Monday, April 27, 2015

"Catan" - The Gaming Equivalent Of A Comfy Pair Of Slippers

Picture it: Halifax, Winter, 1997. Your humble narrator is an unrepentant, hardcore, twenty-seven-year-old collectible card game addict, buying Magic: The Gathering and Star Wars Customizable Card Game boosters and singles like a gerbil strung out on bath salts. 

One of my biggest enablers at the time was InQuest magazine ("Hey, kids, remember magazines? No? Hurm...") which was dedicated to legitimizing the diseased, compulsive thought patterns of OCD gamers such as myself. As if he knew that the CCG bubble was completely unsustainable and would eventually burst, writer / games editor Jeff Hannes decided to sneak the following article into the "On Deck" section, which was specifically earmarked for "reviewing the latest releases in collectible card games".

It was a review for an obscure German (?) board game (!!!) that had been published just two years prior, taking its home country by storm. Here's the very same article in its entirety:


Now, it's no accident that I read this since I voraciously consumed every single issue of InQuest from cover to cover at the time. What was fortuitous was that Jeff dared to insert a review for this weird German board game that he discovered and fell in love with into a column dedicated exclusively to collectible card games. Wherever you are, dude, I owe you a beer. 

This was tantamount to hearsay at the time. In the mid-Nineties, gamers were worshiping blindly at the altar of Wizards of the Coast, I.C.E., Decipher and other producers of CCG's. Board games and role-playing games were dead! Long live the new flesh!

It's also kismet that Jeff chose to end his review in such an adamant and memorable way:

"So the next time you're at your local gaming store, put those costly booster packs down and pick up a copy of Settlers of Catan." 

I distinctly remember reading this and thinking:

"Y'know, I used to like board games. They were great; you'd buy 'em and know exactly what you were gettin' inside the box. Okay, Jeffy, you sold me...the next time I manage to scrape thirty bucks together I'm gonna head on down to Odyssey 2000 or Wilkie's Wonderful World, blow past the booster boxes and singles binders and pick up a copy of Settlers of Catan."

"What's Settlers of Catan?", I hear you asking. "Is that, like the same thing as Catan?" 

Um, yes, it's the same exact game. We just had a little more time to say stuff back then 'cuz the internet sucked. In fact, we all called it Settlers. "I say, old bean, would you and your charming paramour care for a game of Settlers?" you'd say.

Jesus, I sound like Grampa Simpson now.

Anyhoo, after buying Settlers of Catan I brought it home, broke it open and immediately devoured the rules. Now, just in case you've been living underneath a vein of Ore for the past eighteen years, here's how the game works:   

You start by generating an island using five different types of terrain hexes. Hills produce Brick, Pastures produce Wool, Mountains produce Ore, Fields produce Grain, Forests produce Lumber and the lone crappy Desert tile is a dead zone. Next up players select a starting space for two of their Settlements and two of their Roads. Settlements must always be placed two spaces away from each other. Starting Resources are then generated from the placement of your second Settlement. 

During their turn, players roll and then total the sum of two six sided dice, producing a bell curve result from 2 to 12. Each one of the terrain hexes on the island has a number assigned to it, so if a player has a Settlement adjacent to that numbered hex, they receive the matching resource. For example if I have a Settlement at the crossroads of a Pasture hex marked with a six and then a "6" is rolled at any time I can take one Sheep from the supply.

After rolling the dice you can then propose trades with your opponents. If everyone around the table is being a tool and won't trade with you, then no worries, you can always return four of the same Resource back to the supply in exchange for any one other Resource. Plus if you manage to get a Settlement built on any of the Harbor spaces around the edge of the board you'll enjoy a more optimal trade deal. Having said that, negotiating with your fellow players is typically the best way to get what you want.

So what can you do with all of those Resources, you say? Why you can build stuff and get more Victory Points, of course! Every player starts the game with two Victory Points apiece (one for each starting Settlement) and can generate more by building new Settlements, upgrading these Settlements to more efficient Cities, building the "Longest Road", retaining the "Largest Army" or dipping into the Development Deck. The cost for doing all of these things is summarized on a handy-dandy Building Cost card which every player has sitting in front of them. 


Oh, one final wrinkle: a "7" activates the *dun, dun, duuuuun* Robber. Anyone who's been hoarding more than seven Resources Cards is forced to dump half of them (Yikes!) and the person who rolled the dice gets to move to Robber to any hex on the board, covering up the number token so it can't generate Resources. They can also steal one card at random from any rival who has a Settlement adjacent to that space. Yoink! 

I remember getting more and more excited as I plowed through that rulebook for the very first time. And when I started teaching the game to anyone who'd listen to me my enthusiasm became contagious. Everyone was in agreement: this game was unlike anything we'd ever played in our lives! I mean, classic games like Payday, Monopoly, Clue and Risk have their place but many of them  involve player elimination or sitting there for twenty minutes waiting for your turn to come back around.

Not so in Settlers of Catan. You were always plotting your next move. Even when it wasn't your turn you were constantly engaged. You paid close attention to every die roll and every trade proposal because you didn't want to miss out on some precious Resource that you needed. And as soon as it was your turn you'd instantly transform into a master negotiator, trying to chisel a single Wheat out of an unsuspecting rival so that you had just enough cheddar to buy another Development Card, hopefully snag another Soldier and finally score that "Largest Army" card.

Catan was so good, so original, and so revolutionary that we played it continuously. Almost to a fault. Eventually we played it into the ground. Even after flirting with the 5-6 Player Expansion, as well as Seafarers and Cities and Knights, the game was inevitably buried under a tsunami of equally-amazing European board games which followed.  

Eventually Settlers of Catan went to fallow in my game collection. Every time I wanted to revisit it some alluring new hawtness lured me away. But, speaking as someone who continues to teach it to new players, the game is still great. Lately I've been downright envious of this new generation of gamers who are discovering Catan for the first time. They're just as smitten with it as I was way back in 1997.

Which is precisely why I brought Catan along with me when we visited Cheryl's mom on Easter weekend. After waxing nostalgic with Carcassone, there was a genuine buzz of recognition, surprise and anticipation when I whipped Catan out of the bag and started to set it up.  

***

PLAYER COLORS

Cheryl...Blue
Me...White
Sheila...Red

GAME ONE

STARTING SET UP


After generating what I needed to buy a Development Card, I enjoyed a "Year Of Plenty". I took two Bricks from the supply and cobbled together two Roads which linked my highway together. It was my intent to race Sheila to the coast, build a Settlement on a Wheat Harbor and take advantage of some optimal trades.


As the first player to roll a "7", Sheila sicced the Robber on both of us, stealing a card form Cheryl just 'cuz she had more of 'em at the time.


This theft, plus an inordinate number of four and twelve rolls quickly gave Sheila the edge in Resources. She blew right past me in Road construction, quickly reaching the coastline and snapping up primo Harbor real estate with the establishment of a brand new Settlement. This also qualified her for the "Longest Road" and two more Victory Points.

SHEILA: 5 Victory Points


Thanks to oddball rolls like "10" and "5", Cheryl did rather well for herself in the initial Resource lotto, scoring enough raw materials to build two more Roads and two more Settlements, the later of which she placed in "pinwheel" configuration.

CHERYL: 3 Victory Points


She then proceeded to make out like a bandito on sixes and tens, the perfect mix of Resources to upgrade one of her Settlements to a City.

CHERYL: 4 Victory Points  


Sheila also wasn't idle. Just as I'd predicted, that 2-1 Wheat Harbor really kicked her economy into high gear and she quickly upgraded her northernmost Settlement onto a City. This solidified her stranglehold on the "Longest Road" card.

SHEILA: 6 Victory Points


And where was your humble narrator during all of this? Why, still loitering around at the starting line, of course.

I placed my first two Settlements next to sixes and eights which should have turned up fairly frequently, but, hey, guess what? They didn't. Occasionally the Odds Gods did smile upon me, allowing me to scrape together just enough Resource Cards to upgrade a Settlement to a City and build a single Road at great expense. With that I tied Sheila for the "Longest Road", which temporarily placed those two Veeps back in limbo.

ME: 3 Victory Points
SHEILA: 4 Victory Points 

Since I couldn't get anything as simple as a friggin' Road built, Sheila quickly re-established herself as the Queen of the Autobahn, clawing back the "Longest Road" award as quickly as she lost it.

SHEILA...6 Victory Points


Thanks to her new City, Cheryl was now generating double the amount of Wheat on a roll of "6" and triple the amount of both Ore and Sheep when a "10" or a "5" came up. Which is to say, inordinately often when you take into account the standard laws of statistics. Anyhoo, the flood of inbound Resource Cards she received were quickly put to good use, as was the Resource Card she pilfered  from me after rolling a "7".

Wow, talk about kickin' a brotha' when he's down.

She paved two new Roads up north and then dropped a Settlement down at the crossroads of a Pasture, a Mountain and some Fields. This dove-tailed perfectly with her strategy, as did the construction of yet another Settlement on a 3:1 Harbor space.

CHERYL: 7 Victory Points
 

Sheila tried to stall Cheryl's inexorable advance by sending Soldiers after her, nabbing the "Largest Army" Card in the process.

SHEILA...8 Victory Points

But the military campaign did little to impede Cheryl's progress. When she leveled up yet another Settlement to a City it seemed as if nothing could stop her.

CHERYL...8 Victory Points


With so many Settlements and Cities producing so many Resources on so many bizarro dice rolls, Cheryl's victory seemed inevitable. Using loose change she found underneath her sofa cushions, she cobbled together another Road segment, providing an ideal spot for yet another housing project. Next up she generated enough Resources to build a new Settlement and upgrade it to a City all in one turn. *BAAAAAAAMMM!!!*


FINAL SCORES

ME...4 VICTORY POINTS


SHEILA...8 VICTORY POINTS


CHERYL...10 VICTORY POINTS


We had so much fun that both Cheryl and her moms were up for playing a second match. And thank Zeus, 'cuz I really had to make up for that incredibly poor first showing!

***

GAME TWO

STARTING SET UP


With my initial set-up last game I was hoping to mass produce a few specific Resources, namely Ore and Wood and then leverage this surplus for exactly what I needed. Unfortunately I didn't get the payout frequency that I needed and no-one had any Brick to trade during the early goings of the game.

This time out I decided to be more self-sufficient, making sure that I had at least some chance of earning the Resources needed to kick start early development. Even the most sound initial placement won't work if the numbers don't come up but this time out nines and sixes appeared with reasonable frequency.

I quickly parleyed this early windfall into three quick Road segments. Not only did this seal up the gap between my two starting Settlements, it also gave me a primo spot to build another one. At the same time I fulfilled the requirements for "Longest Road", scoring two more Victory Points for this achievement. Cheryl responded to my early lead by sending the Robber out to gank me!

ME...5 Victory Points


Even though Sheila placed her initial Settlements next to some questionable spots, she did get some pretty decent payouts of Wood and Brick which she quickly transformed into a couple of Roads. A lot of eights were also rolled up front, giving her the perfect opportunity to upgrade her southern Settlement into a City.

SHEILA: 3 Victory Points


The constant influx of both Wheat and Ore, now doubled by the City, paid for a second City upgrade not long after.

SHEILA: 4 Victory Points


But those eights were also helping me out. Along with a few freakish tens which paid out my westerly Mountains, I quickly initiated my own City upgrade in an effort to keep pace with Sheila.


Meanwhile, Cheryl was trying to set up her own little nexus of productivity. Her initial placement on a 2:1 Wheat Harbor was kinda risky but eventually it started to pay off. After making a few shrewd exchanges she had the Resources required to add two bridging Road segments and a brand new Settlement.

CHERYL: 3 Victory Points


Despite the fact that I had the friggin' Robber dug in like an Alabama tick on my one and only Hill, both Ore and Wheat were still coming in waves. This gave me a chance to upgrade my second Settlement to a City. I wanted to do this as quickly as I could in order to double my Resource income and hopefully get a jump on my opponents.

ME: 7 Victory Points


And it certainly did. Pretty soon I was rollin' in the Wheat. Which is by far Adele's worst song.

Sorry.

Meanwhile, Cheryl's progress, like my own in Game One, had completely stalled. Generally speaking, whenever people find themselves buying Development Cards it's usually a sign that they don't have the Resources to score guaranteed Veeps through Building. But in Cheryl's case, the move paid off in spades when she drew and later played the "Monopoly" Card.

Given how much Wheat Sheila and I were producing, her Resource pick was a no-brainer. As a result, she walked off with no less than nine of our Wheat cards!  *Ugh*


This instantly fueled a Settlement-to-City upgrade!

CHERYL: 4 Victory Points


Since I was still in the lead, I got dinged with the Robber two more times, with the ripe bastard eventually settling onto my 9-pip Forest space like a cat in a shoebox. Even though my Wood supply was curtailed and my opponents were hesitant to trade with me, I was still generating an obscene amount of Wheat and Bricks on just about every turn. Brick was still pretty scarce for everyone else so I managed to sucke...er, convince Sheila to trade some Wood to me.

Using these Resources I paved a two-segment Road to the coast, building a Settlement on the 3:1 Harbor. As soon as I did that, my economy jumped from impulse power to Warp Factor Eight!

ME: 8 Victory Points


Boxed in by my urban sprawl, Cheryl was forced to build a Road along the coastline while Sheila made a bee-line for the 2:1 Sheep port.


Even with that furshlugginer Robber all up in my Hillz, I still managed to perform another Settlement-to-City upgrade.

ME: 9 Victory Points


Periodic rolls of "8" and "10" gave Cheryl the exact payout required to upgrade another Settlement into a City.

CHERYL: 5 Victory Points


With a general surplus of just about every commodity and access to that handy 3:1 Harbor I could pretty much do whatever I wanted at that stage in the game. Anticipating some inexplicable source of interference, I dropped three Roads down in a fit of paranoia and then built another Settlement to lock down the win.


FINAL SCORES

SHEILA...4 VICTORY POINTS


CHERYL...5 VICTORY POINTS


ME...10 VICTORY POINTS


***

TIPS
  • Initial placement is key. In a perfect world you should have a least a shot at producing every type of Resource. If this isn't possible then try to concentrate on Wood, Brick, Sheep and Wheat since this stuff lets you build Roads and Settlements. No matter how good a trade is, there's nothing better than rolling a badly-needed Resource for free!   
  • Snagging a single high-frequency Resource and its matching Harbor is another solid move but remember: those number tokens represent relative frequency and certainly don't account for luck.
  • Try to predict the rarity of certain goods. If you can corner the market on something precious then you'll quickly become the most popular person around the table. 
  • Propose trades with your fellow players every single turn. As good as the Harbors are they aren't better than a good, ol' fashioned one-for-one trade.
  • Personally, I only buy Development Cards if absolutely nothing else is percolating for me. 
  • If you don't have a lot of room at the start of the game try to expand with Roads as soon as possible. Victory or defeat can easily be dependent on who manages to eke out the most space for new Settlements. 
  • Try to avoid placing Settlements on just one or two tiles and avoid the Desert like the plague.
  • Wrestling the "Longest Road" away from an opponent and / or dropping down your third "Soldier" card for the "Largest Army" makes for a great "finishing move".
  • Victory Point leaders should always become the default target for trade embargoes and Robber attacks!
  • If you have a chance to buy something, do it! There's nothing worse than losing half of your cards (or one really pivotal one) when the Robber strikes or Soldiers break down your door.
***

REVIEW

PROS
  • When its set up, the game looks colorful and appealing. Even if people have never played a Eurogame before, they won't feel as if they're drowning under an avalanche of confusing components.
  • The rules are crystal clear and the game is easy to jump into.
  • A game turn in Catan is actually quite simple: roll for Resource production, initiate trades and then build. The appeal of the game comes from the minutia of how you interpret these actions. 
  • The variable set up helps to throw veteran players off of a scripted game. 
  • Noobies who've been burned by player elimination in Monopoly or Risk will be relieved to see that they're in it to the end.
  • Between watching anxiously for payouts and constantly negotiating trades, you always have a vested interest in what's going on.
  • Since Victory Points come from Settlements, Cities, the "Longest Road", the "Largest Army" and "Development Cards" there are just enough strategies to explore without overwhelming gaming neophytes.
  • I like how the Robber makes hoarding cards risky. There's also something immensely gratifying about stealing a Resource from someone!
CONS
  • Picking crappy starting spots for your first two Settlements can hamper your entire game. 
  • There's nothing more infuriating than cold dice in Catan. Bad luck can reduce players to a standstill as well as an emotional wreck.
  • Since the game relies so heavily on trading, you can really shut someone down or play kingmaker. As a side note, Catan vendettas can get pretty nasty!
  • Comebacks are pretty rare in Catan. Once you're trailing behind it can be tough to dig yourself out of a hole. 
***

I don't know exactly when it became fashionable to hate on Catan but I'm willing to bet that hipster gamer douche bags probably started to turn their nose up at it around the same time it began to sell at Target and Toys "R" Us stores.

"Yeah, man, I used to love Catan but now that everyone knows that I'm not really getting Wood for Sheep well, it just doesn't seem as, y'know, as cool anymore." 

But unlike shitty corporate rock bands, board games don't typically change as soon as they become popular. It's not like Catan now includes a random Robber movement template or a Cards Against Humanity-style Development Deck with a "Year of Queefing" card. Anyone who dismisses Catan as the U2 of Eurogames is indulging in snobbery of the highest order.

I'm giving Catan a perfect score not because it's the best game I've ever played but because it's one of the most important. Like Dungeons & Dragons, Axis & Allies and Magic: The Gathering, this thing changed my life. And since I teach it to new gamers almost constantly I know for a fact that its still changing lives to this very day.

Catan scores six pips outta six. Don't be hatin'


***

Looking to become the world's most tardy bandwagon-jumper? Curious about the shiny new edition of Catan? Then click on the following link to learn more about the game and give this here blog some badly-needed Victory Points!


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!   

***



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!


***


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.  


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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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