Bruce's Carcassonne Variants & Wonderments

Musings and explorations related to my favorite board game.
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Variant #11: Collectives (a Farm/Cathedral Scoring Variant)

Bruce Kothmann
United States
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Definition (What?)
• For farms and cathedral cities (Expansion #1, I&C), award points for the feature in proportion to the number of meeples that a player has in the feature at the time the feature is scored.
• Detailed procedure: sum the total number of meeples in the feature, then round up the number of points earned so that it is a multiple of the number of meeples. Each meeple earns an equal fraction of the total points.

Example (How?)
In the image shown below, the field has 4 meeples: Red, Black & Yellow (Large Meeple = 2). The field contains 6 completed cities worth 3 points each, making a total of 18 points, which rounds up to the nearest multiple of 4, for a final total of 20 points. So, Red and Black each earn 5 points, while Yellow earns 10 points for the field. (Under official rules, Yellow would earn 18 points and Red and Black would each earn nothing.) In the same image, the cathedral city contains two meeples and 5 tiles worth 3 points each, making a total of 15 points, which rounds up to the nearest multiple of 2, for a final total of 16 points. Both Green and Yellow earn 8 points each. (Under official rules, Green and Yellow both earn 15 points.)
From gallery of kothmann

Explanation (Why?)
In our games, which typically include bridges, there are usually one or two very large fields. As soon as one player puts a farmer into the emerging mega-field, other players get anxious, and a farm war erupts. Something similar often happens with cathedral cities, which tend to grow malignantly as players scramble to get a piece of the enormous point-pie.

Proportional scoring of large features helps to ensure that the outcome is determined by the sum of a series of smaller skirmishes, rather than one or two larger epic battles.

Options (What if...?)
Roads are much easier to close, so we don't see road wars in our games, and thus we haven’t tried proportional scoring for roads with an Inn, though that would be consistent with the spirit of this variant. On the other hand, it is easy to remember that "only features that award three points at a time" are scored proportionally.

Interactions (With Whom?)
This variant is unnecessary in my favorite Carcassonne combination: the base game with Traders and Builders plus King and Scout. In that game, there are 101 tiles, which provides time for strategic development without dragging into tedium. There are no cathedrals, and the T&B tiles provide sufficient road endings at city walls, so that farms divide naturally into reasonable sizes. Plus there is a great mix of multi-city-segment tiles, making invasion and blocking tactics quite robust. And finally, the incentives to close cities and secure the trade tokens is interesting without dominating the basic game mechanics.

I don’t know of any other problems raised by proportional farm scoring with other expansions, but we don't play with any of the more fanciful rules.

There are countless BGG forum posts (e.g., here, here, here) from inexperienced players lamenting the “farmer problem” in Carcassonne. But even quite experienced players have stories of games that were made very unpleasant by a protracted war over a single high—scoring feature. In the farm example shown above, imagine that the RRRF tile at the far left was placed to end the game. Under official rules, Red & Black go from 18 points to 0, while Yellow goes from 3 points to 18; with proportional scoring, Red & Black go from 9 points to 5, while Yellow goes from 3 points to 10. We think the proportional scoring swing is much more reasonable and fun, in light of the luck in drawing tiles near the end of the game. Of course big swings are also possible in closing a large regular city, but those are less frequent and consume fewer resources than the typical farm wars in our games.

Proportional scoring is not a new idea, of course. But is it pretty radical, because the “full points for shared features” rule is the essential genius of Carcassonne: it animates the tension between competition and cooperation that makes the game truly great with 3 or 4 players! It would be a very bad idea to use proportional scoring for regular roads and cities!

But our play-testing has revealed that proportional scoring of large features creates new and interesting tactics and incentives. Basically, a single player will gain a notable advantage if a large field or cathedral city goes unchallenged. But the reward for invading is smaller, so the opponents essentially play a game of "chicken" to see who will invade first. And once even a single meeple has invaded, the returns on further investment decrease substantially, rather than escalate. So there is keen interest, with reasonable resolution and what we think is a better overall balance.

2021-04-12: Original Post

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