modern board gamers. There isn’t enough choice or excitement in this small box.
A game that can play 6 players and takes 10 minutes is a rarity indeed. And if you need something for those exact requirements, by all means, Kartel isn’t unplayable and will check those boxes. But I think in most situations I’d rather find something with just a little more going on and some more fun to be had.
Final Score: 1.5 Stars – Kartel lacks anything even approaching interesting or exciting.
• It’s a roll and move game.
• No interesting moments happen to inject fun into this die-rolling.