Saturday!

1983 Chutes and Ladders Game Commercial

Carcassonne is one of those board games that has a lot of randomness, without a whole lot of chance, if you know what I mean.

Okay. Fair enough. You might not. Well, how’s this? There are a lot of games that rely on a throw of the dice to decide what happens next. Chutes and Ladders being the quintessential example. You’re at number 59. You’re feeling pretty good. You got to where you are because of a handful of good spins that resulted in you not only mowing the lawn and, thus, going to the circus but also eating nutritiously and, therefore, growing. So you spin the dial and you’re hoping for anything but a 3. A 5 would be bad, because that would result in goofing off on your bike and getting your arm in a sling but, let’s face it, you’re only going to lose 4 spaces and go back to number 60 which is still a net benefit. But, of course, you spin a 3 and you’ve decided to carry too many plates at once and they’re now all in pieces on the floor.

Which, now that I think about it, is kind of messed up. Plates, after all, are just plates. But a broken arm might feel like just a broken arm when you’re 10, but when you’re 45? You’ll be finding out that you can’t do stuff because you were screwing around on your bike 35 years ago. Like certain workouts or certain kinds of manual labor.

Anyway, Carcassonne isn’t like that. Carcassonne is more of a game that involves creating a medieval landscape. You shuffle a bunch of tiles randomly. Someone figures out whose turn it is to go first. That person then takes, one of the tiles at random. That person then places the randomly taken tile onto the map.

Each tile has a handful of small features that might resolve in it being unique. It definitely has a field on it. It might have a road on it. It might have a monastery on it. It might have a city on it. If it has a city on it, it might have a city with one border (a small one), a city with two borders (a less small one), a city with three borders (a huge one), or a city with four borders (dude, it takes up the whole square).

You get your square, you look down at the playable area, and you place your square accordingly. Once places, you then have the option of placing a “meeple”. You can only place a “meeple” within certain point scoring areas… that is, only within the potentially point scoring city, the potentially point scoring monastery, the potentially point scoring road, or the potentially point scoring meadow (the grassland that is contiguous but can, potentially, go on forever).

When the potential of any given place is actualized, the “meeple” is removed from the board and placed back in the player’s bank of “meeples” and points are given to the player accordingly. (Don’t worry. Your “meeples” give you points for your yet uncompleted stuff at the end of the game… so a building that is missing its borders to only one small wall at the western tip? You’ll get points for the building. The only cost is that the “meeple” holding watch over your building can’t return to your “meeple” pool).

Does this sound complicated? Know that, in practice, it isn’t. You’re building a map of a medieval township collaboratively with your co-player fiends. Except they’re trying to prevent you from scoring points and you’re trying to prevent them from scoring points. So if you’ve got only one piece that you need to complete a road or a castle or a monastery or something and they have it? Well, they’re going to put it somewhere else entirely. So you’re going to hope that you’re going to get it… and, let’s face it, you won’t. So you’ll want to build your stuff in such a way that it has generic tips to attach to… a road without a particular city border next to it… or a meadow without a road going straight through it (though a right turn would be okay). And, after you placed a tile, you check your stock of “meeples” and you place one if you’d like to do so on the road, or in the city, or in the meadow, or in the monastery. (The only thing from preventing you from placing a “meeple” is that if another “meeple” has already claimed the area that your tile’s placement would allow… so you can’t put your “meeple” in a city where another “meeple” is already squatting… but you can place your “meeple” in a city space adjacent to a city and if your next tile just so happens to connect your “meeple” to a city previously controlled by your opponent’s “meeple”, well, you both get points for the city.)

And then each of you draws a tile and then places the tile according to the rules of where a tile may be placed (you can’t put a meadow next to a road, you can’t put an unwalled city next to a meadow, so on and so forth) and then, at the end of the game, you count up the points of your woulda-coulda-shoulda “meeples” and then figure out who won.

And I have recently figured out that I am an okay player against other human players and that, against computer players, I might as well be no challenge at all. A null hypothesis. A random number generator would do better. I’m not even talking about “difficult”. I’m talking about “easy”.

And so while I’m writing various essays, I’m playing Carcassonne in another window. And losing.

So if you’re playing it for the first time, play it against other humans. It’s only about 25 bucks.

So… what are you playing?

(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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6 thoughts on “Saturday!

  1. I enjoy Carcassonne, but it turned out to be a little too much chance for my strategy game group and too much strategy for my gaming-averse family. So mostly I just play on the app (which besides the usual benefits of digi-gaming also helpfully shows you when there’s no tile left that can be played at a given space on the board).

    I’ve found that it’s easier to beat the AI on the iOS app by playing the Inns & Cathedrals expansion — they like to battle over a big city that’s often incomplete at the end, and it’s satisfying to drop a cathedral on it to make sure no one gets a load of points out of it.

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