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Carcassonne – Play Session

December 18, 2007

There are games that you may need to play multiple times in order to see their true colors. For me, Carcassonne is one of them.

I was really expecting a lot out of this game on the first play, maybe too much. I’ve seen it on numerous best lists, and it has been recommended to me on more than one occasion. So, when I sat down to play it last night, I was expecting gaming bliss like I got the first time I played RISK or Civilization. That didn’t happen. Maybe the brilliance comes when you grok the game and are able to put together a decent strategy right from the get go. Of the five players at our table, only one had played before. Now that I look back on it, we probably should have played again right away like we did when we first played Blokus or Scotland Yard.

What was least appealing to me was the mop up afterward – you go through counting what players have acquired and score the game accordingly. It felt less than well constructed, though I don’t think the designers could handle it differently. Things that are not completed during play are counted up at the end and awarded points. Since ownership of farms, cities and roads has the potential to change during play unless complete, you can’t score until the end. This actually lends credence to my need to play the game again – had I a solid idea of how well I was doing vs. other players, this phase would have been more exciting to me. As it was, I came in second.

For the record, I always give games multiple go-rounds, and many multiples if I don’t clearly understand what all the fuss it about. Sometimes, aspiring game designers turn away from games that don’t appeal to them but do appeal to the masses. Those games are probably the most important games for you to play.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2007 10:21 am

    I don’t see this game on best lists at this point, *except* lists of best games to teach to new players. I think it belongs there, except that the farmers are a little tricky to teach to new players. The problem with this is that the farmers are about the only part of the game that provide some depth to it. My gaming group no longer plays this.

  2. December 18, 2007 4:39 pm

    My groups definitely still play this, and still find it fun. I have to agree though, a first play round you’re not going to understand the strategies involved concerning when and where to put down farmers (putting down too early robs you of a worker, putting down too late and you’ll usually have to find a way to push into someone else’s farm, relying on luck of the draw) and when to push yourselves into large cities and roads. It’s a really hard game to get the strategy down for, but definately worth it. It’s an interesting combination of randomness and strategy that I’ve always found interesting.

    Also, the Traders and Builders and Inns and Cathedrals, and River expansions are all worth playing in the standard game. I think Princess and the Dragon and The Tower add too much complexity, and make the game less fun.

    One note on something you said: “Since ownership of farms, cities and roads has the potential to change during play unless complete, you can’t score until the end.”

    Unless you’ve got some really big roads / cities that haven’t been completed (and very few seasoned players will let this happen), you should really know how you’re doing at all times. The farmers are what can really kill you, but if you’re paying attention to what farms exist and where you can potentially be screwed over (by people joining farms together at the last minute) there should be very little mystery.

  3. December 18, 2007 4:48 pm

    Jeff 2 – I certainly think the four newbies contributed to the sprawl we had going on. I really wish we would have played it again. We certainly will in the future.

  4. Thomas W. permalink
    December 18, 2007 11:19 pm

    I actually just bought this game for a board-game night I had at my gf’s house this last weekend. I have enjoyed playing it when I had the chance to, the first time being in one of my ITGM classes at SCAD. I have to agree with Jeff 2, the mix of randomness and skill in the game is something that I really like, as with proper planning you can be prepared for the randomness, but it still keeps things interesting.

    I’ll definitely be bringing my copy back to school with me after break, and I hope to get some play time in when I’m not working on assignments for you.

  5. Brett M permalink
    December 19, 2007 10:59 am

    When I teach this one to new players, I sometimes use a stock market-like analogy:

    Roads are like low-risk short term investments that pay off quickly, but with low yields.

    Cities are a higher risk investment that can pay off pretty well when they complete, with the risk that someone can push you out with a hostile take-over (the risk is there with roads, too, but they’re easy to complete with so little payoff, it usually isn’t worth it).

    Farms are a high-risk, high yield option that has the potential for game-winning pay offs at the cost of tying up your capital (farmers) for the remainder of the game.

    One of the neat things about Carcassonne is the group-think encouraged by the rules. You are actually encouraged, in the rules, to get the opinions of the other players on tile placement options on your turn. That helps to keep the entire table involved in the game, which can have downtime problems with a full compliment of 5 players.
    Many players find, with experience, that Carcassonne has a sweet spot of just 3 players.

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