Michael Carpenter
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Meeples! Oh, and the grandfather of tile laying games.



QUICK FACTS:
Style of Game: Family
Play Time: 45 minutes
Theme: City Building
Number of Players: 2-5
Main Mechanics: Tile Laying and Area Control/Area Influence
Components: Okay
Weight: Light


THEME AND MECHANISMS:
Carcassonne (as an entire line) has done something unique. See, Carcassonne is built around a mechanism, tile laying, that is absolutely perfect for a theme of city building. This is evident by all the other games that use the same mechanism to drive their own city building adventure. Yet, the theme is completely pasted on because there is really very little theme conveyed to begin with in the original Carcassonne (and I am including the Winter Edition in this statement because they are nearly identical). Now, the uniqueness comes from the fact that when most games have a very obvious pasted on theme people will often acknowledge it as a not so admirable thing. This is amplified when the game is easily reincarnated as an entirely different theme. Carcassonne however, has taken their mechanism and pasted almost every theme you can think of onto it and tweaked the game to add mechanisms that blend with the other themes more and while people almost always say "Oh, another Carcassonne game" and smirk at the newest theme... they also almost always end up accepting the new iteration of the game as pretty good. Unfortunately, Carcassonne: Winter Edition did not get that treatment. Instead it is Carcassonne with a snowy setting instead of the spring-time artwork. Which sadly makes the game even less thematic because now the thought of these poor meeples standing along the roads and in the farmland (for painstakingly long times) is even sadder. If you don't get the reference, your meeples will be acting as knights (when placed in a city), monks (when placed in monasteries), thieves (when placed on roads), and farmers (when placed in farm areas). Sadly, your meeples must stand in the location they are placed until their corresponding region is completed which can take awhile.

Also, something I hope someone can explain to me... Is it strange to think that you are building a whole city but each of the regions created that are "City" regions are their own city? What's going on there?



GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW (In five sentences or less):
2 to 5 players will use their group of meeples and randomly selected tiles to simultaneously build a city and claim areas of the city. Players will select when to place their meeples on roads, monasteries, cities, and farms to gain points. Adjacency is king in this game and will dictate how players can and cannot go about trying to have area control in the developing regions of the City. Each type of region that can be scored has it's own way of being controlled and scored which makes drawing the tiles randomly a tad unbalanced but we will get to that. Players will track their points as the game progresses and score less points than normal for unfinished constructions at the end of the game with the highest score winning the game.

Rules Clarification:
- The game is pretty simple really, but at the suggestion of the rule book you may want to play the first few games without the farmers. Scoring farmers is not difficult once you see the game unfold in front of you once or twice and really get a grasp on what the rule book is saying, but you could definitely use them from the first play if you'd like.

ASSESSMENT


My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics, Replayability, and Quality of Design.

Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics

Carcassonne may be the furthest thing possible from strategic, but boy is it rich in tactical decisions. Well, rich may be a tad generous in the sense that it makes the game seem tantalizingly thought-provoking and engaging. Instead, Carcassonne offers delightfully simple tactical choices that a wide range of players can partake in the game. The completely random nature of the tile drawing allows nearly no opportunity for long-term strategy but it does force the player to constantly make the most optimal or one of the most optimal moves possible on that turn. Then, after every decision players must decide if they are going to claim that tile (assuming they are allowed). The adjacency rules for placing your meeples restrict some placement of meeples. Therefore, as you make your decision about where to place your tile you must be sure to consider if you will able to place a meeple (if desired). Keep in mind, you only have so many meeples available and they remain on the tile they are placed on until you complete the corresponding region (and in the case of the farmers, they never come back, Thematic???) so at times placing a meeple can change your future possibilities drastically.

There are few things in gateway games as painful as laying a tile perfectly only to remember you do not have a meeple available to score the points or set yourself up to score big points.

The game basically boils down to meeple management and tactical tile placement. There really isn't much going on on your turn and yet it is enough to fully engage the players. If you don't mind nearly completely tactical games, Carcassonne does relying on tactics almost as well as any gateway game out there.


Depth of Strategy/Tactics:
2.0 = Carcassonne offers almost zero long-term strategy but the tactical decisions it offers can be enjoyable.




Replayability

There may technically be no end to the number of times you could play Carcassonne without having an exact duplicate city at the end of the game. I'm not sure of this but since there is a starting tile and 83 other land tiles being shuffled and randomly drawn, I would be surprised if you ever built the same map twice. YET, the game almost never feels truly different. The difference I notice from play to play is always... I am drawing a nice array of different types of tiles OR I am drawing road tile after road tile after road tile after road tile and slowly losing all hope of keeping up with my wife who inevitably draws city tiles with banners (special icons that make the specific tile worth double) and regular city tiles (which are worth twice as much as road tiles). I am going to quote myself here...

"There are few things in gateway games as painful as laying a tile perfectly only to remember you do not have a meeple available to score the points or set yourself up to score big points".

A specific example of this that is so painful is the moment in the game of constant road tiles being drawn when you finally have an opportunity to make a great steal of a city region AND you come to realize you have no meeples because you have resorted to roads and farms out of frustration... Carcassonne can be a total kick in the pants.

Yes, the replayability in a mechanical sense is off the charts and yes, most people that own Carcassonne have probably played it a ton of times. I am included in this because when I started gaming Carcassonne was an excellent game to help get me and my wife going in the hobby. When you are new to the hobby you aren't concerned with the more intricate details of the game design. Instead, you are caught up in the rush of experiencing new games and concepts you have never seen before. Sadly, after you begin to play other games that offer you a similar feel but with more control of your destiny, your tolerance for these situations lessens. So while the mechanical replayability is high and the game offers fantastic replayability for new gamers, Carcassonne seldom hits my table anymore. This is another one of those situations where a game definitely has replayability but has run it's course with me so my replayability rating is going to reflect the good times Carcassonne and I had together more than our current relationship.

I want to mention that I don't often play this game as a two-player game and could see that some of my complaints may be negated at two players. I played it at 3+ in almost all of my plays.

Replayability:
4.0 = You will definitely get your money's worth.




Quality of Design


Tile Placement: Almost every ounce of this mechanism is great in this game but a small flaw in it taints the entire experience (eventually, not at first). Having to randomly draw your tile gives you almost no long-term strategy and can lead to completely unbalanced opportunities for players. I can live with the tactical nature of the game. I don't need the strategy to enjoy this game, but I have a hard time getting over the random draw. I have had too many games of completely uneven tile draws to get the bad taste out of my mouth. I realize there are house rules that can help with this and I am not adamantly against house rules, I just don't like the idea of having to adjust the game.

Area Control/Area Influence: This mechanism works it's butt off to salvage this game. The rules for placing your meeples make attempting to win these area control battles that are happening all over the board so good compared to what you'd expect. There is an element of gambling that makes the game just the right amount of press your luck at times. It also makes you do much more thinking than just clumsily placing tiles. Fantastic mechanism. A mechanism that does more for a game than most mechanisms do for their respective games, proportionally speaking.


Quality of Design:
2.5 = A brilliant design that is nearly ruined by a slight flaw.


FINAL THOUGHTS:
I am very torn on Carcassonne. I recognize it's success and that it is a darn good gateway design. I also think it has a lovely charm that creates a great setting for a light evening of board games. Carcassonne and by extension, the Winter Edition even does something truly brilliant for new gamers that I think some gateway games miss. In my opinion, tactical decisions are FAR more effective at getting new gamers engaged in a game at an effective level of effort on their part. Strategy requires elements of gaming that require a higher level of effort and planning. A good tactical game will feel strategic but will function tactically. Achieving this in a game design makes for an experience that engages a player on every turn and barely hints at the idea of putting plays together but in reality there is almost no way of truly planning this. Carcassonne does this perfectly. I know I want to piece together 2, 3, 4 moves to finish a city but I may NEVER get that opportunity.

Instead, it teases me with an easy objective but a random means of completing it. It is when this tolerance for being teased wears off that I think players lose interest in the game. I don't mean to make that sound like "Once you realize this is a crap game you hate it". That's not what I mean. I mean some people know longer want to deal with the lack of control of their situation while others will gladly hand over the control. I don't see anything wrong with either approach. I just think Carcassonne is one of the clearest examples of this I have experienced. It is this gameplay issue that keeps me from really enjoying the game as much as my respect for it would suggest.

By now I would think most people on BGG that would see this review have probably played Carcassonne, but if you haven't just realize that Carcassonne is a gateway game. If you want more flavor look at one of the many expansions that will offer you a little more game.

I will still play Carcassonne if someone asks me to because it isn't a long game and I really do enjoy some areas of the game, but I seldom suggest it because I have lost my tolerance with the gameplay. My rating of 5.5 is partially based in my like vs dislike of the game, but it mostly reflects my lack of plays over the last year.

Overall Rating -
Carcassonne: Winter Edition is not a bad game, but it isn't a great game and as I have said before, "Good" often gets forgotten these day in our hobby.

Overall Opinion: Almost entirely neutral, but just sightly positive

One Positive / One Negatives
- (P) Brilliant area control mechanism for such a simplistic game.

- (N) Almost no control of your destiny can outweigh the enjoyment of the tactical decisions.

Genre Meter

Cacao | | | | | | | | | | | colonist| | | | | | | | | | Quadropolis


colonist = similarity to two other games of its type in the genre.

*Cacao will undoubtedly remind you of Carcassonne the first time you play it but will give you a little more meat to nibble on. Quadropolis gives players much more control of the tiles they can obtain and has an element of place this tile by this tile but adds more creativity. Both games are very fundamentally similar but both offer some type of addition that make them better. There are a lot of good tile-laying games. Carcassonne is a good gateway game in the genre but there are several that aren't too difficult to introduce to new gamers.


Thanks for reading!



If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple
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Jason B
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Quote:
Almost no control of your destiny can outweigh the enjoyment of the tactical decisions.


This is only really true when you are new to the game. When you know the tile mix better the game becomes a lot more strategic, because you can identify configurations that will never finish, and better assess the odds of a particular feature being finished.

In many ways Carc is like card games that get better as you learn all the cards.

But in both cases, if you don't find the more mechanics enjoyable you will probably never play it enough to get that far with it anyway.
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Michael Carpenter
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I agree with you. I'd say I got to somewhere between new to the game and analytical but is that considered strategy? That seems like a,mastery of the tactical approach so you're not wasting turns. I know,strategy and tactics are pretty similar but even if I know which configurationshould are going to be good and bad I can't guarantee myself the opportunity to complete them right? Is there a way to control things more than meets the eye?
 
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Pasi Ojala
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Get the Imperial Assault Campaign module for Vassal from http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Star_Wars:_Imperial_Assault
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The Winter Edition was the first standalone Carcassonne spinoff, so that that time there were no game mechanism changes. However, at least in the Nordic countries it comes with the Gingerbread-Man expansion which does change the base gameplay slightly.
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Kevin Jonas

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MariettaTennis wrote:
I agree with you. I'd say I got to somewhere between new to the game and analytical but is that considered strategy? That seems like a,mastery of the tactical approach so you're not wasting turns. I know,strategy and tactics are pretty similar but even if I know which configurationshould are going to be good and bad I can't guarantee myself the opportunity to complete them right? Is there a way to control things more than meets the eye?

There is definitely strategy in this game, just not very heavy strategy. You can decide to go with a farmer early and work hard to build up his field, this is the strategy I prefer to play. However, if someone beats me to the punch I then try to stay away from others and build up my own area where I can put farmers down near towns I have completed. Another strategy is spread out all over the place, not just focus on one area.

The tactics are how do you use the random tile you got to support the strategy you want to accomplish. Knowing the tile odds help in this. Like base Carc has a 4 sides town tile. South Seas does not. South Seas goal is to complete islands (towns) as fast as possible to collect good in which you use to buy point. So it's distribution is designed for that. Where as base game is designed to make large towns possible.
 
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Michael Carpenter
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sirpoonga wrote:
MariettaTennis wrote:
I agree with you. I'd say I got to somewhere between new to the game and analytical but is that considered strategy? That seems like a,mastery of the tactical approach so you're not wasting turns. I know,strategy and tactics are pretty similar but even if I know which configurationshould are going to be good and bad I can't guarantee myself the opportunity to complete them right? Is there a way to control things more than meets the eye?

There is definitely strategy in this game, just not very heavy strategy. You can decide to go with a farmer early and work hard to build up his field, this is the strategy I prefer to play. However, if someone beats me to the punch I then try to stay away from others and build up my own area where I can put farmers down near towns I have completed. Another strategy is spread out all over the place, not just focus on one area.

The tactics are how do you use the random tile you got to support the strategy you want to accomplish. Knowing the tile odds help in this. Like base Carc has a 4 sides town tile. South Seas does not. South Seas goal is to complete islands (towns) as fast as possible to collect good in which you use to buy point. So it's distribution is designed for that. Where as base game is designed to make large towns possible.


I am not going to claim that your long-term commitment to farms isn't a strategy but... I have done it also and it's nothing more than place your tiles (tactically) and stick to an idea. I mentioned this in the review. It seems as though you're sticking to a strategy and you stay engaged but because you can't have any say in the piece you're working with I can't feel like it is strategical. I'may not disagreeing as much as I just don't view that as truly strategical just a difference of opinion I suppose.
 
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Curt Frantz
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Are there any official variants such as, 'draw two tiles, play one' or having a tableau of a few tiles to play from (such as in Cacao)?

To some, it may be a flaw, but to me it seems like one that can be easily remedied without changing the feel/gameplay.
 
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Michael Carpenter
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tribefan07 wrote:
Are there any official variants such as, 'draw two tiles, play one' or having a tableau of a few tiles to play from (such as in Cacao)?

To some, it may be a flaw, but to me it seems like one that can be easily remedied without changing the feel/gameplay.


I'm sure there are plenty of variants and house rules. We just don't play the game enough anymore to worry about it. We have replaced Carcassonne with The Downfall of Pompeii. Not exactly the deepest strategy game either but just more enjoyable for me personally.
 
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