Bruce's Carcassonne Variants & Wonderments

Musings and explorations related to my favorite board game.
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Variant #4: Alternate Trade Goods Scoring

Bruce Kothmann
United States
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Definition (What?)
In the Traders & Builders expansion, score trade goods at the end of the game using proportional scoring with bonuses:
• Each trade token earns 2 points.
• A group of three identical tokens earns a bonus of 6 points.
• A group of three distinct tokens earns a bonus of 6 points.
• Each token may only be counted as part of at most one group.

Examples (How?)
In the official rules, a player's trade-goods score depends on the holdings of all of the other players. By contrast, in this variant, each player's score is computed independently, based only on the trade goods they have captured.

Example 1: Here is a collection of 7 goods:
From gallery of kothmann

These can be arranged to include 2 bonus groups, for a total score of 26 points:
From gallery of kothmann

Example 2: Here is a collection of 10 goods:
From gallery of kothmann

If the tiles are arranged into 2 bonus groups of identical tiles, there are 4 ungrouped tiles, for a total score of 32:
From gallery of kothmann

But if the tiles are arranged into 3 bonus groups, one identical and two distinct, the total score is 38:
From gallery of kothmann

The player should choose this second grouping: even though no bonus points are earned for the group of three wheat tiles, the overall score is higher.

Explanation (Why?)
The trade goods are fantastic: they promote both cooperation (you get points for completing my city) and competition (let's race to secure a majority of each type). Vanilla Carcassonne is the best Friend and Foe game I know of, especially for 3 players, and the trade goods make it even better! Many experienced players include them in virtually every game, in part because of the interesting tactics and strategy.

So, why the proposed variant? In my experience with relatively inexperienced players (myself included!) or those who prefer short-term tactical thinking (also me!), the trade goods are mostly an after-thought, except when there is a big city with many goods, or a close battle for the majority near the end of the game. Many players simply don't give much thought to long-term strategy or complicated tactics, such as protecting their early trade-good plurality by placing a tile onto a city in a way that makes that city difficult to complete.

The goal of this variant is to create more immediate incentives and obvious actions based on the trade goods. In particular, the changes are intended to make it more likely that a player would choose to complete an opponent's city when the opponent seems likely to complete it anyway, and the player can earn a guaranteed score increase of 8 points. (Capturing a token that completes an additional group yields 2 points for the token plus 6 points for the bonus, and these points don't depend on future actions of any player.) A typical game might include many of these 8-point changes, often at least one for each player in the game. And there are still opportunities for more subtle tactics, as well.

Another aspect of this variant that we like is that it maintains interest in the trade goods until the end of the game. In the official rules, once a player has captured 5 barrels of wine, the other 4 barrels are of no consequence. Similarly for wheat and cloth. We prefer to have all of the goods matter, right to the end.

Options (What if...?)
We have play-tested awarding only 1 point for each trade good, but this seemed to be insufficient incentive, even in a moderate-size game (about 100 to 120 tiles). We also tried awarding a bonus of only 4 points, or as many as 8, sometimes giving more points for identical than for distinct groups. In the end, we thought 6 points for both types of bonus groups seemed like the simple sweet spot. But experimenting with the numbers is part of the fun!

Another thing we like about this variant is that it seems like it would scale nicely for Mega-Carc, if two copies of the T&B expansion were used. But we haven't tried that.

Interactions (With Whom?)
One of the great things about T&B seems to be that it "plays nice" with other expansions, and this variant doesn't do anything to change that.

The total points earned by the players with this variant are notably higher than the nominal 30 total points that are awarded by the official rules. Indeed, the theoretical maximum total points available with these rules is 76. But there are a few reasons that this initial impression is misleading:
• The official rules allow ties, so multiple players can each earn 10 points for a single good, yielding totals of 40 or even 50 or 60 points.
• In a typical game, most players will capture at least a few trade goods, and any set of 5 goods will always include one bonus group and earn a total of 16 points.
• The only important measure of scoring rules is the point differences between players. So while the total points scored can be large, the point differences are usually very much in line with the 10 to 30-point swings that are created by the official rules. In Example 2 shown above, a player has scored 38 points with just 10 goods. But those 10 goods would yield at least 20 points in the official rules (majorities in wine and wheat), and could easily score 30 (plurality in cloth), with the possibility of zero points earned by opponents. With proportional scoring, any opponent that captured goods will score some points, and a couple of bonus groups are likely, so the point differences should be comparable.
• With official rules, it is not uncommon for one player to be focused on trade goods early in the game, with the opponents realizing the danger too late, with the maximum 30-point differential being locked up. But with this variant, most players pay attention to the trade goods right at the start, which minimizes the risk of a huge point difference.

2021-03-20: Original Post

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