Monday, April 20, 2015

Games Even A Mom Will Love - "Carcassonne"

Sadly I live too far away from my parents to visit them around Easter but Cheryl's mom is reasonably close by. As a result I've introduced her to a lot of different board games over the years and she's grown into quite the passionate and savvy l'il tabletop gamer.

One of the first ones she really picked up on was Carcassonne:



At its heart, Carcassonne is pretty straightforward. The game consists of seventy-two tiles which feature the sort of landmarks you might see in the south of France, particularly around the very-real medieval city of Carcassonne:



Side note: I really, really want to play Carcassonne while hanging out in Carcassonne. It's a dream I have.

Sorry, I digress. Where was I?

Oh, yes...the game itself is very simple in principle. All you do is pick up a random concealed tile, flip it to the purdy side and then place it within the communal map that you and your fellow urban planners are working on. The game's strategy comes from where you place the tile, how you orient it, and whether or not you put a Follower on it.

That's right, you have eight, er, sorry, seven l'il wooden minions that you can drop onto the map as you're building it. Here's how that works:
  • Followers placed in a City become a Knight. If you manage to wall it off all the way around you'll score two points for every tile that constitutes the City, plus an additional two points for every Pennant that appears on the tile(s). Then your Follower comes back to you like a l'il wooden prodigal son.   
  • Dispatched onto a Road your agent becomes a wily Thief. A Road is considered finished completed when both ends lead into a Cloister, a City, a copse of trees or a village. When that happens you get one point for every tile that makes up your cardboard autobahn, plus your Follower reports back to you for future re-assignment. *Roger, roger*
  • Any Follower sequestered away in a Cloister becomes a Monk. If surround yon abbey with eight others tiles you'll score nine points, one for every tile surrounding the Cloister plus the Cloister itself. Once you've finished it, you're Monk will quit and come back to you. And who can blame 'em? Fasting and celibacy sucks.
  • Drones dropped into a Field immediately take up the world's oldest profession. No, not that oldest profession, the other world's oldest profession: farming! Farmers are the only Followers that display a modicum of stick-to-it-ness, staying on the board until the end of the game and earning their patron three points for every completed City that they're loitering around next to.
The game ends when someone draws and places the final tile. If you still have have a bunch of half-completed Cities, Roads and Cloisters, don't freak out since you get partial points for every incomplete structure.

Keen on more cartography? Then click on the following link to read map out the full rules!   

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I decided to take Carcassonne with me this past Easter weekend for several reasons:
  1. Spring is making me feel whimsical and nostalgic. 
  2. Cheryl's family is always accusing me of bringing new games so that "they don't get good at the older ones". Holy Conspiracy, Batman! 
  3. I've been teaching Carcassonne to a lot of people lately and I just wanna play it myself for a change.
As a side note, Cheryl's mom never ceases to amaze me. After a super-brief refresher she was up and landscaping away like the best of 'em!


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COLORS

Cheryl...Blue
Me...Black
Sheila...Yellow

GAME ONE

After completing a two-segment City, Sheila became the first among us to nudge a Farmer out into a Field. She then went on to garrison another City and set a Thief loose on a Road to waylay innocent travelers. Not long after she completed a two-point Road and then polished off a City for a respectable ten points.

Cheryl kicked things off with a spot of Road development and then unearthed a highly-prized Cloister which she immediately occupied with a Monk. She then polished off a two-tile City, dispatched a Farmer out into a Field and then annexed a new City.

After finishing an otherwise-forgettable two-tile City I proceeded to draw one crappy Road tile after another! Eventually I did occupy another City but by then I was bringing up the rear!



Sheila continued her aggressive strategy, capturing and then capping off another two-tile City, completing a three-point Road, and then putting another Farmer in the dell.

Cheryl claimed another City and then proceeded to expand on it for what seemed like forever. Eventually she put the finishing touches on it for an impressive sixteen (!) points!

Finally I started to get some tile variety. After seizing control of another City, I completed an earlier castle for eight points and then plopped a Farmer into the neighboring Field that very same turn. Next up I drew a timely Cloister, wedged it into a snug spot and then staffed it with some hot Monk action.



Sheila pulled a Cloister and then dropped it into a spot where it was almost surrounded. Not long after she enclosed it with the perfect Road piece, scoring nine points in the process. She finished off a solid game by completing a City in the northeast section of the map for a whopping eighteen points!

Cheryl continued to surge, netting two more Cloisters back-to-back! She also completed a pretty hefty metropolis at the eleventh hour, netting fourteen points in the process!

Speaking of last minute, I finally polished off "Route 20", scoring twelve points for my perseverance.  I then started and immediately finished a much smaller boulevard, which only got me two points.




VICTORY POINTS BEFORE FINAL SCORING

Blue...39 Points
Black...40 Points
Yellow...46 points

INCOMPLETE ROADS

Yellow...3 Points
Black...5 Points

INCOMPLETE CITIES

Blue...2 Points 
Black...3 Points

INCOMPLETE CLOISTERS

Yellow...6 Points
Black...7 Points
Blue...22 Points!

FARMERS

Blue...3 Points
Black... 15 Points
Yellow... 18 Points

BLUE...66 Points
BLACK...70 Points
YELLOW...73 Points

SHEILA WINS!

***

GAME TWO

Cheryl claimed a City tile with a Pennant and then continued to expand on it like a Medieval Mike Holmes. She then concealed a Thief on a Road and proceeded to jack up unsuspecting one-percenters, Robin Hood style, yo. Finally she occupied the battlements of yet another castle with a freshly-minted Knight.

Sheila claimed and then finished a City in two turns, scoring four points in the process. She also placed a Farmer on the very same tile, putting her into contention for at least three end-of-game points. Next up she dispatched a Thief onto a budding highway and then planted another Farmer in a Field next my completed City. Finally she polished off a short Road for a modest little windfall. 

Game Two started exactly the same way for me as Game One: I placed a Thief and then proceeded to draw nothing but Road tiles for my next four freakin' turns. Eventually I did capture a City tile which I completed not long after for six points. I then placed a wedge-shaped castle wall which contributed to my interstate and gave me a spot for future City tile draws. 




Sheila then went on to capture two separate Cities with a pair of Knights, close off a five-point Road and send a Thief out for another spate of highway robbery. 

Cheryl was all about the urban renewal, completing a three-tile City for six points and then polishing off a pair of two-segment developments for eight more. Keeping with this construction theme she then snagged another major development contract and proceeded to work on that for the next four turns.

My crappy luck continued and I had to be content with completing a modest four-point City and then starting up another one. * cue sad trombone sound



Sheila closed off a pretty sizable City for a healthy sixteen points. Then, after snagging and staffing a Cloister, she immediately began construction on a brand, spankin' new castle. By that time she had every single one of her Followers down on the board, a fact that became abundantly clear when she drew two more Cloisters and didn't have any meeple-Monks (Monkles?) to claim them with. Wow, it's like a cardboard commentary on the state of the modern Catholic church, ain't it? Oh well, at least she ended the game on a positive note by completing an eight-point City! 

Cheryl enjoyed a decent little end game. After netting six points for the completion of another City, she built a race track for seven points, landed yet another castle-building contract and then sealed up another wall for twelve points! Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, I picked up a Cloister and squeezed it into a cozy little niche. To aid and abet a seperate development, I placed another Thief on the board, hoping that my first long-ass Road was nearing completion. The gambit paid off and I finally closed off Highway One for twelve big points! My elation quickly turned to horror, however, when I realized that I couldn't place my newly-recovered Follower on the Cloister that I just picked up. *Ugh*

I bounced back by completing a twelve-point City, sealing up a two-point Road and scoring some cheap, at-the-buzzer points with a lone Follower in a start-up castle.     





VICTORY POINTS BEFORE FINAL SCORING

Yellow...39 Points
Black...40 Points
Blue...43 points

INCOMPLETE ROADS

Blue...1 Point
Yellow...4 Points

INCOMPLETE CITIES

Yellow...2 Points 
Black...6 Points

INCOMPLETE CLOISTERS

Yellow...8 Points
Black...16 Points

FARMERS

Black...6 Points
Blue...12 Points
Yellow...18 Points

BLUE...56 Points
BLACK...68 Points
YELLOW...71 Points

SHEILA WINS...AGAIN!

***

TIPS
  • Try to have at least one Followers on each terrain type to ensure that every tile you pull contributes directly to your score.
  • If the board opens up mid-game those once-isolated Farmers might end up being adjacent to a lot of completed Cities. Ergo: you may wanna place your Farmers as centrally as possible.
  • Carcassone isn't very conflict-y but wily players can steal Road and City points by leveraging the "Follower majority" rule. For example, when three separate Cites merge into one, the player with Knight majority will steal all of the points! Noice! And evil! 
  • Remember: unassigned Followers don't score any points for you. A quick corollary: there's nothing worse than drawing a Cloister right at the end of the game and not having any Followers to place on it!    
  ***    
REVIEW

PROS
  • Carcassone unites two different sections of the hobby store: tabletop games and puzzles. I'm convinced that designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede was an avid puzzle enthusiast who just hit upon the simple yet brilliant idea of scoring points for doing it well. 
  • There's hardly any upfront rules dump. You can set it up in seconds and then teach people how to play it as they go.
  • The high-quality tiles are clear, charming and pretty to look at. We can definitely credit Carcasonne for bringing "meeples" to the masses!
  • The game plays in only about thirty minutes or so which gives players an opportunity to explore different strategies in one sitting. 
  • For a simple tile-laying game, players have a lot of interesting choices to make every turn. The four different construct types (Cities, Roads, Farms and Cloisters) and their matching Followers (Knights, Thieves, Farmers and Monks) give you a decent amount of variables to explore. 
  • The game's "living rulebook" keeps it fresh and balanced. My first edition didn't permit disconnected "race tracks", two-segment Cities were only worth one point apiece and you got three points for every supplied Farm instead of four. Now, some might consider this to be a "CON" but I appreciate that Klaus-Jürgen Wrede keeps tweaking Carcasonne to make it as fair, simple and enjoyable as possible. 
CONS
  • I've been playing Carcasonne for a good fourteen years now and I still wrack my brain over Farmer scoring sometimes. In fact, it makes sense to ignore Farmers the first few times you play. If one wily player picks up on the Farmer strategies right away and annihilates everyone else it might put them off the game. 
  • The game is literally a thematic black hole, bearing about as much similarity to the real city of Carcassonne as Kraft cheese slices do to aged cheddar.  
  • The game is fantastic with two or three people but starts to get bogged down by communal analysis paralysis with five or six.  
  • Luck of the draw does play a pretty hefty role. If you produce a metric shit-ton of Cloisters right at the end of the game, you're gonna overwhelm the poor bastard who's been drawing one Road after another.  


***


Although Carcassonne is far from perfect, I still recognize it as one of the most important "gateway" games of all time. It might not be the most immersive experience in the world, but I think it's a great way to show newbies that boardgames are much more than just Clue, Payday, Monopoly and Risk

Indeed, Carcassonne is a great way to expand the perceptions of your non-gamer friends, opening the door for meatier fare. As soon as they take that first step into a larger world, you've got a new gamer for life!  

Just for it's sheer importance in the hobby, Carcassonne scores five pips out of six with a tilt up towards Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's bank account.


 
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Wanna do a hostile takeover of your opponent's parapet? Then click on the link below to learn more about this shiny new edition of Carcassonne and help this blog score the Pennant!  


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