Monday, February 27, 2006

Carcassonne: The Wargame

One key to happiness – GAMES

For those of you who think the original Carcassonne game is too simple, soft, slow, or whatever, here is a suggestion. This is actually an inadvertent variation that we have played for four years, simply because we did not understand one of the rules. The one rule change that causes Carcassonne to become a “wargame” is to allow a player to place a meeple on any field, city, or road on the tile he plays, regardless whether it connects to the same type of feature already on the board with a meeple on it. This allows players to constantly compete for the majority of meeples on those features, to win all the points of them, or even to share the points of a very large city or road or a field that touches many completed cities. It is especially cutthroat when played with both the Traders and Builders and the Inns and Cathedrals expansions.

Think of the meeples as paratroopers who drop onto a battlefield about which little is known, because of the fog of war. The soldiers are essentially mapping the area as they arrive and trying to hold or take control of the most valuable cities, roads, and land (fields). As battles are concluded (finished roads or cities), soldiers are returned to base and are available for future deployment. Engineers are available (Builders), as are production units (Pigs), and one paratroop group carries surprisingly effective weapons (the large meeple). Cities with valuable stores (silk cloth, barrels of wine, and grain supplies, as well as the political value of cathedrals) are the most precious targets. Cloisters are even more defendable than Monte Cassino – no other army can take one from you.

The analogy plays out well, especially in cities, where a number of troops frequently gather, to take control of a large metropolis. Valuable transportation systems (roads with inns on lakes) are also frequent targets for combat. Near the end of the game, troops are often dropped into strategic locations in open spaces (fields), to hold as much territory as possible for the final victory.

So, if any wargamers out there want a slightly different challenge, try this variation of Carcassonne, which can include some interesting strategic and tactical decisions. It is a much more lively, confrontational, challenging game, which requires decisions regarding when to avoid a conflict, when to initiate one, and when to call a truce (and allow everyone with troops on the feature to score the points). You can sometimes employ spies, sneak into a city and steal all the valuable stores, while others are battling for control of the city (complete a city, taking the cloth, barrels, and wheat, without having a meeple in it). It just takes a little imagination to make Carcassonne into a conflict simulation, of sorts.

I believe Hunters & Gatherers could become the Battlefield of the Tribes, by making the same rule change. Also, consider playing Carcassonne (or H&G) in teams, allowing team members to combine their troops in cities, roads, and fields (or forests, rivers, and valleys), to outnumber their opponents. There are some intriguing possibilities here.

If you try either game with this simple rule change, let me know what you think. In the meantime, don’t consider Carcassonne to be just a friendly family game. There is much opportunity for confrontation, back-stabbing, negotiating, diplomacy, and other fun, war-like activities waiting for your enjoyment.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006

aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

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