Simon
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Introduction: deflowering two virgins with the holy trinity

A couple of evenings ago I wrapped up a game day with two games of Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers. Both games were played with three players: myself and my two new friends Max and Catherine. This was the end of a perfect day of gateway games for them: they played The Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and lastly Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers, each for the first time. As much as I enjoyed the day (which was quite a lot!), I have to admit I was pretty darned jealous of them getting to experience the holy trinity of gateway games all in one day!

The first game: Max's meeple mishaps

The first game of C: H&G went pretty smoothly considering it was their first time playing. As luck would have it, we drew lots more river and lake tiles early in the game than forest tiles, so our landscape was quite unusual, with lots of water in the middle and then forests gradually growing around them. A consequence of this was that unlike every one of my previous C: H&G games, the stack of 12 bonus tiles wasn't depleted by the end of the game. I guess our forests must have been larger than average to make this happen, though they didn't seem huge.

The most striking feature of the game was Max's rather unfortunate meeple problem. Pretty early on he decided to place a hunter and - terrible host and game-teacher that I evidently am - I failed to step in and explain why that probably wasn't a good idea (the position wasn't really ideal for an early hunter placement, being relatively easy for us to close the meadow off). Well, actually, I did explain this, but not until two or three turns later, by which point it was of course too late to retract the move.

Max didn't seem too bothered by the wasted meeple at this point, but things soon took a turn for the worse. He invested meeples as fishermen in a couple of rivers that he found difficult to complete, invested another one as a gatherer in a forest, and then somehow managed to place his final meeple - in a forest or meadow, I can't recall - possibly feeling resigned to his meeple shortfall and wanting to take it to its logical conclusion.

The upshot of all this was that he was stuck on 11 points while Catherine - speeding ahead of me - quickly made it past the 50 point mark and lapped him. It really was tragic seeing poor Max constantly placing tiles in the sorts of simple combinations that would ordinarily yield 4-6 quick points (e.g. putting two small forest segments together to create a 4 point forest, or putting two lake tiles with 1-2 fish on each together to create 4-6 point rivers), but not having the spare meeple needed to tap the feature for immediate scoring. He was occasionally adding to his forest/s (though seemingly never able to close them off to retrieve his precious meeples) and continually adding to a pretty nice river system he'd claimed earlier with a hut, but he was missing out on a wealth of points and seemed unable to get his meeples back.

Eventually he did get a couple of them back and clawed back enough points so that he wasn't being lapped, but the damage was done and it became a two-player race for victory, with Catherine edging me out in the end (though I may be misremembering this; I scored quite a few points by muscling in on each opponent's largest river system in the final stages of the game, which may actually have given me the victory).

The second game: Meadow wars and general awesomeness

It being their first Carcassonne experience, and Max having written it off as a learning experience given his meeple issues, we immediately threw the tiles back in the bag a started a second game, and this one became my favourite ever C: H&G experience. Somehow something just clicked and it was just really, really fun. Read on to find out why.

I had made a point when explaining the game, and when the fire and shrine bonus tiles came up in the first game, of saying that I thought they were both really annoying (mostly because they never seem to come up at the right time for the player who draws them, so that player - in my experience - tends not to actually reap the benefits of them). This time around, about a third of the way through the game, Catherine drew the shrine tile just after Max snuck his way into my very valuable meadow (or possibly vice versa - either way, we had just ended up sharing a great meadow between two of us), and promptly stole our meadow by placing a hunter on the shrine. Meanwhile, Max had started a second meadow, also full of plump animals, that was adjacent to the first one.

This instigated a battle between Catherine and Max to place tiles on the edge of the board closest to me (and soon pretty close to the edge of the table), with Catherine trying to edge her way around with meadow pieces so as to connect the two meadows (gaining all those extra animals while simultaneously nullifying yet another of Max's hunter meeples) and Max trying to prevent this from happening at all costs. Stuck in the middle of this epic struggle, I kept drawing tiles, seeing lovely nearby places to lay them, and then remembering that I didn't want anything at all to do with the craziness between Catherine and Max and so laying them on the other side of the table so as to avoid getting involved. It was an interesting position to be in and lots of laughs were had as I flailed about trying to consider whether it was in my interests to help one or the other of them with each new tile I drew, and then giving up and laying the tile far away each time.

Eventually, following some expert placement by Max, it became clear that Catherine's meadow-merging plan had been thwarted, and the remainder of the game became a tense stand-off between all three of us as we attempted to muscle in on each other's meadows (other than Catherine's one with the pesky shrine) and river systems.

In particular, during the last quarter of the game, there was a great tug-of-war between Max and myself over the second meadow (the one Catherine had tried to reach earlier): first I placed a hunter in a spot that made it all but inevitable that I'd muscle into the meadow, then Max added a couple of tiles in the vicinity of my hunter that reduced my options for the intervening tile between my hunter and his meadow, but then a couple of turns later I drew just the right tile, and shortly thereafter placed another hunter nearby ready to muscle into the meadow and steal it from Max outright (nobody likes to share, right?). Max then placed his own extra hunter nearby and we raced to draw the right tiles to get our own second hunters into the meadow or block each other's from getting in. Max got lucky first, drawing a tile that enabled him to trap my extra hunter in the world's tiniest meadow, (where he starved to death, no animals to be found). This suddenly turned the tables on me, as I found myself in precisely the same position I had put Max in moments before (an opponent's lucky tile draw away from losing all claim to the giant meadow), but thankfully his luck was short-lived and in the last couple of turns he failed to draw anything enabling him to connect his extra hunter to the meadow. Consequently, with one hunter each in the meadow, Max and I both scored 34 points for it.

I ended up winning fairly comfortably, but we each broke the 100-point barrier and it felt a much more competitive game than the first one. It was also my favourite time playing the game since acquiring it (having done so probably 10 to 15 times all up). I think the reasons I enjoyed it so much were:

- the tension of fighting over meadows from such an early point in the game, and the huge stakes riding on those fights;
- our open and almost collaborative approach to tile-laying whereby the person whose turn it was would of course ultimately decide what was best for them, but the other players would chip in with placement suggestions - even if the suggested places would be disadvantageous to themselves;
- our cheerful attitudes, even when being screwed (for some reason, more so than any previous game of C: H&G, I felt genuinely pleased for each other player when they drew the perfect tile or found the perfect placement, even when the result would be unfavourable to me);
- the large number of situations where players were hoping for quite specific tiles to lay in particular places, which meant that lots of the draws were exciting (i.e. finding out whether the needed tile had been drawn).

We finished up at almost midnight and I think it's a pretty safe bet that Max and Catherine will be returning for more of all three games sometime soon. I only hope C: H&G turns out as well next time as it did this time!

Thanks for reading. meeple
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Martin Jackson
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Good write-up, and it's nice to see that your friends enjoyed their introduction to the game.

One thing I wonder though is whether you have the rules correct for the shrine (and apologies if I'm wasting my breath here, I'm only inferring from your description):

earlyworm wrote:
... promptly stole our meadow by placing a hunter on the shrine.


This tile is still subject to the normal rules for meeple placement: if you add it to a field which has another person's hunter in it, you can't place a hunter on it.
I.e. to use it to steal a field, you have to 'merge it in', as you described for other occasions.
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Simon
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Thanks Martin.

Funnily enough, we did actually have a discussion about this very issue when the shrine came out in the second game, and decided that - as you say - meadow meeple placement on the shrine tile should follow the normal placement rules. Catherine placed the shrine tile one space away from the first meadow in a pretty open area and so was able to connect in and steal the meadow easily.

I think the confusion on this point in the rules (as evidenced by other threads - e.g. here and here) stems from the fact that the rules say "When a player places a hunter on the sacred shrine...", which suggests that the hunter goes on the shrine itself rather than in the meadow in which the shrine stands. From this, players might incorrectly conclude that the normal placement rule doesn't apply since the meeple isn't being placed in the meadow.
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Steve R Bullock
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Palm Coast
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This is easily my favorite of all the Carcassonne games. Lots of choices, and easy to teach to newbies. In addition to that, it has great artwork.

I suggest you look around for the Carcassonne Ark of the Covenant game. Despite the name, it is not a religious game, and it plays very well, as a kind of blending of regular Carcassonne and Hunters/Gatherers.

Thanks for the nice write up!
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Simon
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Thanks Steve. I'm not sure I feel the need to own more than one version of Carcassonne, but Ark of the Covenant definitely looks like it's worth trying out if the opportunity arises, so will have to keep an eye out.
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