Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 12 May 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Barker's Row

Game: Barker's Row

Publisher: Overworld Games

Designer: Steven Aramini

Year: 2018

Step right up to see the tantilising, awe-inspiring Barker's Row! Barker's Row is a game of putting on a carnival or spectacle of impressive attractions to attract a crowd with your weird and wonderful 'freaks' and oddities. As the game progresses you'll have to shout louder with ever more elaborate descriptions of just how amazing and strange your attractions are to make sure that you fill your audience first.

Barker's Row was a sucessful Kickstarter project which is now available in a retail release. It immediately strikes you as a well-produced game, but is it really 'tantilising' and 'awe-inspiring'?


The objective of a game of Barker's Row is to be the first player to collect enough rubes to fill your grandstand (13 in total). Rubes are gained by playing attractions, and attractions are played by using barker cards from "the midway" a communual selection of cards that anyone can use. On your turn you will choose one of 3 barker cards from a market to add to the midway. These cards are numbered 1-3 and suited in one of the game's five suits. Every Barker's card has it's suit printed on both sides, and it's number only printed on the front, when you choose your card to add you know what it is, but not how good it is.

After adding a card to the midway you may play an attraction, should you be able to afford to do so. Each attraction has one of the four major suites associated with it, in order to play the card you must discard cards from the midway of the correct suit (or the wild suite) with a numeric value equal to your current level on the strongman tower.   At the lowest part of the tower you will need a total of 4 on all the cards you used to play an attraction, at the top you can need as much as 10. This gives players who get behind a chance to catch up.It is encouraged at this point to present to new attraction like you might expect at a barker to do, each barker card has a unique adjective to help you. As a reward for presenting a new attraction you will get 2 rubes visit you, but you will also move up the tower, making future attractions more expensive.

Each attraction that you own also has a one use power, these range from direct ways to get more rubes, to ways to add many barkers cards at once to surprise your opponents. Many of these are dependent on the other attractions you have, rewarding a focus on the same suite. At any time you have a hand of 3 attractions to choose from. Whether by clever use of their attraction's powers, or by simply presenting enough attractions, the first player to gather 13 rubes is the winner.

Barker's Row midway through the game, the midway has just been completely emptied by the latest attraction and the stands are starting to fill. (Note that the playmat is not in the retail edition)
Amy’s Final Thoughts

At first glance Barker's Row is incredibly well presented. The score trackers being 3D stands with custom shaped and printed meeples used as the points themselves makes for a great sight. All the while the looming strongman tower watches over you, serving as a tracker of your current difficulty to progress, though the strongman tower's construction does leave it being a little wobbly. It's all presented very nicely, particularly if you can get hold of the playmat, the cards themselves all have suitably creepy/gothic imagery, with it being just cartoony enough to not be off-putting.

And all this presentation, unfortunately, is used to hid a very average card game. Each turn is simple, add 1 card to the midway, then, if you can afford it, play an attraction. Which means most of your turns can be ass simple as placing one card and then passing. The game easily could have been made to be solely a card game, and if it were it would be quite forgettable. The best way to get enjoyment in the game is to really get into the theme, presenting your new attractions like a true carnival barker. The strategies in the game are too often limited by luck, making a plan to build attractions in a certain order can often be thwarted by your opponents getting a run of luck and using all the cards in the midway, leaving you having to start from scratch. A common theme in Barker's row is working hard to set yourself up, only to have the rug pulled from under you.

Barker's Row has too much luck and not enough strategy to make a good two player game, bad luck, such as drawing too much of one suite for your attractions is unfairly penalized, while the powers themselves vary pretty wildly in strength. For example the dinosaur requires you to have 4 specific card in order to gain 1 rube, while another attraction gives you 1 rube for *each* specific card you have! One of the bigger issues is actually how hard it is to come back from being behind. Sure the strongman tower was a nice idea, but it isn't enough to counter the power of some of the attractions.

Barker's Row's biggest issue is that the gameplay often has runs of tedium as the midway is too empty to be of use to anyone, having the midway emptied just before your turn is far more frustrating than it is interesting. Ultimately Barker's Row is a case of style over substance.

Each Barker card has a suitable adjective for the suite. Each attraction has unique art and a unique power, though the suites all have a unique theme to their powers.
Fi’s Final Thoughts

The first thing that strikes you about Barker’s Row is undoubtedly the table appeal. We first played it at a board game café and two different people came to ask us about the game. The 3D ‘strongman’ progress track along with the ‘coconut shy’ style personal score tracker with printed meeples, can certainly draw a crowd, especially if you’re announcing your acts ringmaster style, as is suggested by the rulebook! Unfortunately the game has very little at all to do with these two major components, both of which are overproduced point tracks. The game is a race to get to 13 points by scoring act cards from your hands.

When you add cards to Barker’s Row, you’re ever mindful that you might be playing right into your opponent’s hands by giving them the opportunity to score a colour before you do, meaning that you need to build up from scratch if you want to score the points for your act.  If possible you should try to read your opponents and piggy-back of their hard work, but of course they can also do this to you.
After the first game, I realised a need to be more cunning with my selection of initial acts to try and identify a combo that would result in a sprint finish, where I could acquire a glut of ‘rubes’ in one turn to secure a victory, rather than waiting for the 2 rubes that you get for putting on each act to start adding up. I enjoyed identifying these combos, so long as the result wasn’t a starting hand that stitched me up, through no fault of my own, in the early game due to a lack of those colours coming up in Barker’s Row.

There are some elements to Barker’s Row that I really like, and when the game is going my way and I’m drawing acts where either some progress has already been made, or my opponent is making the progress for me, then I can feel like it’s an enjoyable, light-hearted game. But when luck isn’t on my side and I can’t seem to tell if my opponent is taking me for a fool, then it’s just disappointing to keep being cut off in my tracks.

Barker’s Row is just an OK filler, but with a hefty price tag, and for me I just feel that there’s a mismatch between the two for a game that will easily be forgotten.

The unique "rube" meeple act as single point tokens, visually filling your stands as you progress.
The Good
  • The game has a great style to it, with great components, interesting artwork and amusing puns associated with each act.
  • The special abilities available from your acts on stage are interesting to combo and trigger, especially in the latter stages of the game.

The Bad
  • There are definite drawbacks in building up for a certain type of act, only to have the opportunity pounced on by the following players in the turn order.
  • Although there have been obvious efforts at a catch up mechanism with the ever increasing requirements as you put on more acts, the player in the lead also has more special abilities at their disposal, which we have found can cause a runaway leader issue.
  • Luck of the draw can be against you since the acts in your hand are a random selection.

The Verdict
5/10 Barker’s Row is a fantastically produced game, but we can’t help but feel that it had to be in order to succeed in a crowded Kickstarter market. Beneath the 3D components and printed meeples is just a simple card game that can sometimes be quite undermined by bad luck and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

Barkers Row was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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