Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just Gaming Around - Carcassonne: The City (Review)

You may have heard of a little game called Carcassonne - a relatively simple tile laying game that is great for families and hard-core gamers alike. The basics of playing it involves drawing a tile and placing it, then placing a meeple (player piece) on it and, if it completes a feature (a city, a road or a cloister) you get some points depending on the size of the item, or in the case of the cloister you just get 9 points. You can also place farmers in fields that score points at the end of the game depending on how many cities they touch.

It's a great game to get people involved in games that might not otherwise enjoy games. It's very puzzle-like and playing it is easy to understand. It's also a terrific game to play with kids. It has many expansions to add to the complexity or change the game up to make it interesting in different ways once you tire of the regular game. And, there are many off-shoots that are based on the base game that tweak it in several ways.

Carcassonne: The City is one of those tweaked versions of the original. It was originally published in 2004 in this fantastic wooden box version:

Nice wooden box with a clasp and hinge.

I got my copy along with 2 other games on a trade with someone last year. So, I've had it a while and even read the rules a couple of times, but not had an opportunity to play this highly rated game. My son has been bugging me the last couple of weeks to play it and yesterday he asked again. Of course, I had other important things to do, but alas, a game with my son is difficult to refuse!

I told him to go get his jammies on and get ready for bed while I set it up and reviewed the rules. This sort of comment generally gets him motivated to get ready quickly. So, I opened it up and went about setting it up.

The box opened with the bagged pieces revealed.

Getting the basic pieces set  up

I quickly reviewed the rules, go the pieces out and.....he still hadn't arrived. :(  After retrieving him from not-getting-dressed-and-playing-with-his-marbles-instead-land I started teaching him. I started by noting it's just like regular Carcassonne but with some changes.

For instance, the only feature on the tiles that you are required to connect are the roads. Roads when completed score 1 point per segment up to 3 segments. However, they are 2 points per segment if 4 or more segments long (this is different than basic Carc).

Then, there are markets which are like the cities except there are 3 colored markets - red, blue and yellow. When you complete a market you multiply the number of colors in the market by the number of tiles to score. Duplicates of the same color don't count extra so the most you can have is a multiplier of 3 for the colors.

Then, instead of farmland you have residential areas. You play this like the farmer - once you place your meeple he's there the rest of the game. Similar to regular Carc you get 2 points per market touching the residential area (completed or not) at the end of the game.

One thing that's important to note is that residences and markets can be put down next to each other even though they don't match. This also makes it easier to try to 'take over' someone else's market or road potentially.

Now, the next rules are different. As you can see we have a wooden gate, wooden walls, and wooden towers. These come into play about 1/3 into the game. There are a total of 75 tiles in the game. To start we make 3 stacks of tiles, 30, 25 and 20 and work through them in that order. After the first stack is gone, then, every time a feature is scored we get to place walls on the outside edge of the city starting with the player triggering the scoring. For the normal game each player places 1 wall but for 2-player we each get to take turns placing 2 walls. Also, the very first time a wall is to be placed, the gate is placed instead. There isn't anything significant about the gate other than to look cool!

A wall must be placed along a tile edge and adjacent to the gate or another wall. Thus, there are always 2 ends to the wall you can build on.

When you place a wall you can place a meeple on it as a 'guard'. The guard scores 2 points at the end of the game for each WHITE building in the residential areas of the tiles in that row that the meeple looks over, or 3 points for the white buildings with a scroll next to it. Once a meeple is on that wall no meeple may be placed on the wall directly opposite in the same row, unless there is a gap in the row.

Finally, the player initiating the scoring and wall placement is allowed to place one tower if they wish (each player gets a limited amount out of the 12 total towers, evenly divided at the beginning between players). It is placed at the end of one of the wall segments and scores 1 point for each wall segment up to the next previous tower (or the gate).

So, that was enough for us to get started. He started first and drew the first tile, placed it and placed a meeple. I did the same. An on we went....

Jacob placing his 2nd tile in the game

Happy to FINALLY be playing this game!

Jacob placing a meeple onto his first wall segment - this probably wasn't the best choice here, but he had fun doing it!

Yellow guard on the wall

We kept going and I got ahead by a good bit, but he was able to quickly catch up with a couple of good market plays. He eventually got the hang of the walls as well in terms of what were good options for placing meeples (i.e. finding rows that had more white buildings). I don't think he quite caught on to tile placement considerations that would give more points at end-game for the guards as well as anything from immediate scoring.

Taking ownership of a road

The city continued to grow and grow. Getting on down to the last stack, the number of walls placed doubles so we were each putting 4 walls down for EACH regular scoring action. This quickly begins to deplete the walls (running out of walls is one game-end condition as is the wall ends reaching to within 4 segments of each other)

A looong reach across the table (don't knock down my red meeple again!)

Finally, the game ended when, after placing walls, we totally enclosed the city!

End game position

We counted up the scores for residences and guards. Daddy ended up winning but it was too close to call until final scoring.

Final city with final score tallied

So what do I REALLY think of this game?
Jacob and I had  a great time playing this game. It's relatively short as tile placement is easier. Also, there's only a limited number of tiles and other pieces, so one of the game conditions is going to hit you at a certain point. And, even though there are a lot of things to take into consideration when playing a piece, it's not so deep that you feel like you need to consider a ton of options.

This is a great family game just like the original Carcassonne, but with some nice twists to give some added dimension to the decisions you make in placing your tiles.

Some of the things you have to consider and plan for include (not strategy exactly, just some observations of note):

  • You have a limited supply of meeples (7) to play with. As you put them in the residences or on the walls, you have fewer and fewer meeples to work with, so you must choose wisely!
  • Also, there is a special rule that says any meeple that comes off the board CANNOT immediately go back onto the board (due to the ordering of when you score vs. when you place a meeple). Therefore, if you have no meeples in your supply and you complete a feature for scoring, the meeple you get back can NOT be placed onto the tile you just placed.
  • The markets can score quite a bit when they get much larger and have a lot of colors.
  • Roads can also score quite a bit the longer they get (4+ segments).
  • Placing a tile has more consideration than just the immediate feature due to the guards AND the residences.
  • Completed AND uncompleted markets adjacent to residence areas both count for end-game scoring.

Do I like it enough to want to purchase a copy of it? YES! If I hadn't traded for it, I likely would purchase this game, especially after having tried it once or twice. I love all of the scoring opportunities (and how placement of tiles can have affects for many different dimensions of the game). There's a lot going on here and it's easy to see why so many gamers prefer this version over other the more standard versions of Carcassonne.

Do I want to play it again? Yes, most definitely! I can't wait to get this to the table with one of my gamer friends to be able to explore the possibilities that I saw but didn't get heavily into in this first game.

Is there anything I didn't like about this game?
With 2-player, the element of playing so many walls gets to be a bit much and we kind of rushed through it, esp. at the end when playing 4 walls each! With more players this should be much less of an issue. 

But trying to remember that we're placing tiles, then scoring, then placing walls and scoring any completed elements as a result of the wall placement, and THEN placing a tower gets to be a lot to juggle and remember. So, although I consider this a good family game, I think it almost requires an adult to assist in playing to make sure everything is being done properly in accounting and play turns.

However, with all the scoring possibilities and the variety of options this presents makes for very interesting play way beyond basic Carcassonne. 

Can you still find this game even though it was initially published in 2004?
Yes, it's available to buy now. Interestingly, in looking up information about this game after playing it, I discovered that this game was SUPPOSED to have been republished in 2010 in a regular cardboard box at a lower price that the wooden one. However, I couldn't find an indication anywhere of it actually being available. It is still available in the wooden box at some retailers, and checking at there are some online retailers carrying it in the $30-40 range. For some people this is the ONLY Carcassonne to have, so if you have played the basic game and wanted more, this is perhaps one to consider.

Glad you could stop by the Board Game Back Room today!

Now let's go play a game!

(WARNING: This last section includes some strategy discussion. Please skip it if you prefer to not read about strategy)

Here are some considerations when approaching this game from a strategic standpoint that I have thought about since my initial play:
* Watch for other players trying to build long roads. Either get in on it with them (to share the points) OR cut them off before they get too long.
* Watch for players getting a lot of points for their guards. Try to find a way to get in on it OR prevent them from getting good spots OR get a wall in the way to stop the growth of that row.
* Look for opportunities to easily close off elements of either your own or other players with the walls (depending on what your needs are)
* Try to place tiles such that they benefit you now AND in the end-game (such as residences and guards). If you can score a tile multiple times then you are starting to maximize the points for it.
* Be cognizant of the end-game. Timing when you start tying up meeples on the walls and residences versus the end game is important. Tie up all of your meeples too early and you won't be able to score very many new features easily. However, be sure you don't miss out on good opportunities for good wall or residence placements.

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