Dusting Off Some Older Titles

Lisa and I have been on a big gaming kick the last few days dusting off Lost Cities, Hacienda, Mesopotamia (above), and Carcassonne The City (below and my personal favorite of the Carc-series).

An external door latch seized up on me this evening so I’m going to hold off writing much on our recent gaming adventure. I’ve got to focus on being able to get back in the house. The way the latch is working now, you can go outside but you can’t come back in. The joys of home ownership.


Okay…I’ve had a few minutes of free time to ponder the games we’ve played in the last few days. Firstly, I’m having a great time playing a lot of games. Playing a game every night is a new experience for me and having Lisa be the initiator has been refreshing.

The last time I played Mesopotamia was in April, 2006. We played with four, got a couple of rules wrong, but had a good time. When playing with two, you remove 6 “plains” tiles in an attempt to trigger a level of interaction similar to games with more players. The plains tiles are needed to build huts and to build holy places, an absolute requirement to “birth” new tribesmen onto the board, to move your four offering tokens onto the board and into play, and to increase the rate at which you collect “mana”.

When we played with four, the board was relatively chaotic with a relatively high degree of player interaction. With two however, I broke one direction around the temple and Lisa broke the other and about the only interaction we had was some minor squabbling over a stone field out our mutual border on the far side of the temple. Lisa was drowning in plains tiles and had many of the resource tiles but by the end of the game we’d each eventually gotten what we needed and although I won, Lisa could have delivered her final offering token on the turn immediately following my last.

The game has an amazing visual appeal but has some odd rule quirks and mildly annoying fiddliness (e.g. did I score my mana points this round?). I like the game but I felt with two it lacked the level of interaction that keeps it interesting. It’s still a good game but without player interaction, the game is reduced to a logic puzzle of efficiency and luck (i.e. land tile and card draws). I would play it again with two but I would recommend more players and suspect it plays best with four.

It has been years since I’ve played Carcassonne – The City. We used to play Carc Inns and Cathedrals often but grew bored of the repetitive play and relatively singular strategy. I’ve always felt that The City was the most tactically interesting member of the Carc series but still it didn’t see the table. So what does The City have over regular Carc? You divide the tiles into three stacks (30 tiles, 25 tiles, 20 tiles) and play the game over three rounds.

The first round you play with basically the same rules as plain-jane Carc with the exception that when you lay a tile, only the roads have to align. Although seemingly simple, it is rather visually jarring to have green areas “chopped off” by brown. Scoring is somewhat different with roads scoring one per tile unless the road gets longer than three and then each tiles scored two. The green areas (somewhat like cities in the standard Carc) are markets and there are three different colors of flags on the market tiles. When a market is closed off, the majority stake holder receives points relative to the number of tiles in the market multiplied by one, two, or three (depending on how many colors where present in the market). The brown areas (played like farms) award players two points per adjacent market at the end of the game.

When the first stack of tiles is exhausted you begin to place tiles from the second stack but during this phase, any time a placed tile triggers somewhat to be awarded points a wall-building (and tower-building) phase is triggered. During the building phase, players are given wall segments and place them (one at a time) around the perimeter of the board. Building begins from an initial gate piece and slowly surrounds the city from the left and right of the gate. As expected, walls limit city grown. As an added benefit, a wall builder can place a meeple on the wall which grants points at the end of the game for how many special features (gray colored buildings) the meeple can see as he overlooks the tiles in the column or row in which he’s placed. The third round is played much like the second with the exception that more wall segments are built each time scoring is triggered.

Some differences from standard Carc are readily apparent. It is a lot more difficult to “horn in” on a feature someone is building due to the relaxed constraints when placing a tile. On the flip side you can easily truncate another players market or farm with most any tile you draw. During the second and third rounds, tension builds because you may want to score a feature or stop another player from scoring more points but doing so can trigger wall building at a time that may not be advantageous to you. Allowing others to build walls and place meeples overlooking profitable rows or columns can be disastrous.

I enjoyed the game but with two, the level of interaction is predictable. With four the game may bog down since there is relatively little you can do but watch when it’s not your turn. I haven’t played many Carc variants but of the ones I have played, this is my favorite. The tension of when to trigger wall building and the timing of a good supply of meeples once it starts is fun.

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