El Grande & The Art of Majority Control

El GrandeEl Grande (1995), by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, is one of the foundational games of the eurogame genre. I still try to play it at least once a year, but I’ve never written an in-depth discussion of it, so I wanted to take the event of this year’s play to talk about it a little bit.

The Majority Control

At heart, El Grande is a majority-control game — or really, the majority-control game that defined much of what followed in eurogames. You place cubes into regions on the board and you try to have just enough to beat your opponents. It’s a simple recipe of efficiency mixed with risk-reward.

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A Second Look at Expansions (or: The Expansion Expansion)

Several years ago, I looked at expansions in board games. At the time, I concentrated on how the expansions were integrated into the games, and offered the theory that expansions that were permanently added to games weren’t that great, but when you could (optionally) choose to use them or when you could replace some core game system (or even the whole game), things worked better.

It’s now six years later, and I’ve seen many more expansions come and go — some successful and some not — and so I wanted to attack the topic again by instead examining what game expansions do. Along the way, I’ll use examples from some of the more recent games I’ve been playing, such as 7 Wonders (2010), Innovation (2010), Kingdom Builder (2011), and Ascension (2010).

So, how do you expand a game?

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My Fives and Dimes: 2011

Games that you played five or ten times in a year (five and dimes) have been used as a barometer of the board gaming world for years. Here’s what made my five and dime board gaming list in 2011:

Dominion — 19 plays

My winner for the year was Dominion, which made 19 plays, many of those after the releases of Cornucopia and Hinterlands. This also made Dominion my most-played board game ever, with its 94 tabletop plays edging out the 93 plays across all variants of Ticket to Ride.
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A Wife’s Perspective

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I asked my wife to write an article for Boardgame News. Though Kimberly enjoys the occasional game, she’s by no means a serious gamer. Thus she offers a unique perspective on what games your loved one might enjoy. So, consider this a guide to games you might play with your non-gaming-spouse-or-girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, and an insight into why those or other games might be enjoyable. You might even print it out and give to them, so that they can decide for themselves if any of the games sound fun.

As for us, maybe we’ll play some Carcassonne or Lost Cities after a nice dinner out tonight at our favorite Cajun restaurant.

I’ll now turn things over to my wife, Kimberly Appelcline —SA Continue reading

Anatomy of a Game: The Carcassonne Standalones, Part Two: Rules Changes

Welcome to what just might be my last game design article on Carcassonne. In case you’ve missed them I’ve written five previously. The first four extensively covered the main game and its expansions while the last article instead looked at the standalone variants, and examined how their tile selection and scoring differed.

This week I’ll be continuing my look at the six standalone Carcassonne games and taking a look at how each one offers different answers to some major game design questions. I’ve identified three major elements, each of which differs quite a bit from game to game. Examining them offers some interesting insights both into game design and how the Carcassonne series has changed and evolved. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Game: The Carcassonne Standalones, Part One: Tiles and Scores

Last year I wrote a series on game design articles on the original Carcassonne and the expansions for that game. If you haven’t read them yet, those articles are:

I’ve long intended to to follow those articles with another part or two talking about the game design of the Carcassonne stand-alone games, and now I’ve finally been encouraged to do so by the publication of my Carcassonne overview in Knucklebones Magazine.

So, what are the Carcassonne expansions, and what do they bring to the original game?

This week I’m going to start off by talking about the games, the tile distributions, and scoring, particularly focusing on how changes to the tiles and scoring change the feel of the later games. Then in two weeks I’m going to finish up the topic by talking about more far-reaching rules changes.

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Carcassonne: Not Just a City in France

Knucklebones: May 2007This is a reprint of an article written in December, 2006 for first publication in the May, 2007 issue of the now-defunct Knucklebones magazine. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.

In the late 1990s Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, a German music teacher, took a vacation in southern France. He was following the track of the Cathars, a Catholic heresy that flourished in the area in the 12th and 13th centuries. The walled French town of Carcassonne was an obvious stop on Wrede’s pilgrimage because it had been a stronghold of the Cathars until 1209, when the famous crusader Simon de Montfort took the town as part of the Albignesian Crusade.

For most people a stop in Carcassonne would be a memorable event on a vacation but little more. However for Wrede, the town of Carcassonne stayed with him. Long a gameplayer, Wrede now decided to try his hand at designing a game that captured his vision of Medieval Carcassonne. He wanted to create a game “in which … a medieval landscape developed and different power groups fought for influence” (my translation).

I winced when I saw the tile that my opponent had drawn. It showed a tiny road turning into a glorious medieval city, with fields running along the other two edges. It was exactly the tile that she needed, and as she placed it, merging my field to hers, I could imagine her farmers marching across the tile in victory. She’d just won the game.

Unless I could get the tile I needed on my next draw.

The result was Carcassonne, which has now spawned over a dozen sequels that have together sold over half a million copies in the United States alone.

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