Bruce's Carcassonne Variants & Wonderments

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Variant #13: Stacked Decks (a Tileless Tower Variant)

Bruce Kothmann
United States
Pennsylvania
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From gallery of kothmann

Definition (What?)
Each player begins the game with 5 tower floor pieces called "decks" that are placed as "stacks" on standard tiles. The tower tiles are not used. All of the rules related to stacks affect only phase 3 (scoring) of a player's turn.
Creating a new stack:
• If a player has a single regular meeple in a road or city that was completed by the tile placement, and there is no other meeple in that feature, they may choose not to score the feature as usual, but to erect a stack on the tile just placed.
• The stack must be built to a height equal to the number of points that the feature would have scored. If the player does not have sufficient decks in their supply, they may not erect the stack and the feature must be scored as usual.
• The meeple from the feature is moved to the top of the stack and will be scored on subsequent turns as the stack is dismantled.
Scoring for an existing stack:
• If the player has any stacks that were constructed prior to this turn, they must remove one deck from each such stack, scoring 2 points per deck and returning the meeple to their supply when the final deck of any stack is removed.
Other scoring:
• All other features score normally.

Examples (How?)
Since this variant does not require the Tower tiles, it can be played without actually owning the Tower expansion at all, if you buy some "decks". In these examples, we are using the narrow "stackable roof" pieces available from spielmaterial.de.

Example #1: Yellow places the CRRR tile that completes the Green city. Yellow also places a meeple on the completed 5-tile road. During scoring, Green may not place a stack, because it is Yellow's turn, so Green scores 4 points for the city. Yellow may score 5 points as usual for the road, but instead decides to build a 5-deck stack on the tile, as shown in the second image. On each of the 5 subsequent turns, Yellow will remove one deck and score 2 points, getting the meeple back at the end of the fifth turn.
From gallery of kothmann

From gallery of kothmann

Example#2: Yellow places the CRRR tile that completes the Green 2-tile road and the 4-tile road on which Yellow already has a follower. Yellow could place a stack on the road, but two turns previously, Yellow placed a 4-deck stack on the city at right, so that Yellow has only 2 decks available for a new stack. Thus, Yellow must score the road as usual for 4 points. Yellow also removes another deck from the previous stack, lowering it to a height of 2 decks, and scores two points. Green has a previously placed deck of height 2, with 3 decks available, but Green may not place a stack here because it is Yellow's turn, so Green scores 2 points for the completed road. The Green stack is unchanged and does not score until the end of Green's next turn.
From gallery of kothmann

Example #3: Yellow places the CRRF tile that completes the city with the previously placed meeple and Yellow also places a meeple on the complete 3-tile road. Assuming Yellow has sufficient decks available, they may place a stack on either, but not both, of these features, and score the other feature as usual. In the second image, we see that Yellow chose to build a 3-deck stack for the road and score 4 points for the city.
From gallery of kothmann

From gallery of kothmann

Example #4: Yellow places the CCCR tile and places a meeple as knight in the city. Because this tile also completes the 4-tile road with a Yellow meeple, Yellow also may place a 4-deck stack on the tile instead of scoring the road as usual. See the lower image. Note that a tile may have one meeple in an incomplete static feature and another meeple on a stack, but unlike in the official rules, these meeples will always be the same color, because they are placed on the same turn.
From gallery of kothmann

From gallery of kothmann

Explanation (Why?)
Like many of our variants, this one is intended to introduce interesting elements of expansions in a way that doesn't dominate the base mechanics and scoring, and preserves the small tile count. Here we add a single new decision point: whether or not to build a stack on your own completed feature. The key consideration is whether it is worth keeping the meeple on the board for several more turns, in exchange for doubling the points earned by a small feature. Often this decision is difficult, but there are times that these points seem easy to get, making it feel like someone "stacked the deck".

Options (What if...?)
This variant does not require the Tower tiles, but those tiles have interesting feature combinations and look really cool, so they can certainly be used, ignoring the tower base elements.

Another interesting possibility is allowing a player to build a stack in an opponent's feature, trading a few points in exchange for locking up the opponent's meeple for a few turns. The opponent would then take ownership of the decks, and have the ability to build much larger stacks in the future. I'd be interested to know if anyone tries this--please leave comments below.

Interactions (With Whom?)
We don't have any conflicts in our games, but when in doubt, treat a stack like a feature in the tile that was placed on the turn the stack was created. A stack is always occupied by a regular meeple: if that meeple is removed, the decks should be returned to the meeple's owner.

Discussion
The Tower (Expansion #4) is often ranked last of the popular major expansions, particularly by players who like small games. We dislike the "forced tower floor placement" mechanic of the official rules, and we also don't like the very combative removal of meeples. Overall, we agree with the critics and never play official tower rules.

But those wooden tower pieces are just so great! We searched for a way to deploy the beautiful hardware with a simple mechanic having clear tactical implications. At least, that was the goal...

There have been a lot of attempts (see here and here) at tower variants, but none of them fit our needs.

The tower dismantling mechanic was inspired by the Foreman in the Tower variant posted by @Big_Guy, with excellent and interesting details. But one thing I value about Carcassonne is that resource management involves only "wood" that can be placed on the board: there is no abstract currency in Carcassonne, and the Foreman variant uses captured tower floors as a form of spendable currency, as does the Miner, Under-Miner, and Counter-Miner variant, developed by user @Carc_Zoner.

Also, we wanted a variant which did not rely on having the Tower tiles, or even on identifying specific surrogate tiles in the base set.

I tried hard to come up with a variant that fit the tower floors into our "fixed wood" paradigm, which requires deployment during phase one (tile placement), but came up empty. Instead, I settled on the new category of "temporary wood", deployed during phase three (scoring).

Updates
2021-04-17: Original Post

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