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First Play Friday

2011 New Year's resolution: Play games from my collection I haven't yet tried.
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Carson City: "How did that escape play testing?!"

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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Disclaimer: Title not indicative of game play!

I like the idea of New Year's resolutions. I’ve made a few in the past, and usually when I make one I keep it. The trick is to make resolutions that are compelling and easily trackable. Around the beginning of December as I tried to clear out some of my games to make room for the glut of new games sure to come with Christmas, I realized there were many games in my collection that I couldn’t part with because I haven’t played them yet. I needed to get them played.

Whenever my groups get together to play games, they usually want to play a favorite like Fresco, Cosmic Encounter, or Monopoly*. I understand not wanting to spend precious gaming time learning a new game, so I am usually cool with going with the group’s choice. But I also realized something about myself as a gamer – I really enjoy learning new games. I like punching and organizing bits, reading the rules for the first time, setting up the game, and teaching/learning the rules the first time it’s played. I decided to set up a specific time when I would invite others to play a new game with me – that way if you come over to play a game on that day, you know going in we’re learning a new game. And so the idea of First Play Friday was born.

I told The Wife about First Play Fridays and informed her she would be my victim partner if no one else could make it. She said “We’ll see” which usually means “You better hope you’re lucky, boy”. She’s been known to use that phrase in multiple settings… Anyways, she mentioned my awesome idea to our friends N & L, who we haven’t gamed with for ages due to something I like to call “a baby”. They were excited to hang out again, so I now had 3 partners for my first First Play Friday. Knowing they enjoy games like Agricola and Fresco, picking Carson City (one of my gifts from Secret Santa!) was an easy call.

I spent some time last week reading through the rules, checking for errata, and reading the rules forum for any clarifications or common errors. I set up the game as soon as N, L and their brood arrived. We went over the rules, distributed playing pieces, and we were off.

I will now review the game according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

I know Tom Vasel says Carson City can be taught in 10 minutes, so perhaps I’m just not a great game teacher, but we took about 30 minutes or so to go through the game. (Or maybe he means teaching the game AFTER you’ve played it, because I can see it taking much less time to teach it now that I’ve played it once). There are a lot of little rules to learn like how the income of each building works, what the many action spaces do, and which bonus each role card gives. All that said, while the rules explanation dragged on a bit, it wasn’t terrible. Everyone seemed curious about the game as soon as I gave the overview of it (score one for the theme!) and people were asking good questions throughout – the kind that indicated they were thinking strategy at that point, and not trying to figure out the rules.

The game is only mildly fiddly. There’s the turn order track that you have to adjust, and the drawing of buildings and distributing of cowboys each round. The biggest fiddly part is adjusting the building income. We couldn’t figure out the most efficient way to do this, so we just seemed to be constantly checking the income, which sort of defeated the purpose of the arrows on the property tiles. The game itself is not complex in terms of learning the mechanics or the actual playing. It does appear to have some good depth in terms of strategy though, so in that sense it’s the good kind of complex.

Here’s the rub (and where the quote in the title comes from). We missed the part about ranches you own contributing to income to drugstores you own regardless of adjacency. We played that ranches had to be adjacent to a drugstore to contribute to its income (they don’t). We also weren’t clear if hotels belonging to another player contributed to income to your drugstore (they don’t, but we played like they did). When L went to place her bank, N reminded her that her mines didn’t need to be adjacent (he had just re-read the rules). The Wife looked at the player which led her to ask why if adjacency mattered for drugstores but not for mines, why did the player aid for each look the same. She then said “How did THAT escape play testing?!”. Well…it escaped because we played it wrong. We all agreed that the right rules made much more sense thematically, and that we’d have to give an asterisk to whoever won this one.

SCORE: The Wife says “It was easy to grasp the mechanics, but there were lots of little rules for the ins-and-outs of the game”. She gave it a .4, but it’s my blog so it gets a .5

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Fun:

Is Carson City fun? If you don’t think so I’d like to challenge you to a duel, partner. The game was very fun. I was worried during the first round when no one dueled (there were just so many options for your lowly 3 cowboys) that Carson City was going to be just a watered down worker placement game. But rounds 2-4 saw some great duels, some clever uses of the Sherriff, and overall a great deal of player interaction. The theme is wedded well to the mechanics of the game – there is a great feeling of expanding a small settlement while trying to protect your interests from your rivals. I had a killer mine racket going until N came in and claimed two of the mountains I was mining. I had passed early in the round, leaving him with a few cowboys. He took full advantage, leaving my mine severely crippled. Later, The Wife secured a building I really wanted with the Sherriff, so as retaliation I took ammunition and robbed her two best buildings. There were many moments like this, and the only thing that marred the thematic feel of the game was the rules we misplayed. Allowing other players’ drugstores to benefit from my hotel seemed counter to the theme, and I felt like I couldn’t control them from benefiting from my hard work. But with the correct rules, this would all be moot, so I’m going to ignore it in my score for fun (especially since I took that into account above).

SCORE: .8

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Length of first play:

The box says a play should take 90 minutes. We finished in just about 2 hours, which isn’t too bad for a first play. I think future plays with the same group would clock in right at 90 minutes, and future plays with a new group would take about 2 hours total, including rules explanation. We were all engaged throughout, and the only thing that really dragged was continually checking the rules for each building and such.

SCORE: .7

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Desire to play again:

This one is tricky because we misplayed it the first time. I really want to play it again just to play it with the correct rules. Even taking that into account, I see this game getting many plays in the future. The interaction was superb (especially for a worker placement game, where interaction is usually limited to taking the spot your opponent wanted), the game and mechanics are dripping with theme, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I will definitely push to get this back on the table, and sooner rather than later.

SCORE: .8

OVERALL: 2.8/4

Carson City was a great choice for my first First Play Friday. My group enjoyed enough that they all want to give it another shot, and it was a good enough first play experience that I didn’t scare anyone away from future First Play Fridays.

Up next: I have El Grande, El Caballero, Amun Re (shout out to Secret Santa!), and Founding Fathers that I really want to try. Any recommendations or requests?

*The last one was to see if you were paying attention.
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