April 03, 2012

Board Game Capsule: Carcassonne: The City

Carcassonne: The City @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede (2004)
2-4 players / 45-75 minutes / Ages 8+

While my brother-in-law was off battling some famous Pokemon champion with my nephew and Brendon in tow, Cory and I jogged over to the open gaming library to pull out a title on our wish list - Carcassonne.  I'm a bit surprised that he's had his eye on this one, but based on videos, he liked the tile matching, the developing map, and the little meeples.  Plus it seems simple and a good game for kids and adults to play together.  So, grabbing a table and opening the box, I soon discovered we actually pulled out Carcassonne: The City, a slight difference in name, sure, but quite a bit different in game play, from what I understand.

Having never played Carcassonne, but knowing a fair amount of the rules thanks to BoardGameGeek, we began play with the rulebook open.  Each tile has a residential area, market, and/or street on it - sometimes all three.  When placing tiles, only streets are required to be lined up or matched.  After placing it, you may also put one of your meeples on the tile in either the residential, market, or street terrain.  If you place one on the market or street, you will score points as soon as that section is completed with subsequent tiles and receive your meeple back.  If you place one in a residential area, then it stays there until the end of the game, at which time it scores points for every market terrain bordering your connected residential areas (complete or not).  The second mechanic includes building walls around the city, which begins in the game's second phase.  In this round, after the first street or market is completed and scored (and for each time after that), players will take turns building wall segments.  This is another way to complete streets and markets for scoring - essentially they end when hitting the walls!  Also, you can place meeples on a wall segment who will score points at the end of the game based on the number of certain historical buildings in tiles of the adjoining row.

C:tC is a shade more complex and subtly more strategic from what I've read/seen of it's original ancestor, but the rules and play are still simple enough.  Upon playing this particular implementation of the famous franchise, I hesitate to purchase regular Carcassonne with has even less features than this one.  Or at the very least without an expansion or two, which I generally do not like to do.  The components are of fine quality and it is fun to watch our city unfold.  However, it is pretty repetitive.  Generally, in shorter games or card games, that is not an issue for us.  But with a bland theme and going on over 30 minutes, my son began to lose interest and focus.  The other guys rejoined us and it did not take much at all to persuade him to quit the game and move on to something else.

There is a significant luck factor in the random draw of the tiles that affects long-term planning.  That is often balanced by the fact that many times an opponent is forced to make a play that benefits you.  Your strategy must be open to allow for a variety of options and you'll soon find yourself struggling to decide how best to place your meeples - especially considering that those in residential areas and on walls stay for the remainder of the game.  We actually prefer some luck in our family games and I like the concept of teaching my kids to adjust their plans on the fly, when needed.  However, the lack of conflict, bland theme, and (in the end) repetitive play will sink this one near the bottom of the wish list - of which it was namely on just for it's iconic status, anyway.

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