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Subject: A Semi-Friendly Countryside Builder rss

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(Note: this review is a long summary of a review I published on Epinions. Here is the URL of the original review: http://www.epinions.com/review/z-man-games-carcassonne-basic...)

Back in 2000, I was living in Japan with zero interest in board games, but much interest in EA Sports FIFA games and SimCity. I used to spend hours customizing rosters and building metropolises, respectively. Both games had something in common for me: they allowed for creation and adjustment of entities as I saw fit to create and adjust them, whether those entities were players, teams, or cities. However, several thousands of miles away in Germany, a new tile-laying game called Carcassonne was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. I had no idea that such a board game even existed in 2000, but in 2013 I'm elated that I finally discovered it.

Carcassonne's name suggests its theme: you are in medieval France near the town of the same name. You are a kind of builder and master planner, crafting the countryside around Carcassonne by laying down tiles that have city, road, and field edges. The premise of the game is deceptively basic: you draw a tile from a bag or pile, decide on where the tile fits best on an ever-growing map, and then place the tile in the configuration that benefits you most. As turns cycle from player to player, cities, roads, cloisters (or monasteries), and fields are established. As such "features" are established, players can place their followers (otherwise known affectionately as "meeples") on newly-laid tiles in hopes of scoring completed cities, roads, and so forth.

Features are scored as they are completed; for example, as soon as a player completes a city, he gets two points for every tile that constitutes that city, but only if he has one or more meeples in that city. An important rule to note is that after a feature is scored, one's meeples are returned to one's pool. The building of this map, which is shared by all players, continues until the last tile is drawn and played. After that, any incomplete cities, cloisters, and roads are scored, as well as farms, which are connected fields bounded by roads and cities. As with many games, whoever scores the most points wins.

Carcassonne is often considered the quintessential "Euro-style" or "German" board game: indirect opponent interaction, all players participate to the end, randomness is mitigated by the exclusion of dice (though tiles are drawn randomly, at least if one follows the published rules), and much decision-making revolves around resource management (in this case, the placement and potential retrieval of meeples). Likewise, the "theme" of the game does not necessarily have an influence on the actual game mechanics; though the tiles are beautifully decorated with a Frankish medieval flavor, one could apply any motif to the game and the scoring and placement rules would not be affected. These Euro aspects engender a play environment that is not so much competitive as it is interactive; most of the time, players can focus on building their own features, though they are free to "steal" others' features by placing followers in unclaimed areas or interfere with an opponent's construction of a city by either capping it prematurely or adding a tile that would extend its construction. Nonetheless, many Euro games are like Carcassonne in that competition may be a secondary concern.

Since its publication in 2000, Carcassonne has garnered numerous awards, especially the 2001 Spiel des Jahres, which is the prestigious German "Game of the Year," the Oscar of board games. Furthermore, numerous expansions have also been designed for this game; the inclusion of additional game items and strategies is another prevalent aspect of Euro games. Carcassonne has become a game by which games of its ilk are compared and judged, but for me it taps into my builder tendencies. Even in a somewhat competitive environment, I participate in the creation of a new land with oddly-shaped fortified towns, winding roads, monasteries, and even festivals, bazaars, and castles (if you purchase expansions beyond the base set). I can also practice various strategies, such as claiming fields for farms and placing my cloister to score immediate points. The best thing about this game is that I can do this without a computer and within a social atmosphere -- in other words, around a table with friends and family. Carcassonne is non-violent, but wonderfully strategic and surprisingly laid-back and pensive. It's regrettable that it took 13 years to discover Carcassonne, but it's better late than never.
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Carl Garber
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Nice review of a great game! I have just gotten my bible study group into this one lately and it has been well recieved! Also, welcome to BGG! You've only been on here a couple months and already you have more reviews then me! Keep them coming! Also, have some geek gold to get a microbadge or avatar!

PS- also some of us actually do take the time to read other BGGers information. Have you ever played Knights of the Round for SNES? Classic!
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CarlG wrote:
Nice review of a great game! I have just gotten my bible study group into this one lately and it has been well recieved! Also, welcome to BGG! You've only been on here a couple months and already you have more reviews then me! Keep them coming! Also, have some geek gold to get a microbadge or avatar!

PS- also some of us actually do take the time to read other BGGers information. Have you ever played Knights of the Round for SNES? Classic!

Thanks for your message and for welcoming me! It's nice to know that some people read other people's profile info -- in this case, my info.

No, I've never played Knights of the Round on the SNES, though it sounds really intriguing. Back in the day, I was a sports game snob, but since I've started retrogaming I've focused on the classic platforming side-scrollers like the Mario and Sonic games. My boys get a kick out of those games, as well as classic NES games like Pro Wrestling and The Legend of Zelda. For now, they're happy with the old stuff, which makes me happy.

I will try to keep the reviews coming. I hope to see more reviews from you, as well. Oh, and thank you for tip; I am close to being able to purchase an avatar.
 
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Just Lucky
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If you think Carcassonne is friendly then you are playing it wrong. It is vicious - particularly as a 2-player game. That big city that you are building can get stolen or you meeples can be trapped by your opponent so that they never return.

Glad you are enjoying it though.
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Just_Lucky wrote:
If you think Carcassonne is friendly then you are playing it wrong. It is vicious - particularly as a 2-player game. That big city that you are building can get stolen or you meeples can be trapped by your opponent so that they never return.

Glad you are enjoying it though.


I didn't say "friendly," but "semi-friendly." I make this distinction because Carcassonne can be played in so many different ways; you can try to mess with other players, indirectly affect players by hogging real estate, work cooperatively at certain stages of the game, or pursue any strategy or approach in between. You favor a highly competitive approach -- that's probably more of a tournament-level approach and that's fine. However, like most games, Carcassonne can be played with friendly competition in mind or otherwise, and victory can be achieved with diplomacy or not. Thus, declaring that that not playing it in a cutthroat manner is "wrong" is dubious and not reflective of how games like Carcassonne are really played: in family or friendly settings for fun.

In any case, if we really examine the in-game actions of Carcassonne, I wouldn't use the term "vicious." If anything, having a city stolen is often a consequence of greed; a player may try to build a large city to score lots of points, but that just makes the player vulnerable to having his city taken. Solution: score small cities quickly and focus on farms. I would say that Carcassonne is not as vicious as chess, and Carcassonne has a literally pastoral quality with its fields, cities and meeples, so I'd concede that players hurt each other softly, at worst.

Thank you for your comment.
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