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Subject: Quick review for the newcomer, by Vladimir rss

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Vladimir Atehortua
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My quick reviews are aimed at people who are new to BGG, and who "just a couple weeks ago didn't know so many games existed!". I write these reviews to help them from drowning in the sea of games and reviews, so If you are a newcomer, read on.

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My reviews are thus concise, and attempt to provide the newcomer with the most helpful information in the shortest reading time, so that he/she can check more game reviews or perhaps get enough sleep after reading so many, instead of providing game details to the veteran geek.


What you'd get if you purchased Carcassonne:


(Image by Giles Pritchard)

When I first found BGG back in 2006, after reading game reviews etc, Carcassonne appeared as a game everybody loved, looked great in the pictures and had so many expansions it "has to be good, ¿right?". From my experience, I believe that there is so much positive feedback here about carcassonne that the rough sports are often hard to see, specially for a newcomer, and it is because of that that I make the following attempt at helping newcomers determine if carcassonne is for them:

Basics about the game:

meeple Carcassonne, is a tile laying game, where you play a tile, decide wether to put or not one of your meeples on it, and then draw a new tile.

meeple When you place a meeple on a tile, it can go on a road, city, church or city segment on the tile. If the road, city or cloister ever gets complete, you earn victory points proportional to it's size.

meeple The game bits are very beautiful: the tiles and the wooden meeples look great. Women particularly are prone to loving its looks.

meeple As you play the game, a unique landscape starts to form, and it's different every time. This makes it really appealing to some people, for example those who like "500 piece puzzles".

meeple For newcomers, Carcassonne has too complicated scoring rules. Even the "3rd revision rules" are not streamlined enough for newcomers and for many groups including mine. The farm scoring can give trouble since for some it's hard to understand, and for others it's jut unpelasant.

meeple Note however, that Carcassonne is very easy to tune to your liking by tweaking the rules. Don't be afraid of doing that, this game takes houseruling very well.

meeple There are a ton of expansions for carcassonne, you may or may not need/like them.

meeple The game scales well from 2 to 3 and 4, but with 5 it can feel too crowded and/or chaotic.


About whether Carcassone might be good for your group or not:

thumbsup It was a hit at my best friend's house, where it was played with wife and kids. Children not only love it but become quite good at it.
thumbsdown It was a failure with my friends (Adults age 25-35) and coworkers (Adults 25+), until I used house-rules to align it to our tastes.


¿So whats the "easy to miss" info?

meeple Carcassonne is said to be a fast game that playes "under 45 minutes", but that depends: There are two types of people: those who play easy, taking it as a "roll-n-move-monopoly-like" game, who can just place their tile wherever it fits without much hassle, and those competitive people who think every single tile they place might cost them the game, and thus give some longer thinking to every turn of theirs. I've seen 45 minutes carcassonne, but I've also also seen 2 and a half hour Carcassonne. Your mileage may vary depending on the people you play with.

meeple People who take games lightly, specially families with kids do enjoy carcassonne greatly as it is, no tweaking needed. However, many competitive adults fail to enjoy Carcassonne as it is. For some, the game requires the $11 Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals expansion in order to be a good competitive game (and refuse to play without it). It will in the end be a matter of taste. For my group I had to twist the rules (using a variant based on "carcassonne: the discovery" game) and also add a 1 minute sand clock. This worked better for us and we like the game a lot more now, but I must say that what we play at my house is not Carcassonne but a variant.

meeple The original and 3rd edition scoring, can give to certain people the feeling that during the game, the scoring track is almost meaningless, specially after you play carefully balanced euros (such as Power Grid or Imperial) because at the end of the game huge scores from farms are going to turn everything upside-down, so a 10 point or even 20 point advantage at the scoring track during the play is not enough to tell "who's winning" nor good for a newcomer to tell "¿how well am I doing so far?". It is said that for these swings to be smaller, players need to get more experienced, which means this issue might be solved overtime if you play enough.

meeple Some people also get the feeling that roads are not worth enough, and when they find out this is addressed with expansions (The inns from Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals and the builder from Carcassonne: Expansion 2 – Traders & Builders) they may not feel much happy with the base game.

meeple Some people may get a somewhat hard to explain feeling that skill perhaps doesn't matter as much as they'd wish. This comes from the luck of the draw of only one tile: although you can masterfully use bad tile draws to hinder your opponents (for example by boxing in their cities), in a game with more than 2 players, some people may feel that "using my turn to hinder player B means giving advantage to players C and D" and thus not enjoy it when they get bad draws (for example ,a lot of consecutive roads), or when their masterful "boxing in" of an opponent's city gets busted by that opponent being lucky enough to draw the very only existing tile that could complete his city (at the right time, in a 4 player game). Fans of the game will say "learn to play your tiles, use that road to hinder other players" but in a game with 4 or 5 players a competitive euro-fan would feel he can't hinder all players and hindering just one equals benefitting the others. In the end it will be a matter of taste for you: on whether you feel the game not only tactical but also strategic enough to be competitive, or whether you feel the game doesn't give you enough freedom to devise and pursue a strategy. This is why some people strongly feel in need to use a variant or get some of the expansions


¿So what's the advise for the the newcomer?

meeple For a gateway game, meaning: the very first euro game you and your fellows are going to play, I sincerely recommend to choose a different game, because the rules are just not simple enough for a group of "all newbies" to play free of trouble. The manual even states your turn to be "take a tile and then play a tile" when it is pretty evident (as everybody does) that you must "play a tile, and THEN draw a replacement" so that people think their move during other people's turn, rather than during their turn.

meeple Even tho Carcassone is not amongst the best gateway games out there, it might still be right for you to include in your first order of eurogames. It's rather cheap (US$14 online), so if you believe you can enjoy it (and specially if you have children, or plan to play with your family), it provides a great value for your money.


¿What about all of these expansions?

meeple I recommend that newcomers don't consider expansions until after you've gotten the basic game and played it to the point that you know what is it that you most enjoy, because many expansions DO change the game stearing it in different directions, and you need to know which way you want to go in order to choose an expansion. Many people say this or that expansion is "mandatory", but they won't agree on which one, so it is more of a matter of taste. You will know better what you need after you play the base game.


¿What rule tweaking do you recommend me?

meeple Have people draw one tile AFTER they play, and not before (contrary to what the manual says). This makes for a speedier game.

meeple Some people don't enjoy the game with a "hand" of only one tile. You can try to start the game with everybody having a "hand" of 3 tiles from which they play one each turn. Having more choices can give some people a more fulfilling experience, but could also slow the game, so if you use this variant rule this: If someone forgets to draw and begins their turn with only 2 tiles, they must play from those 2 tiles, and only after their turn they can replenish up to 3. Also, consider using a sand clock (can be found online for less than $2)

meeple If you feel you need to play with official rules, then stick to "3rd revision" rules with reduced farm scoring.

meeple If heading to your very first game, upon reading the manual you find that farm scoring confuses you, you can play your first game with just 5 meeples per player and no farms at all. It'll be fine and give you time to grasp the whole game and give farms a try next time.

meeple Some Carcassonne fans say that the Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals is obligatory in order for the game to be competitive. If you are a competitive type, consider getting this expansion. You could try-before-you-buy by reading the rules for the "big meeple" here at BGG and applying them at a game using some sort of token (an upside-down meeple for example).


I'm still interested in the game ¿what now?

meeple For more details about the game and its rules, check: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/35711

meeple For more information about the expansions check this: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/151931


¿What other good games are there to get started on the hobby?

There's a list I've made, specially intended for newcomers, which might help you find your way amongst the myriads of available games: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/38736
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Branko K.
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Adun wrote:
Groups composed of adults who are more competitive in nature (such as my friends and my coworkers) may not really enjoy Carcassonne as it is. For my group I had to streamline the rules (using a variant based on "carcassonne: the discovery" game) and also a 1 minute sand clock.


This is really strange. And wrong. Carcassonne can be played VERY aggressively and competitively with original rules. "Discovery" is actually much less competitive, IMHO. I gather you are missing the Big Meeple though..

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the scoring track is almost meaningless, because at the end of the game huge scores from farms are going to turn everything upside-down, or that roads are not worth enough, or that skill doesn't seem to matter that much. This is why competitive people strongly need a variant (what some guys do is fix it by playing with every single expansion)


Very, very wrong. Scoring track is there to keep track of things, without it you cannot even play the game. If you play without the scoring track you are playing it wrong. The scores turn everything "upside down" only if you play with inexperienced players who completely neglect the farms; if you play correctly, the scoring track reflects the situation quite nicely. Also, this has NOTHING to do with competitiveness; competitive players DO need a scoring track as anyone else, but what they do NOT need is a variant. In fact, casual players often do ("You can't take over my big city, you brute!" or "Why are you boxing me in with that tile? You shouldn't be able to do that!"). As for adding expansions, any competitive player worth his salt will readily smirk on adding too many expansions - this will make the game messy and chaotic. Everything apart from Inns and Traders is basically unworthy of competitive play.

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I recommend that newcomers don't consider expansions until after you've gotten the basic game and played it to the point that you know what is it that you most enjoy, because many expansions DO change the game stearing it in different directions, and you need to know which way you want to go in order to choose an expansion


I'll let Dr.Cox take over for a bit:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrjwaqZfjIY

I recommend all newcomers who like Carc to buy Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals right away, the additions are subtle but the impact on the gameplay is huge. I would never play Carcassonne without this expansion, nor would suggest it to anyone else. In fact, I think you will find that most objections you had (and the need for a "variant") will immediately go away once you get that particular expansion.

The other ones are acquired taste. But Inns are compulsory to fully enjoy Carcassonne.

 
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Vladimir Atehortua
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baba44713 wrote:

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the scoring track is almost meaningless, because at the end of the game huge scores from farms are going to turn everything upside-down, or that roads are not worth enough, or that skill doesn't seem to matter that much. This is why competitive people strongly need a variant (what some guys do is fix it by playing with every single expansion)


Very, very wrong. Scoring track is there to keep track of things, without it you cannot even play the game. If you play without the scoring track you are playing it wrong.


You misunderstood my point. What I mean when I say that "the scoring track is almost meaningless" is that during a carcassonne play, an advantage of 10 or even 20 points in the track is not that meaningful, specially compared to games like Cuba, Imperial, and even Power Grid (which feature similar tracks). The actual numeric score you can see in the scoring during a play of carcassonne, is not a guide for "who's winning", nor useful for a newcomer who wonders "how well am I doing so far?", because the point swings in the end-game-scoring are rather large compared to most other games.

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I recommend all newcomers who like Carc to buy Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals right away, the additions are subtle but the impact on the gameplay is huge. I would never play Carcassonne without this expansion, nor would suggest it to anyone else. In fact, I think you will find that most objections you had (and the need for a "variant") will immediately go away once you get that particular expansion.

The other ones are acquired taste. But Inns are compulsory to fully enjoy Carcassonne.


I second this recommendation. If even hardcore carcassonne fans wouldn't play the base game without the Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals expansion, I can't argue with them.
 
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