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Subject: Carson City - A duel in Eagle Valley... rss

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Tony Bosca
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Game Designer - Xavier Georges
Game Publisher - Eagle Games
Game Type - Euro / Worker Placement

When I had first heard of this game the only other worker placement game I had played up to that point was Agricola. I had sort of built up the mechanic up as a saving grace to my gaming tastes. There was something I really enjoyed about Agricola, something that seemed fresh, and so it seemed this new freshness was the worker placement mechanic. Now I know I was a little late to the WP party... I had not played Caylus yet, just heard about it's checkered reviews full of bickering over whether the game was even any fun or just an exercise in accounting, and from of the incendiary commenters, that the game was just a contrived, soul-less pissing match. Agricola certainly wasn't all those bad things to me, so a hunt was on for Caylus. For whatever reason the FLGS in my area never had it in stock and with my curiosity towards this new-to-me mechanic soaring, I started looking towards some alternatives. That's when I first heard about Carson City, read some reviews, bought it, played it 20-30 times and here we stand.

I consider Carson City to be my second favorite worker placement game behind Agricola. I have now played the majority of the notable games that make up this group, so not much mystery is left. I've played Caylus several times and despite the extremely strategic, dense and tight game play, I have found Carson City does a better job of putting those qualities in a fun to play package. Minute-for-minute, decision to decision I feel Carson City provides a very similar experience to Caylus in less time and with more drama. As far as comparing it to Agricola, the game play is so different I hesitate even to do so. This shows that just because games have a shared mechanic it does not necessarily equate to a similar feel as a whole. I think Agricola might be the superior game, but it certainly isn't my favorite worker placement game.

As opposed to doing a detailed review with rules, explanation and strategy, I'd like to point out a few things I really like and expound on them. There are a ton of other great reviews that do a much better and thorough job of explaining the finer points... here are some that jumped up and bit me right in the heart.







The Roles - Each player per round will select a person from Carson City to help them out. Role selection is a nice way to give players special "powers" for a given amount of time without working into the rules all the extra fiddliness of acquiring them. The roles are varied and mostly balanced. (there are a couple less-desirable ones) Some help you get more guns, workers, cheaper buildings, VP's, money... The role placards are double-sided, you use only one side per game chosen prior, so there is a fresh set on the other side for a re-match! I personally prefer the red sides of the roles, they seem less powerful but require a little more finesse to take advantage of. These roles also help decide turn order (by rank) and cash limit (explained a lil' more later). There is a promotional role called "The Indian" that's pretty easy to proxy/obtain for some additional variety and a unique twist to the usual role benefits.





The Map - I really enjoy the "interactive" aspect of the map. In a lot of worker placement games all you have is a board that looks like a menu at some sort of hieroglyphic themed diner. What I like here is that there is a spatial element to the strategy, that goes beyond just preferential positioning in a queue. The buildings that you will be constructing won't be worker placement spots in the future, but rather your economic engine for the game. You need to find and claim necessary area on the board to accommodate your economic strategy. So not only do you need the money to buy the buildings but also you may have to do a little "city building" to get your ducks in a row. All players are carving out their place on the same board. I crave this sort of interaction in games. When it's absent I notice. I'm not really stating that it's necessary for a game to have heavy player interaction for me to enjoy it, but it's just one of those things... when I think about boardgames I think about people trying to out maneuver their competition. This isn't always present in games like this, so to me, it comes across as refreshing. One thing to note as well, the board is double-sided. The basic board is one side, mountains scattered about, with a lot of room for players to spread out and find their own niche. The other side is the Carson River Variant. A river runs bold through the center of the play area. It provides for a tighter play area and a couple interesting strategic and tactical nuances.





The Buildings - There are quite a few different possible buildings that might cross the market path in any given game. The market is preset with 4 buildings (2 mines/2 ranches) to get the game started, but after that you draw replacements for the market from a cloth bag. There are several considerations when buying buildings: some need to go on specific types of plots (tile placement), they have different effects on income, they offer permanent benefits (guns, protection) and some even need a certain amount of existing infrastructure (roads, houses) to be placed. Couple all of these factors with the uncertainty of which buildings will come up for purchase in the game and you see some different building strategies each play.





The Duels/The Guns - A point of direct conflict. In Carson City worker placement is not exclusive. Everyone is entitled their opportunity at any given action spot, the duels occur when two or more players choose to do the same thing. This ranges from buying the same buildings, trying to buy the same parcel of land, choosing the same action etc... When this happens, the involved players duel to see who will be the only player to receive the benefit or action of that spot. To do this players add in the gun tokens they have collected through various means along with their roll of a standard D6 die. All the losing cowboys are returned to their respected owners and the winner is allowed to take the action. There are a couple spots where multiple players can reap rewards, but besides those, there can only be one winner per action spot. The other way a player with a lot of guns can wreak havoc is buy robbing businesses of the other players. If someone is sitting pretty with their cash cow milking it turn after turn you can place a cowboy on their building for half of the money. It's a stickup! Before resolving actions the defending player can attempt to defend his earnings by placing one of his cowboys there, but a duel must be fought and won to protect his cash. One of the more subtle, and dare I say friendly, aspects of the design I started to appreciate in my later plays, was how the loser of the duel got to use his cowboys in the next round, almost always having a numbers advantage next time around. It just seems to balance things really well with almost little to no headaches from a design/mechanics/theme standpoint. It works really well and feels very fair.





The VP system - I couldn't really think of any term to adequately describe this, but the way the VP's are dished out in this game is tricky! All VP's you earn, besides those awarded for your buildings in end-game scoring, are purchased with your income. There is a sort of countdown on the bottom of the serpentine action track which allows you to place a worker for the exchange of money for VP's. Just like any of the other exclusive reward spots, only one worker will be allowed to convert cash to VP's at a reasonable rate. This means that you will need a worker on this spot and be able to withstand the dueling attempts from other players. Each turn the best value exchange spot is taken away, so not only are the exchange places becoming fewer but the rates at the remaining places are more expensive. On the last turn just one of these exchanges still remains at a whopping $5/VP whereas the first turn exchange can be had for as little as $2/VP. This makes pushing for the guns a very reasonable pursuit. As the head gunner you can very easily command that top exchange spot, and given a big enough advantage, force some of the other players to worse exchange rates for fear of dueling you. Another facet to this system is the cash limit built-in to the different roles. If you decide not buy VP's for whatever reason this turn you can only carry so much money to the next round. This is indicated by the character card you chose at the beginning of the round. So if you want to save some loot over to the next round, you had better have deep pockets. All money that falls over this line is exchanged at a rate of $10/VP and that's crazy expensive. So generally you want to do one of these on your turn with your loot: spend most/all on a bunch of productive buildings, spend most/all on VP's or choose a character with a high cash limit so you can achieve "baller status" for the next round as MC MoneyBagz with all that carry-over coin.






2P - A lot of the games that I get to play to repetitive death are with my friend Nicole. So therefore, I try and find games to purchase that are good two player. They don't have to be best with 2, but as long as they work they'll get a nod where from me where they succeed in this task. I must say, Carson City plays almost as well with two as it does 3-5. The board definitely get's tighter and play more interesting with more players but the 2P games have left me feeling very satisfied. The river variant side of the board is great for ratcheting up the land grabs and even succeeds in tightening up the market a little bit.






A New Beginning - This was a little expansion/giveaway that was put out at Essen 2010. We haven't played all that much with this little expansion/variant yet but the premise is to allow for players to choose their own starting supplies. You can basically start with more or less of any given resource, work force, money and VP's. There are also a few other nifty things like being able to choose either side of the role cards, choosing two roles or even rolling two dice in the duels instead of one (keeping your favorite). It seems like a ton more variety... but with so many moving parts and a little time between games (can't play this everyday!) we haven't really had the opportunity to mess around with the different possibilities. I think we've tried this twice, each time deciding just to stick to varied amounts of starting materials and no new "abilities", but I'm confident as we continue to have fun with this one through the years that this "advanced setup" may soon become our "normal setup".





I think Carson City does a great job of marrying some of my favorite aspects of euro-typical games with a little bit of "take that" for a really unique experience. The role luck plays in the game keeps the strategy heavy player on their toes and lends itself well to more creative play. I think the variety found in the double-sided roles and map and various playmates will keep this hitting the table for quite sometime to come. It's a game I researched quite a bit before I jumped on, there are a lot of threads out there that will try to convince you that this game is broken/unbalanced, rude/mean, but I think it's a delight and one of the most interesting pieces of cardboard I've laid eyes on. It's game play perfectly matches it's theme... Carson City is a tense and exciting game with a lot of variety, leading to unexpected outcomes. Fits the old west theme mighty fine!

check out my blog: iwantthegold.blogspot.com !
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Ingo Griebsch
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Thanks Tony, for this well written review!
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Tony Bosca
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d0gb0t wrote:
Thanks Tony, for this well written review!


Well thank you my friend.
 
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Tony Bosca
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Some strategy bits I tried to discuss here:

http://boardgamegeek.com/article/10324549


blakstar wrote:
Ok cool.

Some stuff to think about:

GENERAL BITS:

-Have you learned the little trick with the white cowboy yet? If you select the Sheriff as your role for the last turn, you get to go first and you place the white cowboy on the victory point purchase spot. No one can duel you for it. You place the white cowboy on that spot before placing any of your other cowbeeples.

-You're spot on with the building combos. The best one seems to be the mine+bank engine. You want to place one of your initial parcels on the spot that touches the most mountains. You want your mine placements to be as good as possible because it is going to be the revenue from those early in the game that provides your capitol for the rest of your purchases. The ranch + drugstore combo is also a good one.

-The places you choose to put your initial parcels are about as important as your starting places in Catan. These are free, so besides trying to get the best mining spot (next to the most mountains) another good spot to try and grab is one that is where you'd imagine the center of town is going to be. This makes it so you'll have a place to put your saloon/bank/drugstore - the buildings that do best surrounded by houses. You want to look at the buildings that have come up for sale and then decide which route you are going to go with. If the bank comes up as one of the starting buildings try competing for it and going with the mine/bank strategy. Ranches are cheap. The land to place them on is generally cheap as well.


-Most winning strategies are going to have you going for some sort of building strategy. You are correct with taking the Chinese Worker. Mainly for the roads if nothing else. Usually placing a worker on the get roads part of the board is wasteful. It doesn't offer a whole lot of potential points vs the rest of the places you could use it. Grab him within the first two turns if you can. The purchasing part of his power isn't super powerful because of the discount, but rather because you can grab a building when you select it. That means you can get the building you want before the other players can try to duel you off of it. So not only looking to save some money with the 50% off but rather being able to snatch the only bank/drugstore/saloon.

-Ranches are the only building that doesn't need roads. You want to put these (most times) on parcels in the middle of nowhere. The parcels themselves will be cheap because the price is based on how many existing features/buildings are around them.

-You want to make sure that most times if you buy a building you already have a place to put it. Buildings that have to waste a turn sitting next to you on the table represent a lack of efficiency.

-Look for houses or mountains that either affect multiple opponents buildings or an opponents and your buildings at the same time. Buy those houses or mountains to lower their buildings income. This will make the house or mountain only helpful to your buildings. Don't over do this but if something looks like its helping 3 or 4 opponents' buildings it might be smart to knock them down a peg.

-The gun strategy works in some games, I don't think it should be a main focus- but you want to sort of play defense and not let someone get too far out ahead of you. Especially if you have a some alluring buildings. If you have enough buildings, other players stealing half of your income from a couple of them isn't the end of the world.

-On later rounds the VP spots for guns/parcels/buildings are extremely important. If you're going for a building strategy the 1VP per building is pretty huge. These are "free" VPS and getting 4-8 VP for free is pretty huge. If you're doing a building strategy the one that gives you 1VP/2 parcels is usually good to. Besides the buy VP spots these are the most competed for in late games among our players.

-The VP purchasing spots are a little tricky. You probably want to buy VPs from one of these spots at some point. You want to keep and eye on the cash limit for the roles you choose. The banker and the grocer are the big ones. If you're using a building strategy these characters will allow you to roll all of your money into building for the next round.(early rounds obviously) Otherwise you're going to have to get under the cashlimit by buying VPS at 10to1. Hopefully you guys are playing this correctly. So in general in early rounds if you end up with one of the roles with a lower cash limit you want to put a guy on the buy VPs spot during placement so you can spend under your limit. (In early rounds you don't have to choose the best exchange rate - say you're going last and someone with more guns than you is already on the best 3to1 spot, you might consider just throwing your last dude on the 4to1 spot and paying an extra dollar per VP)

-As you mentioned before you guys might have been misplaying the end of the game. At the end of the game you need to, assuming you're not on the VP purchasing spot, you buy VPs at 10to1 to get under your limit and then cashout the rest of your money at 6to1. Hence when playing with the basic roles, the banker offers a lot of flexibility on the last round. You can say "screw you guys" to the players fighting over the VP spot and just buy 20 points at 6to1 with his $120 cash limit. (without needing to place a worker too!) It's only a dollar more per VP than the purchasing spot on the board. The grocer also has a good cash limit and her ability to increase the income of a type of building can be pretty lucrative if you say double the income of your saloons or banks for the last turn.

-IF you get dueled off of a spot you get that worker for the next round. Also any cowboys you either have left because you didn't place them or they got returned via duel with count towards your firepower in future duels that round.

-Just like most other worker placement games you want to try and rank the priorities of the other players. Sometimes it can be tricky to even prioritize your own actions, but the key is to look among your priorities and your opponents' priorities for places that are important to BOTH or all 4 of you, and play there first. If the best placement for you is only a good placement for you, then you might want to try and go for the actions that are best for everyone first. This might set you up to get blocked by a player playing defensively taking a spot that's only good for you, but usually this isn't a very profitable play for them. Most times it's worth the risk.

-REMEMBER! - each building/house/mountain is worth 2VPs at the end of the game.


ROLE TOUGHTS:

- The Sheriff - lock up the VP spot, on the last round especially.

- The Banker - The 9 bucks helps because it will give you money BEFORE the income phase which allows you buy more buildings and such. High cashlimit.

- The Grocer - 8 dollars are important for the same reason as the banker's 9 dollars. High cash limit.

- The Chinese Worker - Gives you roads so you don't have to waste a guy on the roads spot, gives you a chance to snatch up a building there is only one of, the other players really want, is expensive, is crucial to your income engine.

- The Settler - this is one of the weakest roles. It can allow you to get a parcel for free, which in some cases if you want to plop a building down in the middle of town can save you significant monies - or to purchase a mountain or house that is benefiting your opponents too much.

- The Captain - if you get this guy you probably want to buy 3 workers for 9 bucks. This guy can be pretty good. If you don't use all of your cowboys you can roll them over to future rounds and they contribute to firepower.

- The Mercenary - can be good if you're going for a gun strategy - the VPs for guns and money for guns spots get better for you obviously.





There ya go! Hopefully this gives you somethings to think about. There's definitely some pre-planning/strategy that can be counted on game to game but I think a more general idea of the different paths to victory is more beneficial to success than a set plan. You have to make the best of what's available to you at any given time. There's a little variance with concerns to what buildings will be available each game and you'll have to deal with unexpected plays from your opponents. Just try and and make every placement as impacting as possible.

Have fun!




blakstar wrote:
amacleod wrote:
Thank you, Tony! I see now what I've been doing wrong, both strategically and tactically. About the only thing I've been doing right is going for the right characters at the right time!

Speaking of characters, I also find the Sheriff quite useful in Turn Four to put on your property that is generating the most cash. There are times when that's actually better than putting him on the VP space.

So: what are your thoughts about the Indian?



It's a pretty dynamic game, a lot can change turn-to-turn. This game doesn't follow much of a script.

If you had a bank or saloon that was generating an inane amount of revenue I could see using the white cowboy to protect it - but the design of the game as is forces you into a tough decision - the cashlimit on the Sheriff is 20 bucks... so on the last turn if you can guarantee VP purchasing spot some other way and still protect your building, that could be good... our games don't play out this way. You might protect x amount of income for that building which is half the total income OR get the exclusive right to buy VPs from the only VP purchasing spot. See what I'm getting at?

Getting to safegaurd all that money isn't really worth anything as much if you have to spend under your limit at 10to1 to be able to then buy 20 dollars worth of points at 6to1. It's a little mathy but you have to work this out going into the last turn.

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