Bruce's Carcassonne Variants & Wonderments

Musings and explorations related to my favorite board game.
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Variant #7: City Gates & Walls (a T&B Tiles Surrogate)

Bruce Kothmann
United States
Pennsylvania
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Definition (What?)
From gallery of kothmann

A city that contains at least one pennant is a regal city. Each player is given one city gate and one city wall at the start of the game.

Gates: During tile placement (phase 1) of their turn, a player may place a tile such that a city edge meets a road edge, provided that the city edge is part of a regal city. The player must place their Gate along the edge to remedy the incompatibility.
Walls: During tile placement (phase 1) of their turn, a player may place a tile such that a city edge meets a field edge, provided that the city edge is part of a regal city. The player must place their Wall along the edge to remedy the incompatibility.
• Gates & Walls close the features on either side of the incompatible edge. The tile on the “other side” of the gate or wall does not score for any road or city that is closed in this way. This is analogous to any single edge of an Abbey tile from expansion #5. Unlike the Abbey, gates and walls have no effect on the scoring of monasteries.

Note that a player does not need to have nor place a meeple on any feature in order to deploy a gate or a wall.

See below for tips on easily making your own gate and wall pieces.

Examples (How?)
Example #1: Below, Yellow places the CCRR tile in the bottom center and deploys a gate to prevent the Blue invasion and close the 4-tile regal city.
From gallery of kothmann

Example #2: Below, in a game with base tiles only, Yellow places the center tile and deploys a wall to close an otherwise permanent CCRF hole and complete a 4-tile regal city.
From gallery of kothmann

Example #3: Below, in the fourth turn of a 4-player game, Yellow places both a wall and a gate while placing the CCCC tile.
From gallery of kothmann

Explanation (Why?)
This is the second in a three-part collection of expansions which are intended to bring the best of Trades & Builders to the base game, without using the Traders’ tiles. Gates and walls repair city-road and city-field incompatibilities, respectively, which is a logical extension of the bridge repairing field-road edge incompatibility.

How is this related to Traders?! Many reviews of Traders note that the expansion includes a lot of city tiles. But the important change is not merely the number of city tiles, but the connectivity of the cities and roads on those tiles. See this excellent analysis of the tile distribution in the base set and the early expansions. Traders introduces profuse opportunities to cap and divide cities, as well as to terminate roads at a city wall. The result is more intense battles for city invasion, as well as more densely packed cities and smaller, more numerous fields. In fact, adding T&B is an oft-suggested remedy for new players who find big farms to be problematic (as here).

Consider the basic city invasion scenario shown in Example #1 above. The base set contains only two tiles that Yellow can play to prevent the Blue invasion, while Traders has seven! Traders also includes many tiles that fill holes that would be permanent in the base game: two CCRF tiles (as in Example #2 above), two CCFR, two FCRC, one RCRC, and one CRFF. Inns & Cathedrals also has a few tiles of the sort discussed here, so the 114 tiles in “Classic Carcassonne” (base+I&C+T&B) is far more topologically diverse than the base set.

The obvious alternative to the audacious addition of new wood is simply to use a subset of the tiles from Classic Carcassonne to get the desired distribution. But we wanted to avoid sorting through the tiles before a game, and more importantly found that the gates and walls were a lot of fun and result in interesting tactics and imaginative plays, with less waiting and praying. There is admittedly a bit less long-term tile-placement strategy, but that isn’t really our forte anyway, particularly when it results in stranded meeples.

Like bridges, gates and walls take some getting used to. Also like bridges, the placement constraints (walls and gates on regal cities only) are sufficiently strict that they neither result in chaos nor slow the game too much, after a couple of plays.

Note, too, that the gates and walls often require compromises. In Example #1 above, Yellow is able to repel the Blue invasion, but at the cost of adding a tile to Blue’s city, not to mention spending the Yellow gate resource.

Options (What if...?)
In larger games, players could be given 2 or even 3 each of the gates and walls.

You could play with only walls, but allow them to be deployed in either situation (city-road or city-field), with each player receiving one or two walls at the start. We found that the distinction was useful, but didn’t extensively play-test this. Please report your own experiments in the comments!

Interactions (With Whom?)
We don't know of any adverse effects, but we have play-tested almost exclusively with the base game tiles only, so there may be surprises using gates and walls with other expansions.

We like using gates and walls with bridges, due to the similarity described above. We allow a gate to be played at an edge with a bridge, and even allow the bridge to be placed at the same time as the gate, as shown below, where Yellow deploys both a bridge and a gate to enable placement of the monastery with a monk:
From gallery of kothmann


Discussion
This variant evolved during my attempts to create a 48-tile game with a tactical richness that was similar to Classic Carcassonne. More on that in the “Tiny Carcassonne” variant that I’ll post later.

The initial attempt used gates only, without the regal city restriction. That was just a mess, because essentially every invasion from a city-cap tile could be easily repelled, leaving the invader with only a single-tile completed city. But once the regal city restriction was added, it really seemed to work!

Our experience with gates and walls has convinced us that they make modest and reasonable changes to the gameplay. There is still plenty of opportunity for blocking, trapping, and exciting lucky draws. In a typical game, some players will use only one or neither of the pieces, while another player will lament placing a piece too soon when a critical situation arises at the end of the game. Players who accept, but don't delight, in placing tiles to block features and trap meeples should find this variant to be worth a try.

Fabrication
Our walls were purchased from spielematerial.de, which has very reasonable prices, great quality, and fast shipping (except for COVID delays that are beyond their control). The gates were made by cutting notches in the walls. They are arguably slightly too small (30mm on a 45mm tile), but I don't think you would want them to span the full tile width.

You can also just cut up a wooden pencil into lengths of 30mm to 40mm. Be sure to choose a pencil with a hexagonal, rather than round, cross-section, so it won't roll. Use different colors or add a black band at the center to differentiate the gates.

I have an abundance of the wooden pieces shown in the photos on this page and would be happy to mail a set to anyone who is interested for no cost. Just send me a private message with your address. I am excited for someone else to give this variant a try, and I know that aesthetics of the wood is a big deal for many Carcassonne enthusiasts.

Updates
2021-03-24: Original Post

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