Apr 8, 2015

[Games] Carcassonne: The Princess & the Dragon

I've been looking forward to getting around to reviewing Carcassonne: The Princess & the Dragon since it's pretty much one of my favorite Carcassonne expansions. This may seem a little controversial at times and I totally understand if there are folks who don't like playing with this particular expansion added into the mix of things because the Dragon in this game is really something we tend to call "The Destroyer of Dreams."

But really, this game is great since it adds some clever new rules to the game that are more than just alternate scoring mechanics. As much as I praised Traders & Builders for doing pretty much just that, this game is a different story all together.

If anything, this game added a key mechanic that has been absent since the first version of the game - follower removal and pretty much a way for players to directly affect other players. Sure, across all prior expansions you're all still competing with one another. But it's this game that really gave you a way to make things a lot more difficult for your competitors. And that deserves some praise indeed.

Synopsis: Carcassonne: The Princess & the Dragon is the fourth large expansion for Carcassonne, as again designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. The game adds 30 new tiles and two distinct wooden figures - the dragon and the fairy. Not, that's not the princess.

The titular Princess is actually a tile effect - when you place a city tile with the Princess icon, you can remove any followers from the city including your own. And while you can't place a new follower right away, it at least helps you deny points to other players and you still have a modest chance to taking control of that city assuming you had your own knights there. The other tile effect added to the game involves the Magic Gate or portal. When you place that tile, you can choose to place your follower for that turn onto any unclaimed feature on the map and not just one the tile you placed. Combine that with a vacant city because of a recent Princess maneuver can make portals pretty useful.

Now in terms of the new figures, let's talk about the Fairy. When you don't place a new follower when you place a new tile, you can choose to move the fairy instead. When you start your turn with the fairy on the same space as one of your followers (regardless of role), you get a victory point. When a feature is scored and the fairy is on a tile with your follower that is part of that feature, then you get an additional 3 victory points. But most importantly, any tile where the Fairy is present cannot be visited by the Dragon.

And then there's the Dragon. The Dragon enters play once a tile with a volcano is drawn and placed. From that point on, the Dragon will fly to any new volcano tiles once placed. After the first volcano is placed, any future Dragon tiles cause the dragon to move. The player first resolves his turn as normal and places his tile and thus has the option to move the fairy (assuming he does not place a new follower). Then all players starting from the one who drew the Dragon tile take turns moving the dragon one space at a time for a total of 6 moves. The only rules that govern Dragon movement include the Dragon being unable to go to a tile with the Fairy and the Dragon cannot go back on any tile they had been previously during this turn. Should the Dragon cross or end at a tile with any number of followers on it, they are all sent back to their owners supply pools instantly.

So between the Princess and the Dragon, there's a lot of chances to remove opposing followers from the board, thus freeing up features to be claimed anew. The decision to split the Dragon's movement among all players was a pretty brilliant idea and many a follower has been saved through crafty maneuvering. And while some folks feel like this breaks the strategic nature of the game, I still think it adds a lot of fun for truly competitive play. And there are even times when you might want to kick out one of your own followers, especially for features that are now difficult to complete because of how surrounding tiles were placed.

The Fairy seems like a quaint little game mechanic mostly tied to the Dragon, and for the most part that's true. But ignoring the fairy means an opponent possibly scoring a point every turn. Combine that with the protection from the Dragon and the bonus points when scoring features with the fairy and those points can really add up. It's just so painful to skip placing a follower entirely since the game thus far has trained us to make the most of every move and to find ways to get your followers out there scoring points for you. The Fairy nicely turns that around and makes you want to skip placing a follower only to get your hands on the Fairy this turn.

On the whole, Carcassonne: The Princess & the Dragon is a great expansion that really mixes up your game play. It may not seem quite as fun with only two players, but in larger games it can get pretty brutal, and that's not a bad thing at all. Thus the expansion still gets 5 dreams destroyed by the movement of the Dragon out of a possible 5.

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