Sunday 31 October 2021

revisiting Carcassonne

3 Oct 2021. I brought out Carcassonne again. The previous play was Sep 2019. I had thought it was much longer ago than that. Carcassonne by now has reached classic status. Published in 2000, it won both the 2001 Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis. It is not as popular now compared to its heyday. In the 00's, it was almost like a mandatory game for new gamers. Now it is no longer surprising for newer gamers to have not tried it. Carcassonne has a special place in my heart because it was among a handful of games I played a lot of when I got into the hobby. My copy is the first edition. The current edition has different artwork for both the box cover and the tiles. 

My copy is a German version bought at Witch House in Taipei. I still remember when I first learnt the game, it just felt weird to me. I wasn't wowed into buying a copy immediately. In fact, I didn't think that highly of it. Being unfamiliar with Eurogames, I thought the best games should be like Axis & Allies and Samurai Swords. Thankfully I eventually did buy a copy. When I taught my wife and my friends the game, they all loved it. I too grew to be quite fond of it. 

One phrase we used to say when playing Carcassonne was farmers work lying down. When we placed a meeple as a farmer, we had it lie down to remind us that this meeple could no longer be retrieved until the end of the game. One important element which makes Carcassonne so much fun is how everyone can persuade, bribe and even threaten the active player when they are contemplating how to place their tile. We try to coax fellow players into collaborations. We remind them not to inadvertently help other players. 

This is the current box art, with a bit more depth of field. 

Originally I only intended to play with my wife Michelle. At the time younger daughter Chen Rui was at the table, so I asked whether she wanted to join us. She said yes, and picked black, because she always wears black. My customary colour was green, and Michelle's red. Michelle and I have been playing Carcassonne since before we had kids, and now Chen Rui is already 15. 

My Carcassonne is quite the Frankenstein, containing many expansions. I have the first expansion, which is almost essential. I call this the fat boy expansion because it comes with the big meeple. The official name is Inns & Cathedrals. I also have Abbey & Mayor. In this particular game, I used the tiles but not the various meeples that come with Abbey & Mayor. I have quite a few mini expansions, most of which came with the Spielbox magazine. I don't even remember their names. Since we have many more tiles than the base game, our games go a little longer. 

That huge castle at the centre started since the beginning of the game. If you look closely you can spot the starting tile - the half moon and horizonal straight road tile, just below the cathedral. This castle was not only big, it also had a cathedral, so it scored us about 75 points. Cathedrals are a high risk high reward proposition. If you manage to complete the castle, you score triple instead of double. If you fail, you get nothing. 

Sunday 17 October 2021

Beyond the Sun - Level 4 tech


On 25 Sep 2021 Allen, Han and I played Beyond the Sun again, online. We had played this before, but had never managed to develop a Level 4 tech, so we were keen to attempt that. This time we succeeded. It was Han who developed the Level 4 tech. I wanted to do it too, and if I had insisted, I would have been able to achieve it. At one crucial junction, I picked a colonisation action over a research action. I knew that to forgo research meant I would not likely be able to reach the Level 4 tech before the game ended. I decided to colonise because by doing so I would be first to have four colonies. That would give me achievement points. You can't have everything. That's life. Once anyone claims the first achievement, you know the end is nigh. 

One of the techs Allen developed this game allowed players to jump (move their spaceships) then earn ore if they manage to wrest control from other players. This was a powerful tech that encouraged expansion and aggression. When you wrest control of star systems from others, you are also removing their farm or mine tokens, and adding your own. This is highly lucrative, killing three birds with one stone! Even peaceniks like me couldn't resist the temptation to go on the offensive when the time was right. No I'm not joking, I am a peacenik!

At the top left you see two star system cards instead of one. This was due to a special event giving us an extra star system, which was considered one jump away from the normal star system next to it. This extra star system works the same way as regular star systems. You can control it, place your farm or mine on it, and colonise it. However once colonised, you don't draw another star system card as a replacement. You will return to just having four star systems on the map. 

This was the Level 4 tech which Han eventually developed - Parallel Universe Generator. It is not easy to get to Level 4. In this game if you want to develop a Level 2 tech, you need to have first developed a tech to open a worker placement spot to do that. Same thing for a Level 3 tech and a Level 4 tech. Quite a few stars (figuratively) have to be deliberately aligned. Also, in order to aim for a Level 4 tech in a specific position of the tech tree, you need to make sure you research all the prerequisite techs. Often not all of them align with your strategy, so you will be picking suboptimal research options for the sake of building your research pyramid to reach that Level 4 tech. It takes focus and discipline to get to Level 4. If you research too broadly, you won't be able to build up the pyramid in time before the game ends. 

Level 4 techs give a big boost to your score. The one that was picked in our particular game gave a one-time special ability, which helped greatly in scoring. Having learned this tech also gave an additional scoring criteria at the end of the game. This basically meant two new ways of scoring from a single tech. Being able to research a Level 4 tech in itself is an achievement, and achievements are worth points too. Going for a Level 4 tech is a "do or do not, there is no try" thing. If you want to do it, you have to be committed and not stray from the path. Otherwise you might waste much effort only to fail due to the lack of focus.