Carcassonne was originally released by Hans im Gluck in 2000. It won the SdJ that year, and since has become a phenomenon. There are now 4 large Carcassonne supplements, 4 small Carassonne supplements, and 5 variant games. Within our Eurogame community, only The Settlers of Catan has been more successful in sheer bulk of releases.
This week I’m beginning a series that will analyze that phenomenon — talking about how Carcassonne works and also examining how the game system has changed over the last six years. This first installment will examine the mechanics of the original game, while in future articles I’ll be talking about how the game’s evolution through a series of expansions and new games.
In early 2003 I wrote a series of what would eventually become 20 or so articles on the topic of strategic game design. They appeared in my Skotos column,Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities, and I later reprinted them as a group in my RPGnet column, Thinking Virtually.
It’s now been almost three years since I finished up the core of the series, and I haven’t quite decided what to do with it. I’ve learned a lot about board game design since, so I could revise them quite a bit for posting here, but on the other hand there’s enough material for a book if I could find someone to publish it.
So, I’m leaving those articles in stasis for now, but at the same time I do want to talk about some of the ideas I originated there. Thus, I’ve decided to write up this article, which is a summary of some of my design ideas, and a general outline of how I analyze board game design, part-by-part. Consider it a definition of terms. (And if you prefer to go read the entire original and somewhat out-of-date series, it’s available at Skotos.)
Broadly I think a game can be defined using the following elements: components, activity, decisions, luck, and victory.
Last year I wrote about luck in board games, with attention to the fact that most well-designed luck in games actually asks you to balance risk versus reward.
Last week I played two luck-filled board games, Parthenon and The Settlers of Zarahemla, and in each case I lost due to some “bad luck”. But, I was entirely happy with the results because the losses were ultimately the result of me risking and losing — and that’s exactly how I think it should be in a game with a random factor. Thus, I’d like to use these two game sessions as case studies, to show what good, controllable luck looks like, and how you can risk and lose.
Last week I wrote up mini-reviews of six different computerized board games. This week I’d like to enlarge on that topic a little bit by describing some lessons learned: my own personal “do’s” and “don’t's” list for computerized board game design, offered as advice to future computerized board game designers.
For me this has been a great Winter, with the release of two computerized board games, Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder and Puerto Rico from Eagle Games. Don’t get me wrong: I love tabletop games. That’s clearlythe proper way to play These Games of Ours, because you get the joy of the physical components and real interactions with real people.
Sometimes, however, I prefer a solitaire experience, and for this I look hopefully toward PC conversions. And, I’m not talking about games that allow good online play. That might be a nice add-on, but if I want to kick a game out in 5-30 minutes I don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s slowness, and if I’m feeling tired or grumpy, I don’t want there to be any expectation that I’m going to actually talk to someone else. So I look hopefully not just toward PC conversions, but toward PC conversions with good AIs that can really give me a challenge.
Over the last couple of years I’ve played slews of these games in web-based forms, but the best are inevitably those that I can download from a professional site or purchase on a CD, and I’ve decided to offer an overview of those today. You’ll find them listed below, from my favorite to my least favorite, with some comments about what makes them good … and what doesn’t.