Thursday, 13 February 2014

Carcassonne

Picturesque and somewhat fascinating.

Another game that I would consider a modern classic, but perhaps not quite of the same standing as The Settlers of Catan.

What the original box looks like - this is in Czech though.

The 10th Anniversary Edition is shaped like a Meeple - a 'cult symbol' of sorts in the board gaming world


Name: Carcassonne (2000)

Notable Honour: Spiel des Jahres 2001 (German Game of the Year 2001)

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Editions: I have the 10 year Anniversary Edition, which doesn't differ too much from the Original (the Anniversary Edition has plastic see-through meeples and the box is shaped like a meeple). There is also a Carcassonne Winter Edition and South Seas Edition which both look pretty cool. I would recommend going with whatever theme you like - the gameplay should not be different.

But be careful - I'm guessing that the original expansions would not be compatible with the special editions.

Expansions: There are plenty of expansions. The first two Expansions, 'Inns & Cathedrals' and 'Traders and Builders' are generally thought of as 'must-have' copies. I have heard though that some of the other ones make the game quite involved or fairly different to the original.

For example the Dragon and Princess Expansion actually introduces a Dragon piece that eats followers, which in theory sounds cool (and I would not mind playing it); however, this may make the game unnecessarily complex for some people.

Designer: Klaus-J├╝rgen Wrede

Players: 2 to 5 players. 6 with the Expansion Inns and Cathedrals

Age: 8+

Time to play: About 45 minutes.

Price Range (AUD): $32 to $70. 

Availability: Quite well known but not as well known as The Settlers of Catan. Available mainly in hobby game stores and online.

Genres
  • Tile placement
  • Area control
  • "Gateway"

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.4+* out of 10. (Good - See my Rating Scale)

Carcassonne makes for a great introduction to board gaming for newcomers. Like The Settlers of Catan, this game will challenge a newcomer's definition of a board game. One obvious reason for this is because there is no discernible board involved - you play with tiles drawn from a bag coupled with these human-like figurines called meeples.

Another thing that Carcassonne brings to the table is the fact that it almost feels as if everyone is contributing to the landscape of a major artwork. The tiles can be placed in an infinite (well, not quite) number of ways, giving players many options to choose from on their turn. You score points by placing followers to match certain features of the landscape (eg. roads, cities, farms). Players must choose whether to conserve their followers or to use them frequently. There is often a trade-off between quick scoring and long-term investments.

I will say though that the game has some element of mild strategy, but is probably 95% luck-based. It is a game I enjoy playing when I want to have some mindless fun without needing to think too much.

* 24 July 2014: I just had to increase its score from 7.3 to 7.4+. Not many games can capture the simplicity and artistry of Carcassonne. The real downside of this game though is that I really think that a lot of this game is luck-based. As a friend suggested to me, 100% of your input is based on drawing tiles from a bag in which you have no control over. Sure, you could argue that how you use that tile (especially if you memorise all the tiles in the game - only for hardcore enthusiasts!) will dictate your chances of winning, but I would kindly suggest that that strategy is only marginal. Still, that doesn't mean Carcassonne isn't fun. There is plenty of room for "screwing other people up" - one can always block other players' progress by building obstructions.

The Good:
  • The final product can look quite lovely (I am told that Carcassonne: The City looks great because of the 3d wooden walls)
  • Gameplay usually feels interesting to new players
  • Open gameplay - players have several choices
  • Easy to explain, set up and play
  • What I would call a 'mindless game' with tiny elements of strategy.
  • Lots of "screwage" - stuffing other people up. 
The Bad:
  • You are dictated by what tiles you draw - people who enjoy strategic depth may not like this, but this is also arguably the case in dice-rolling games as well (to a certain extent, anyway).
  • Counting points may be annoying, but this isn't really an issue
  • Because of the lack of strategic depth, may run dry if played too many times

What makes this game fun? 

The novelty of painting a picture by tile placement, whilst trying to score points by completing various landscape features makes for an interesting game experience. It's quite a good game to show family and friends who have never played board games before.









- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

Try to find a table or area with a decent amount of space.
Shuffle all the tiles (into a cloth bag if possible)

Everyone takes coloured meeples of their colour. 1 can be used for scoring purposes.



Place the start tile in the middle of the table like so.



You can tell if it's the start tile by observing the backs of the tiles - the starting tile is the inverse colour of everything else:



Rules:
(The usual rule applies: Ie. Highest Score wins)

1. Draw a tile from the cloth bag
2. Place a tile on any open side of an existing tile BUT it must be placed in a way that makes sense. Ie. Roads can't suddenly appear from grass; and a city can't protrude from a road. See the below picture to make more sense of this rule:

These tiles can be joined up together because they make sense - where a road should continue it does; where a city continues it does; where grass should run, it does

3. After placing the tile, [AND ONLY AFTER THE TILE IS PLACED] the player has an option of putting down a follower to score points, depending on the feature involved. You can't place followers at any other time.

There are only 4 features:

  • Roads score 1 point per tile that has a connecting road where your meeple/follower is placed. Followers placed on roads are called "thieves".
  • Cities score 2 points per tile that has a connecting city segment where your meeple/follower is placed. Followers placed on cities are called "knights".
  • Cloisters/Churches score 1 point per tile that surrounds the cloister in a 3x3 grid, including the cloister tile itself (for a maximum of 9 points) Followers placed on cloisters are called "monks".
  • [trickiest feature, arguably] Farms (basically grass) score 3 points for every COMPLETED city that the farm/green grass touches. Followers placed on farms are called "farmers".

Territory Rules (Where there is an existing follower on a feature)

4. However, players can only place meeples/followers on a feature if that feature is NOT contested - ie. the feature must NOT already have another player's follower on it.


  • 4b. Do note that, occasionally, features may join up in such a way that followers will eventually share the same territory - this is fine, so long as Rule 4 was adhered to when the followers were first placed down. 

  • 4c. If there is a tie between the number of followers each player has on a particular feature, then they split the points. If one player has more followers on a particular feature, then the player with the larger number of followers wins the points for that feature.


So take the following example:

Blue places the right-most tile. Blue cannot place their meeple on the road because Black already occupies that road: Rule 4a.
However Blue could place their meeple on the city because it is unoccupied.

However, here is how Rule 4b could work. Blue can place their follower on a road tile that is NOT connected to Black's road.

Look at the next picture...

...once the two roads are connected then the road is shared. Blue and Black share the points of the road (currently 6 points as there are 6 tiles with roads connected): Rule 4c

Sharing means both get the SAME points - the total is NOT divided by 2. Hence, if the game were to end now, each would get 6 points. See below rules on completing features.
Continuing the example: If Blue or Black is able to create a "segregated" or "detached road" and place their follower on that road, and then later connect the segregated road to the main road, they will have the majority of followers on the road.

In the above example Blue has done this. Then a turn later Blue might seize the advantage in the below picture:

Here Blue outweighs Black's followers: If the road finishes this way, Blue wins all the points in the road. Black gets zero


5. Finishing: Whenever you finish or complete a feature, your follower returns to you and you score points. Ie. you can only score points when you finish a feature.

How do you finish features?
  • Roads are finished when it is closed at both ends by two objects, such as buildings or intersections
  • Cities are finished when walls surround all of its sides creating an enclosure of brown space.
  • Cloisters are finished when 8 tiles surround it in a 3x3 grid.
  • Farms pretty much never finish. Therefore, they are only scored at the end of the game.

This here is a completed cloister - it is surrounded by 8 tiles with the cloister tile in the middle. It scores 9 points in total.
Photo from: http://www.mumford-photo.com/images/carcassonne_variant_cloister.jpg


6. Not finishing: Even if you don't finish a feature, so long as you have a follower on it you will score points:

  • Unfinished cities are only worth half their value (1 point per tile that has a city on it - shielfs are also only worth 1 point). 
  • Unfinished roads and cloisters are worth the same value.
  • Farms are never finished and worth 3 points per completed city.


To give you a better idea, observe the following example.

Example

It's Red's turn. Red just placed the left tile to fit in with the starting tile.

Right tile is the starting tile. Left tile is placed by Red

Red then places their follower on the road. Red can't score the points yet as the road isn't complete. But at the game's end, if Red is still dominating the roads, Red will get 2 points.



Black draws a tile. It's a cloister tile. Black places the cloister tile like so:


Black then places a follower on the cloister.


Then Blue draws a tile. It has two city features. Blue decides to score quickly so places it like so:

Currently the cloister is only worth 4 points (1 for the cloister tile and 3 for the tiles in a 3x3 grid next to it)

Note however, that you only score points when features are FINISHED/COMPLETED. The cloister is not complete yet as it needs to be completely surrounded by 8 tiles in a square shape (3x3 grid, with the cloister tile as the middle).


Blue places their follower on the city like below and then scores 4 points INSTANTLY (2 points for each tile that has a city connected to their follower = 2x2). This is because the city is complete - the city's walls make a complete enclosure.


Blue immediately gets their follower returned to their hand.

Now it is Red's turn again. Red draws a tile and places it like so:

This tile has a road intersection on one end - which means the road is half complete.


Red decides to play a "farmer". They must always be placed flat. This is a long-term investment.

If Red continues to dominate the farms, Red has 3 points in the bag because the GREEN grass is touching 1 completed city (which is the city Blue completed previously). As you can see the green grass has the potential to go many places, but its outer boundaries are dictated by the roads and city walls.

Red can accumulate more points if other players finish building cities later in the game (3 points per completed city)


It is Blue's turn. Blue helps red by placing the intersection tile below (it is not wise to help your opponents but let's just say Blue does)

Red has their road completed - the road is worth 4 points.


 Red can now take off their meeple and score 4 points.

Thus far, the scoring meeple look like this: Blue and Red are on 4 points. Black is still on zero because the cloister is not complete.

However, do note that, if the game were to end now, Black would score 5 points for having 4 surrounding tiles (surrounding in a 3x3 square shape - including tiles diagonally surrounding).

Red would also score 3 points for the completed city at game's end.




Just to give you another example, this is what could happen a few turns after the last picture above.


In the bottom left corner, Blue has placed a farmer. This is fine because the farmer is on the other side of the road (hence it is a different farm - it doesn't offend the territory rules), and, if the right tiles are placed, Blue's farmland could eventually join with Red's farmland. If this happens, they both get the same amount of points. If one of them has the majority of followers on the shared farmland, they get all the points and the other gets zero.

Notice in the top of the map, Blue has scored 6 points (2x3) for the 3 city tiles + a bonus of 2 points for the shield icon. This creates a total of 8 points.

Blue will then be entitled to take away their follower after completion of the city

Note also that this gives the Red an additional 3 points because the green farmland is touching the second city that Blue just completed.

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