EDITOR'S NOTE: My full review of Carcassonne: The City will appear in the next issue of Gamer's Alliance Report.
What’s that old cliché? Something like: “Keep riding the horse that brought you!” I guess designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede and Hans im Gluck have found their horse, and its name is Carcassonne. Since the release of the original a few years back, we have seen a steady stream of expansions and spin-offs. The lastest ‘stand alone” game in the series is Carcassonne: The City.
When I first heard about the game I decided to not purchase it. It’s not that I dislike Carcassonne. Quite the contrary. However, just how many variations of the same game does anyone really need in their collection. I already own Carcassonne, Hunters & Gatherers, The Castle, and Ark of the Covenant, as well as two expansions. That’s enough, thank you. So, I didn’t even give the game a glimpse at the Essen show.
As fate would have it, the reports that began filtering in following the show were praising The City as one of the best and most strategic in the series. So, in spite of my “enough is enough” mindset, I finally yielded to the temptation and purchased a copy. Much to my delight, I found myself in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed in these reports. This version of Carcassonne is the most strategic of the lot and is quite fun. In addition, it is certainly the most visually appealing, with wooden walls and towers resulting in an impressive spectacle as the game progresses. Ultimately, it may even relegate some of its ancestors to the Bayou Bazaar.
Don’t get me wrong … this is Carcassonne. The heart of the system remains intact. Players alternate selecting and placing a tile into the city, causing the board to expand as the game progresses. After placing a tile, players must decide whether or not to place a “follower”, those cute wooden pieces known affectionately to gamers as “meeples”. Players score points when certain board features are completed, while others score at the end of the game. Most points wins.
However, there are significant differences. Gone are the construction of small and large cities, and farmer fields. In their place we have residential areas and markets, as well as public and historical buildings. Only road segments need to properly align on adjacent tiles. The remaining tile features can abut without matching, a mechanism which is similar to that used in The Castle, the Carcassonne 2-player version. This actually gives players more placement options and more decisions, which is a very good addition.
There are some significant choices to be made during the course of the game, more than what is present in the original version of the game. Further, each player only possesses 7 followers, so players do not have the luxury of placing one on each turn. This, too, adds some tough choices to the proceedings, especially in regards to the residential areas. One had best be confident that the points earned from a residential area is worth the cost of tying down one or more of your followers for the entire game.
Wall placement also presents players with tough choices. Often, players are fearful of triggering a scoring, as the ensuing wall placement phase may give an opponent the opportunity to place a wall and guard in a location that will yield copious amounts of points. One of our games saw everyone actively attempting to avoid triggering a scoring lest their opponents benefit from a lucrative wall and guard placement. The game was quite tense … and fulfilling.
A further feature of the game is its appearance; it is aesthetically beautiful. The artwork is similar to that found in previous Carcassonne titles, but the addition of the walls, towers and game make for a truly eye-catching construction. Play this one on a table in a public place and you are sure to attract some curious onlookers.
My determination to not add another Carcassonne variation to my collection nearly prevented me from enjoying what is quite likely the best of the series. I’m happy I was convinced to second-guess myself!
Michael, Willerd, Keith and I ventured into the medieval city, placing our followers and vying to emerge victorious. Jim arrived as we had just begun, so he teamed with Keith for the contest. This being my first playing, I severely underestimated the potential value of the walls and guards. Michael didn’t make the same mistake, ultimately scoring approximately 40 points with his guards. This was more than enough to earn him an impressive victory.
Finals: Michael 125, Willerd 109, Jim / Keith 110, Greg 94
Ratings: Michael 8.5, Willerd 8, Greg 7.5, Keith 7, Jim 6