Thursday, January 12, 2012

Critical Analysis of Carcassone

Carcassone is a game of controlling terrains to try and score more points than your opponent. 2-5 players can play each with a unique color, consisting of 7 people-like tokens (called"meeples") to be played on the game tiles. The tiles are square pieces that consist of different terrains (road, field, city, cloister). Tiles are drawn at random from the collection and played in turn order. The players decide who gets to go first and, from that person, play continues clockwise until the last tile is played. Points are scored immediately when a terrain is completed and any meeples on those terrains are returned to the player, with differing points depending on the size and type of the terrain. The farm scores only at the end of the game along with any unfinished terrains. Play starts with a predetermined tile on the board. Tiles can only be played orthogonally along any open tile on the board, as long as the terrain on all edges match the terrains of the pieces next to the desired play spot. If a tile is drawn that cannot be played anywhere on the table, it is immediately discarded and that player draws a new tile to place. Once a tile is played, the player may choose to place one of their remaining meeples on any unoccupied territory on that piece. A terrain is considered occupied iff there is already a meeple anywhere on that terrain on any of the tiles it runs through.

Generating the board of the game as you play is what makes this game shine. An interesting thing that happens is vying to control for territory. Since meeples cannot be placed in a territory that is already occupied by a meeple, it is a challenge to get more meeples into a single territory so you can have the majority and control that terrain for its points. This is done by placing a tile with the same type of terrain near the terrain that is already occupied and placing a meeple on that just-played tile. Later, a piece can be placed between those two terrains that will connect those terrains and make it one large terrain. This is good for players trying to get in on a large terrain and share the points with another player, or for players that wish to try and get the majority and own all of the points of the territory. Sometimes it's possible for a tile to played near a terrain that makes it impossible for that terrain to be completed, locking that meeple in place for the rest of the game. This is a good strategy for opponents roads which don't score as much as other features but can be simple to block off if the right tile is played in the right place.

Playing the game, itself, is a creative process. Pieces can only played where they fit (which also makes the game more aesthetically pleasing than if the terrains didn't have to match orthogonally) (not that different from Pipe Dream (apparently originally known as Pipe Mania)). Overall the rules are relatively simple. I'm sure they went through many iterations to get the scoring just right, but there isn't a lot behind it. Like Dr G mentioned about Triple Town, the designers designed the process, but the players can then take that process and find the patterns that work best within the given rule space. The resources are the meeples that the players, themselves, control. Each player has 7 different meeples which is a good number. Most of the time, that is enough to play on any desired terrain, but as the game draws on, the players have to decide if it's better to hold on to their last (couple) pieces or decide if they might have a better spot to play if a better tile is drawn for the next turn. If the designers had picked a smaller number of starting meeples, I feel like players wouldn't be liberal enough with their meeples and withhold too many until the end of the game.

Overall, because of it's randomness and simple intricacy, Carcassone makes an excellent game.

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