(In this issue, we featured Carcassonne:Traders & Builders, the latest addition to the Carcassonne family of games, by Craig Massey. Craig is no stranger to this line as he was the one who gave the original the feature treatment back in the Summer 2001 issue of GA REPORT. So, we thought it might be interesting to "FLASHBACK" to Craig's original look at what turned out to be that year's German Game of the Year.)
CARCASSONNE (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games; $19.95)
Ah, the bucolic countryside of medieval France - winding roads, secluded cloisters, walled towns and rolling farmland. Sounds like an excellent setting for a game, non? Well, it turns out it is a great setting and Carcassonne is just such a game.
Carcassonne is designed by newcomer Klaus Jergen-Wrede. The object of the game is to score the most points through placing tiles and controlling various features on the tiles like roads, towns, farms and cloisters. Control is marked with little wooden figures (color-coded to each player).
Each person draws and plays one tile on his turn. The tile must be placed so that its features abut the appropriate features on a tile already positioned. Once placed, you have the option of putting one of your figures on the tile just laid. The figure must be situated on one of the specific features on the tile. There is one restriction in the placement of figures though. A player may not place a figure on a feature already containing another figure. To illustrate, let's say that you just placed a tile with a road and city segment. The tile was placed such that it creates a new city and extends an existing road but there is already a figure on this road placed several turns before. You may not place your figure on the road segment on the tile you just laid but you can place it on the city segment. You can also choose not to place a figure at all during your turn. Since each player has a very limited number of figures at his disposal, this is often an option worth considering.
Because of the figure placement restriction, direct conflict for possession of the various features on the board doesn't really exist. What does happen though is players will place tiles in such a manner that fragments of road or cities or farms are created and future tile placement eventually joins these fragments. Scoring happens during the game when any feature is completed (except for farms). If a tile is placed bringing a road to an intersection or adding the final segment of a walled city to the board, the person who has the most figures on that feature scores points. All figures on that feature are then returned to their owners to use again for future turns. In the case of roads and cities, the longer or larger they are, the more points they score. A monastery can also be completed during the game when the monastery is completely surrounded by adjoining tiles.
Scoring occurs at the end of the game as well. Partial roads, cities and monasteries are scored in the same fashion as during the game with the players with the most figures controlling a feature scoring points, though not as many points as could have been scored for completing a feature during the game. In the case of ties, all tied players score. Farms also score during the end. game. A farm is defined as any field that is completely enclosed by a combination of cities, roads and the edge of the board.
What makes the game so interesting is the management of your figures. You cannot score unless you have them on the board and can complete features to reclaim the figures for future placement. But you always want to have a figure or two handy to place on a tile during your turn to take advantage of a good tile draw and placement. You also need to decide whether to invest resources to score points during the game or to score points at the end of the game with farms, a very nice balance between the short term tactics of tile placement and long term strategy of figure management that you will struggle with even after a number of plays.
The game is subject to significant luck of the draw since you only draw one tile per turn and then immediately play it. This can be a frustration point when you go several turns before drawing a useful tile but, then again, the game isn't intended to be terribly heavy. For those who feel the need, it is easy enough to drawn and hold a hand of two or three tiles.
In the end, Carcassonne works and is quite fun. It plays well with any number of players (as suggested on the box). It also plays reasonably quick, almost always under 60 minutes, although with five players, it can bog down a bit beyond the one hour mark. Finally, Carcassonne is a game that seems to have the right appeal for the casual game player or family member with its simple rules and puzzle-like feeling of constructing the board. At the same time, it holds the interest of the typical gamer and you can never have too many games that get the attention of both crowds. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Craig Massey
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