CARCASSONNE: THE CITY
im Glück/Rio Grande Games; 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 1 hour; $49.99)
What’s that old cliché? Something like: “Keep riding the horse that brought you!” I guess designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede and Hans im Glück have found their horse, and its name is Carcassonne (Summer 2001 GA REPORT). Since the release of the original a few years back, we have seen a steady stream of expansions and spin-offs. The latest "stand alone” game in the series is Carcassonne: The City.
When I first
heard about the game I decided to not purchase it.
It’s not that I dislike Carcassonne.
Quite the contrary. However,
just how many variations of the same game
anyone really need in their collection. I
already own Carcassonne, Hunters
& Gatherers, The Castle and Ark
of the Covenant, as well as two expansions.
That’s enough, thank you. So,
I didn’t even give the game a glimpse at the Essen show.
As fate would
have it, the reports that began filtering in following the show were praising The
City as one of the best and most strategic in the series.
So, in spite of my “enough is enough” mindset, I finally yielded to
the temptation and purchased a copy. Much
to my delight, I found myself in complete agreement with the sentiments
expressed in these reports. This
version of Carcassonne
is the most strategic of the lot and is quite fun. In addition, it is certainly the most visually appealing,
with wooden walls and towers resulting in an impressive spectacle as the game
progresses. Ultimately, it may even
relegate some of its ancestors to the Bayou
Don’t get me
wrong … this is Carcassonne.
The heart of the system remains intact.
Players alternate selecting and placing a tile into the city, causing the
board to expand as the game progresses. After
placing a tile, players must decide whether or not to place a “follower”,
those cute wooden pieces known affectionately to gamers as “meeples”.
Players score points when certain board features are completed, while
others score at the end of the game. Most
are significant differences. Gone
are the construction of small and large cities, and farmer fields.
In their place we have residential areas and markets, as well as public
and historical buildings. Only road
segments need to properly align on adjacent tiles.
The remaining tile features can abut without matching, a mechanism which
is similar to that used in The Castle, the Carcassonne
2-player version. This actually
gives players more placement options and more decisions, which is a very good
their way throughout the town and can contain up to three different types of
markets: fish, grain and livestock.
When a market is completely surrounded either by walls or residential
areas, it scores 1 point for each tile contained in the market multiplied by the
number of different markets present. For
example, a market consisting of four tile segments and containing both a fish
and grain market will score 8 points (4 x 2 = 8).
areas do not score until the end of the game, and will earn two points for each
different market area that borders it. Roads
also score a bit differently, scoring 1 point per tile if the road is three or
less tile segments in length, and two points for tile if it longer than three
segments. In the case of roads and markets, followers are returned to
the owning player immediately after the scoring, while followers in residential
areas will remain in place until the end of the game.
difference is that players may no longer complete a feature that does not
contain a follower, and subsequently place a follower in order to score quick
points. This was a major tactic
used in the other versions of Carcassonne,
so it takes a bit getting used to this change.
However, it does force players into longer-term strategies, which does
add some additional depth to the game.
visible change, however, is the addition of the walls and towers.
Before the game begins, the 90 tiles are separated into three stacks of
35, 30, and 20 tiles. When the
first scoring is triggered while the second stack of tiles is in use, players
will begin placing walls to ring the burgeoning city.
Thereafter, each time a scoring is triggered, each player places one
segment of the wall adjacent to a previously placed wall.
They then have the option of placing a follower as a guard atop the wall
piece. These guards cannot be
placed if there is a guard on a wall segment directly across from the newly
placed wall and there is an uninterrupted line of tiles between the two wall
So why place a
guard on a wall? At game end, each guard will score for the row of tiles
emanating from it. Each public
building depicted on the tiles will score two points, while each historical
building, denoted by an incredibly tiny banner listing the name of the building,
scores three points. These points
can be significant, a harsh fact I learned at the conclusion of my first game.
Often, these points can rise to double digits, so the wise player will
conserve some of his precious few followers to take advantage of guard
player has had the opportunity to play a wall segment and guard, the player who
triggered the scoring also has the opportunity to place one of his three towers
at either end of the current wall. Towers
earn one point for each wall segment between it and the nearest existing tower
along the wall. Since a player only
possesses three towers, the urge is to conserve them.
However, players usually will only have a handful of opportunities to
place them, so being too cautious will likely cost the player valuable points.
players begin placing tiles from the third stack, further scorings will result
in each player placing two wall segments. Since
two of the possible game-end conditions is having the entire city either
enclosed by walls or by having the two ends of the walls reach within 5 segments
of each other, this creates an increased sense of urgency in the players as they
rush to close roads and markets and place their guards and towers.
Once the game
ends, any followers located on unfinished roads and markets are
removed and do not score points. Thus,
players are wise to attempt to complete these areas prior to the game’s
conclusion. Merchants and guards are then scored as described, and the
player with the most points is declared ruler of Carcassonne.
There are some
significant choices to be made during the course of the game, more than what is
present in the original version of the game.
Further, each player only possesses 7 followers, so players do not have
the luxury of placing one on each turn. This,
too, adds some tough choices to the proceedings, especially in regards to the
residential areas. One had best be
confident that the points earned from a residential area is worth the cost of
tying down one or more of your followers for the entire game.
also presents players with tough choices. Often,
players are fearful of triggering a scoring, as the ensuing wall
placement phase may give an opponent the opportunity to place a wall and guard
in a location that will yield copious amounts of points.
One of our games saw everyone actively attempting to avoid triggering a
scoring lest their opponents benefit from a lucrative wall and guard placement. The game was quite tense … and fulfilling.
feature of the game is its appearance; it is aesthetically beautiful.
The artwork is similar to that found in previous Carcassonne
titles, but the addition of the walls, towers and game make for a truly
eye-catching construction. Play
this one on a table in a public place and you are sure to attract some curious
My determination to not add another Carcassonne variation to my collection nearly prevented me from enjoying what is quite likely the best of the series. I’m happy I was convinced to second-guess myself! - - - - - - - Greg J. Schloesser