Feb 25, 2015

[Games] Carcassonne

Carcassonne was actually the very first Euro-style game that Tobie introduced to me when we were first getting to know one another. And while I had enjoyed board games from time to time, my concept of games was limited to the likes of Monopoly, Sorry!, Cluedo and The Game of Life to name a few. So this was a rather mind-blowing experience and I found myself pushing myself to limit to try and beat him during our first night of play.

I've delayed writing reviews for Carcassonne mainly because it's a rather overwhelming franchise to tackle off-hand. Looking at my BoardGameGeek account, Carcassonne games account for at least 10 or so entries in our list of games because we have so many expansions. And to be fair, not all expansions are worth writing about since some of them are very small and had just a single new mechanic to the game.

But it's time to bite the bullet and finally talk about this amazing game. And I guess I'll try bouncing around a few of the expansions that really made an impact on our play experience in subsequent reviews.

Synopsis: Carcassonne is a tile-based German-style game created by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. The base game supports 2-5 players and is now being published in English-speaking markets by Z-Man Games. The game is named after French fortified town of the same name.

In the game, players take turns laying out tiles following certain basic building principles, such as a side that ends with a road must connect to another tile with a road similar to playing dominoes. There are many features on the tiles that connect up in other ways. The clincher here is that each player starts 7 followers (the 8th being used to keep score) in what is now considered to be the iconic meeple shape. After laying a tile, a player has the option to play one follower from their pool on a feature on the tile they just played. And depending on where you place the follower, this changes the way they potentially score.

A follower placed on a road is called a Robber, and he scores 1 point per tile segment when the road is completed. A follower in a city is a Knight and he scores more when the city completes versus should it remain unfinished at the end of the game. A follower in a Cloister is a monk and scores when the cloister tile is completely surrounded. And then there's the Farmer, who is placed in an empty field and scores for every completed city touched by the farm. There are more nuances to proper placement of these followers and what to do when multiple followers manage to connect to the same feature through creative tile-laying, but I'll leave that for you players to figure it out.

What a lot of folks term as "Euro-games" really boils down to this style of game play - where every single move is critically important. And given you play tiles and followers one at a time, you really do feel the pressure of making each move count. There are no dice rolls to make things feel more random - this is all about you facing off against other players in a battle of wits and strategy. Sure, there is a minor element of chance in terms of the tile you have to play given it's a blind draw, but a truly savvy player will find  a way to make the most of every single tile drawn, regardless of how they play out with others. And that level of strategy woven into every aspect of the game design really says a lot about this game.

You can play the game sort of like Sim City, and just focus on your own feature projects of sorts and try to complete all features that you've invested followers in. But this is really a competitive game and it's possible to compete with other players for control of certain features like cities and roads in order to share in the points or even win them away from the other player due to having more followers involved. Or you can simply try to block the progress of other players by placing your tiles in a manner that makes it more difficult for your opponents to complete their own features. This is classically done by trying to steer roads into their cities in the hopes that they don't draw those rare tiles that have a road connecting to a city.

Carcassonne is an amazingly brilliant game that is fairly easy to learn but difficult to master. And this is just the base game, most likely with the River I expansion given English versions of the set. There are so many expansions and each one quite dramatically alters game play in a manner that adds new levels of challenge and fun, novel experiences. Thus the game clearly gets 5 adorable meeple out of a possible 5.

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