Monday, May 13, 2013

Carcassonne…a thin veneer of civility

If the broad, oh so broad, category of Eurogames could be separated with further geographical terms…Carcassonne would fit squarely in an area I'm going to call "The Wild West."

By which I mean a land of promise, with many avenues of opportunity. A land from an earlier time, full of big words and polite eloquence. A land covered in a veneer of civility. Underneath the shine however, players act like 4 rats trapped in a tank, fighting to be the last rat.

When I first looked at Carcassonne, I was not impressed. The gameplay is simple. You draw one tile, and then you play one tile. A very odd feeling comes with not having a hand, or hidden information of any kind. To the first time player, there's very few choices available.

The big rule of Carcassonne is this: you can't place a meeple on an area someone else has already claimed. I didn't like this rule when I saw it. Because the game seemed to be discouraging player interaction. By limiting us to "blocking" moves, how was I suppose to fight and steal all my opponent's stuff? Things were going to get boring fast.

from boardgamegeek

A few short games later, I was enthusiastically taking my opponent's stuff. And what I couldn't take, I tried my hardest to destroy.

Because while Carcassonne bans overt attacks against other players, covert attacks are constant and unrelenting.

Sure, you can put your meeple down on a road, and no one can add another meeple there. But roads have a nasty habit of eventually connecting to other roads. And another player might have a couple of meeple further up the pike, ready to drink your milkshake up the moment time runs its course. (insert suction sounds)

Placing tiles might look a little random at first. But there is always a optimal, tactically superior place to put whatever kind of tile you draw. If you can't increase your own points, you should then at least be able to place your tile in such a way that it fouls up your opponents point scoring. With the right tile, you can make it so a city can never be completed. You can make it so a road remains unfinished, trapping competing meeple for all eternity on its meandering lengths. You can block off farmland making it effectively worthless.

If playing a tile in Carcassonne does not elicit howls of outrage from your fellow players, you are probably doing something wrong.

The version I play most often uses the Inns and Cathedral expansion. This adds even more screwage to the regular game. Inn and Cathedral tiles double the point value of roads and cities, respectively. But they also make features worth zero points until they are completed. How often are these tiles used in a positive way? Across about 40 plays, I have seen exactly one cathedral city completed. The rest were once-promising cities to whom the cathedral tile was the final kiss of death they never recovered from.

Do you like wrecking and humiliating people while also pretending you're doing nothing wrong? Carcassonne is probably right up your alley. I was unsure of the idea at first, but I've taken to it like a bear to honey.

Much like the Wild West, property is a jealously guarded commodity. But at the end of the game, you just might find out you've been sitting on a worthless pile of rocks the entire time.

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