Monday, January 16, 2012

Carcassonne

The game mechanics of Carcassonne, designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, were different than any other board game I've played in the past. The set-up consisted of a variety of tiles that were placed to create the board. These tiles had four sides and an image composed of combinations of roads, cities, fields, or a cloister. Each player also received eight "meeples," or small, wooden, humanoid play pieces, one of which was used on a score tile to record the number of points that player had.


The rules are as such:
At the beginning of the game, a starter tile was placed. The game play was turn based, and at the beginning of each turn, the player drew a new tile and placed it next to an existing tile. The player could only place the tile so that its edge matched up with the edge of the existing tile (so that a road was next to a road, a city next to a city, etc.). When they place this tile, they were also given the option to place one of their meeples on that tile under the condition that there were no other meeples in the area connected to it. For example, let's say a tile was placed so that one side connects to a city, but the other three edges were part of a field. If the existing tile to which the new tile was attached already had a meeple in the city, the player could not place their meeple in the city as well. If, however, the connected fields did not have any meeples, the player could place a meeple in the field.
When an area is complete (a city closed, a road connected in a loop or between two end points such as cities or crossroads, or a cloister surrounded by tiles), the meeples are scored and removed according to the value of that feature (a road is worth 1 point per tile, a city is worth 2 points per tile plus two additional points for each tile with a pennant, and so on). If two players have meeples in one feature (such as might occur through clever placement of tiles), then either the player with the most meeples gets the points, or, in the case that they are tied, they both get the points. At the end of the game, all additional, incomplete features are scored, and field meeples are scored according to the number of finished cities they are adjacent to, with the player with the most meeples in a connected field getting the points.


That's the quick summary of the important aspects of the rules. Reading them was a bit daunting, but game play proved to be a little easier than the instructions implied.
The dynamics of the game were interesting, given that the board appeared over time and through the collaborative efforts of the players. The strategies that emerged tended to be both cooperative and competitive, with a tension between the two. Obviously each player sought to increase their points, but they also had to keep track of the number of points their opponents had. It was inevitable that at some point your tile placement would be beneficial to another player, and there were times where a tile would be drawn that would be of no help to the player that drew it, so you had to be aware of how you were helping others as well as how you would hurt them. The player had to be aware of how much attention they were bringing to their placements, especially as far at the famers (or meeples on fields) were concerned since they were scored at the end of the game and could significantly help the player.


As far as aesthetics go, I found the game to be enjoying. The game had components that created fellowship, challenge, and expression due to the fact that you had to work both with and against people in varying degrees, and you were building something of your own in the process. This made the game intellectually absorbing, but it was not so complex as to become unappealing. It required concentration, thought, and careful consideration to multiple variables, which created an absorption into the strategy and the game. The competitive aspect of the game created an emotional investment where you had a clear goal of winning and adversaries in the way.
In short, I'd quite enjoy playing again. 

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