Tag Archives: Carcassonne

Shiny Happy Meeples – Carcassonne review

Last weekend was a bit of a geekfest at mine. For the last three weekends a whole bunch of us have met up in various places around the country, with a moving-in party in London, a splendid wedding in Glasgow, then finally mine last time round for Eurovision related shenanigans. A uniting theme for all three of these events was the fact that games came out every time because… well, we’re a big bunch of nerds, and we’re proud of that. The brave and hardy souls who had survived to the bitter end of last weekend fancied playing something, and as a few were new(ish) to the kind of games you find here on Little Metal Dog, it was an ideal opportunity to break out something from the gateway games pile.

There were six of us, so selection was a little more limited. My eyes fell on Carcassonne (and the Inns and Cathedrals expansion, but we stuck to the basic rules, just grabbing the extra meeples), one of the first games I bought after rediscovering my love for the hobby. I haven’t played it for a while, but it’s such a simple set of rules you never forget them – it’s the tile-laying equivalent of riding a bike. A set of tiles are placed in a bag (though I don’t have one, so we just set them up in different piles and grab them randomly that way) and players take one per turn. You generally start with the River expansion that is included with most sets that are sold now, and get the opportunity to put down one of your little wooden guys to claim some land. After the river tiles have been placed, you then start drawing the regular ones – these must then be placed on the table, connecting to the map in a position that fits correctly. For example, a road must always connect to another road that’s already there, fields with fields, towns with towns… that kind of thing.

And so it begins. That's a farmer there in the foreground, by the way.

Once you’ve put your tile down, you’ve got a chance to put one of your meeples (aka: ‘little wooden fella things’) on that same tile. Not one near it, only on the one you have placed. You do this to score points, and popping them on different bits of the tile will get you differing amounts. Put them astride a road and your guy becomes a thief, stealing a point for each tile that comprises a completed road – from a town to a crossroads, for example. Putting one on a town area transforms the meeple into a knight, getting you two points for each tile when the town is finished. A little more risky is dropping a guy on a cloister should you draw one – this monk now gets you nine points if you manage to completely surround the church-y tile in a 3×3 grid style fashion. Now, with these three, if you manage to complete their various things, you get the meeple back on your stack, free to use again any way you wish – but there’s a fourth option, the farmer. This gets you no points during the game, but is awesome at the end. You permanently place it on any greenery on your tile, and any finished towns that are served by this field that you now control will rack up four points each – this is a great spin to the game, meaning that even if you’re dragging behind in the points, judicious placing of farmers can help you catch up and often grab the lead in the endgame. However, one caveat – you’re not allowed to put a farmer on a field that’s already been claimed. If your field joins another one then that’s fair enough, but invading someone else’s? Not allowed. Never rub another man’s rhubarb, remember?

That, in a nutshell, is Carcassonne. Get tile, place tile, choose whether to place meeple, rinse and repeat. However, there’s an awful lot of strategy in there – do you put your tile down to start a new town that has the potential to join up onto another player’s already huge metropolis with the possibility of sharing their points (because you can do that!) or venture off on your own, hoping you’ll be able to compete? Or do you risk throwing a few farmers down early, meaning that you’ll be down on usable meeples for a lot of the game, but you could really cash in at the end with bonus points? Even newbie players will be able to develop strategies early on with little problem, as long as they don’t forget about controlling a field or two by the time the game is done.

One of the good things about Carcassonne is the fact it plays as well with a couple of people as it does with six – sure, there’s a little more downtime with more folks involved, but you won’t be waiting long for your turn to come around. There’s also the ever increasing amount of expansions that are available from the (in my opinion) indispensible Inns & Cathedrals to the slightly ludicrous Catapult and Wheel of Fortune. Some add more strategic elements while others bring a level of chance, but how you customise your game is up to you – you can use as many or as few additions as you like.

Scoring this will be a pain in the butt. Always is.

So, six of us were playing, and it was the first time for four of them. Did they enjoy it? Well, they said they did, but what really showed that they had fun was when one of the guys poked me on Skype in the week to let me know he’s ordered his own base set to play this weekend with his mates. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a successful gateway game. Another gamer joins the fold, and it’s thanks to this (deserved) winner of the 2001 Spiel des Jahres. It’s one of the biggest selling releases of all time for a reason, you know…

Carcassonne was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and first published in 2000. It’s currently available through many different publishers including Rio Grande Games and Hans im Glück. The base game handles between two and five players and is available in the UK for around £15-£20. There’s also an Xbox Live version available as well as an excellent interpretation on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad – no excuse not to play!

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News and Stuff – 4th June 2010

After last week being a pretty slow one in news, this time around there’s loads to talk about – most notably, the biggie when it comes to awards. Yes, it’s that time of year again – the 2010 Spiel des Jahres shortlist has been announced. Five titles are up for the award this year:

* Dixit – designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, published by Asmodee

* Indentik (also known as Portrayal) – designed by Amanda Kohout and William Jacobson, also published by Asmodee

* A la carte – designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel, published by Heidelberger Spieleverlag

* Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age – designed by Matt Leacock, published by Gryphon Games

* Fresco – designed by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning, published by Queen Games

What surprised me about this year’s lineup is the simpleness of it all. I’d say only one out of the five is a reasonably hardcore boardgame (Fresco) and even I was able to play that without messing up too badly. Something else to note is the age of some of the nominees – A la carte first came out in 1989! The rule with the SdJ is that it needs to have been released in Germany within the last year, though, so original release dates don’t really matter. All five games have their good and bad sides, but for me… well, I’d like to see the nod go to either Dixit or Roll Through The Ages (and not just because RTTA designer Matt Leacock was on episode three of the show). There was also a special award (“Spiel des Jahres Plus”) for a game they felt deserved a particular mention – World Without End, the follow up to Pillars Of The Earth. The winner of this year’s prize will be officially announced on June 28th, and with luck you’ll be able to hear from them soon after on a forthcoming episode of The Little Metal Dog Show. Also, if you fancy giving Roll Through The Ages a go and have an iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad (you lucky bugger), it’s currently available on the App Store for £2.99 – bargain!

Staying on the subject of the triumvirate of Apple devices (well, the smaller ones, anyway) – The official adaptation of Carcassonne app was submitted to the powers that be earlier this week and is now available for purchase. Adding to the rapidly increasing selection of board game adaptations (of varying degrees of quality) is certainly a good thing, and from the development team’s Twitter feed it looks like this version will be on the decent side. Very early reviews are also very positive. Online multiplayer with push notification when it’s your turn seems to be the order of the day, as well as games against the AI. An official iPad version is also planned for release later in the year, but this one seems to scale up pretty nicely to the bigger screen. Will it be as good as the Xbox Live version though? We shall see soon enough!

Finally, this weekend sees the annual UK Games Expo taking place in sunny Birmingham. After starting small a few years ago, it has become the country’s biggest gaming event, covering everything from board and card games to wargaming, minis and even Live Action Role Playing. There are demos of games new and old, plenty of traders, talks, book signings and workshops, so plenty to do! I’ll be there on the Saturday, wandering around looking bemused – report to follow sometime this weekend.

That’s it for this week, but don’t forget to grab the latest edition of the show – currently on iTunes, it’s got interviews with SdJ nominee Matt Leacock and ace filmmaker Lorien Green. Should you fear Apple’s behemoth, you can grab the show directly from here! Just right click and save. Anything you want to tell me? Then email littlemetaldog@gmail.com or grab me on Twitter – I’m idlemichael. Thanks for reading!

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Digital Love – Boardgaming on your 360

Good as it is to get your mates, gather around a table and throw some dice or cards around, sometimes it’s difficult to get stuff organised. In this age of technology there are many options available to people who want to get a game going though: there are many websites out there that offer the chance to play against real people or AI bots – BrettSpielWelt and gamesIplay both spring to mind, for example. Along with those, there are often flash versions of games on their official sites; Blokus is a good example, as mentioned in my recent review. iPhone versions are ubiquitous as well – the App Store is teeming with conversions and adaptations of great games. Online multiplayer is a bit of a rarity, but it doesn’t stop versions of Zooloretto and Catan being enjoyable. And don’t get me started on Words With Friends (actually, do, it’s a brilliant Scrabble clone that you can grab for free).

One great way of getting your fix is settling down in front of the TV with a controller in your hand and firing up your Xbox 360. While the PS3 is a great machine, it must be said that board gaming is not a well represented genre on the PlayStation Network. XBox Live Arcade is a much better proposition – there’s a fair few classics up there to play, and more to come. Dig into the Indie Games service and you’ll find yet more examples. To whet your appetite, here’s a list of five of the best on XBLA (and if you fancy a game of any of them, add me on Live; my GamerTag is Sumimasen).

Settlers of Catan:

Sun-Tzu? We're screwed! He wrote The Art of War!

The daddy of them all! The gateway classic is well adapted on 360, although I really wouldn’t bother playing against the AI. You really need to be playing Catan with mates online for one simple reason: The Trading. Once the computer opponents get it into their virtual brains what they want, they’ll cycle through the same offers of wood for sheep again and again and again. And again. With real people though, it’s a much better proposition – the interface is really easy to use, the tutorial is straightforward and graphically it’s very pleasing. Probably one of the better board games on Live.

Lost Cities:

I have no idea why I like this game so much.

It’s true – I’m an absolute junkie for Lost Cities. Probably my favourite 2-player game, it’s the story of two competing explorers going off on expeditions by playing numbered cards. Way better than it sounds, I promise. Playing in real life can be a bit of a pain for some people because it involves some pretty nasty maths, but that’s where the Live version improves the experience: it does all of the calculations for you, so even the numerically lazy can enjoy this fine game. Annoyingly it isn’t actually available on Live at the moment – it was published by Sierra Games who were recently bought out by Activision. Toys were thrown out of prams and Lost Cities was removed – it’s due to come back, though. The sooner the better.

Carcassonne:

If they forget about Farmers, punish them.

One of the best implementations of a board game on XBLA, Carcassonne was actually the first one released on the service. You can really tell that the developers love this game. It’s so easy to play, even a novice will be able to pick it up within moments – place tiles using the control stick and A, spin them with the triggers, and that’s it. The game even shows you spaces it’s fine to lay your tiles down – no mistakes here. There seems to be a decent amount of regular online opponents and the AI is pretty intelligent too, offering up a decent challenge. A nice touch is that you can also download a few of the expansions available for a small extra charge – but whoever you play with will need those expansions too, so if you’re looking for a human player to go against, make sure you’re set at the basic version.

Magic: The Gathering:

Wait until I throw out my Black Lotus.

I actually played Magic: The Gathering – Duels of The Planeswalkers (to give it the full name) before I tried out the actual CCG. In retrospect this was a pretty good call, simply because the XBLA game gives you a really simple introduction to the card game’s rules. You’re given a starter set of cards to play with, going up against a range of AI opponents – beat them and you’ll unlock new ones which you can then put into your deck. The computer characters offer up some pretty hefty challenges as you progress further into the game – this is no easy ride, especially as you near the end. You can also take it online against human opponents, but be ready to have your arse kicked – there are some scarily good players out there.

Ticket to Ride:

San Francisco to New York via Houston and Montreal. WHO'S WITH ME?

Up to five players can participate (real, AI or a mix) in Ticket to Ride – the original game is up on XBLA along with the European version, though like any expansion it’ll cost you a few extra Microsoft Points. Games can be completed pretty quickly as you don’t have the worry of tiny trains spilling out all over the place – everything is put down for you automatically, and routes and cards are very easy to select. It’s one of the more expensive offerings on the Marketplace, but it’s such a good way to play it I don’t begrudge the price.

So there you go – five ways to both hog the television and play some classic board games. If you want more, the best way is to try them out (and of course if you like them, buy them). It may not be as good as setting stuff up on your table, but they’re all good interpretations and well worth giving a try – and if you see me online, give me a shout!

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