Review by Mark Jackson on a review copy provided by HABA Games (7 plays with Crash Cup Karambolage, 20 plays with the original 1995 edition)
There are a LOT of flicking games out there… from the classics like Crokinole & Carabande/Pitchcar to newcomers like Flick ‘Em Up & Cosmic Kaboom - and then there’s oddballs like Hobby World’s Desktopia and Z-Man’s Ascending Empires. (I do love Ascending Empires.) So how do you vary up a game genre that, by definition, has some pretty specific limits?
Over a decade ago, the game Cairo used a die roll to determine which digit you had to flick with… hardly a major innovation, but still a nice idea. (Cairo also had you flicking a die… two years before the much-more successful Tumblin Dice.)
But what if you added a piece of string?
Seriously - that’s the innovation behind the original Karambolage (which won the Kinderspiel award back in 1995)... and the updated version of the game recently published by HABA, Crash Cup Karambolage. Wooden discs are flicked by putting a short piece of string behind the disc and pulling the string taut - thus shooting the disc forward like a slingshot.
I’m on record as being a fan of the original version of Karambolage - though it didn’t make my Kid Games 100 list as I’ve always felt like it was better for older kids and adults than it was for the typical “HABA yellow box set” of preschoolers & early elementary children. The first two games in the rulebook (Rumble Rage & Drift Derby - which appeared in the 1995 version of the game as Karambolage & Karamba) both fall in this category.
Of course, the very things that make it a stretch for younger kids make it ideal for families and gamers:
- it’s a dexterity game - and the string-flicking at the heart of the game requires some practice to master, as you want to carefully control where the disc you are flicking ends up
- it’s a game with a need for “look ahead” - much like billiards, you want to finish your shot either by leaving yourself in a position to make another shot by leaving your opponent in a position where he can’t make the first shot
- it’s a “push-your-luck” game - basic Karambolage scoring is based on how many shots in a row you can successfully make… if you miss, you lose all the points you had gathered that round
So, you ask, why are these three things problematic for younger kids?
- Dexterity games are not necessarily bad for kids (I’m happy to point families with younger children to games like Maus nach Haus or any one of the multitude of Animal Upon Animal games) - but dexterity games that require finesse demand precision and estimation that are unlikely to be developed enough to compete with older children/siblings and adults.
- “Look ahead” is a tricky concept for some adult gamers, let alone early elementary school children.
- “Push-your-luck” isn’t a problem for younger kids - one of the best push-your-luck games out there is HABA’s Cheese Snatching - but combined with the skill needed to keep scoring, this can be frustrating to younger players.
However, all bets are off when you get to the third game in the box, the titular Crash Cup Karambolage. Rather than the billiards-like positioning games in both the original & new editions of Karambolage, this is a racing game using the string-flicking method of propulsion and the flexibility of the new wall design. There are power-ups (small cardboard discs that activate when hit) in this Carabande-ish way to play, as well as the potential for “denting” your car.
- Rulebook (in many, many languages)
- 8 hefty wooden boundary blocks for anchoring the sideline banners
- 8 cardboard sideline banners
- 6 wooden discs (with stickers for their “new” and “damaged” sides)
- the flicking string
- the “drift” block (a wooden block used for banking)
- two six-sided color dice (each side corresponds to a color of one of the wooden discs)
- 5 wooden point/lap markers (that slot nicely onto the side rails)
- cardboard tokens & player boards (for the Crash Cup version of the game)
The Games In the Box
There are three different games in the box - each of which involve flicking one of the discs with the string in order to achieve a particular goal. None of them are difficult to teach or play - but playing them well (especially Drift Derby) can be tricky.
Rumble Rage (aka Karambolage)
- Roll the two color dice to pick two discs.
- Flick one of those discs into the other for a point. (You get an extra point if you used the drift block to ricochet the disc you shot into the other disc.)
- Bank your point(s)... or roll again and make another shot.
- Miss your shot or hit the wrong disc and/or the boundary banners… you lose all the points you’ve gained this turn.
- Roll doubles (the same color on both dice): double your current points acquired that turn and roll again.
- First player to 10 points wins.
Drift Derby (aka Karamba)
- The same basic rules as Rumble Rage…
- ...but the die roll tells you which two discs you must shoot another disc between - as if you’d drawn an imaginary line between the two colors that you must cross.
HABA Grand Prix
- First player to circle the track 3 times wins.
- If you hit another disc or the boundary banner or go off the table, you reset your turn and flip your disc over to the distressed side.
- If you have another accident while you’re distressed, you take your disc off the race track and restart that lap on your next turn.
- If you tag a power-up token during your move, you draw from a pile of smaller tokens that contain both good one-use powers (repair, two flicks, etc.) and bad events (lose a turn, distress your car).
- HABA Grand Prix is very kid-friendly… I’ve played it with children as young as 7 who do quite well with it. That said, I’d be inclined to take out the “flat tire” chips from the power-up pool when playing with early elementary age kids, as they can pretty much doom your chances of winning and/or finishing the race.
- There is a specific set-up for the Grand Prix in the rulebook - but nothing prevents you from using the provided barriers to create your own racetrack. You can make it easier or much, much harder by varying the number of barriers and the distance between them, as well as the number of laps required.
- The playing surface you use will make a big difference in the game. You want to avoid sectional tables and tile countertop-type tables. (This is not specific to Crash Cup Karambolage - it’s true of pretty much any flicking game.)
- As much as I’ve enjoyed the HABA Grand Prix, I still think that the shining star here is the original game (Rumble Rage).
- I will say that the new sideline banners are easier to set up and - more importantly - easier to determine if a player has flicked a disc against them (a “foul” in all three of the games in the box). I miss the flexibility of the block & string arrangement from the original version - but not that much.
- There’s a lot of air in the box - but that’s necessary because of the length of the boundary banners. The box is the same size as Kayanak or Die Kullerbande (two HABA games pretty much every family should own).
Odd Little Factoid
There’s actually a set of rules in the original edition of the game called Karamboli. Due to the new way in which the borders are created, it can’t easily be played with the new set… but I don’t think that’s much of a loss, as it’s the least effective game in the original box.
It’s great to have this Kinderspiel-winning game system back in print and available to a new generation of players - and it’s even better because of the quality of the components, the clarity of the rules, and the fun that can be had with this wonderful design from Heinz Meister. (Yes, I’m a Heinz Meister fanboy - sue me.)
The age recommendation of 6+ seems right on the edge for me… but I can easily see this as a great game for families with a wide variety of ages. (Then again, I’ve seen kids that age play and enjoy this immensely, so what do I know?)
This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website...