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Xavier Georges


No. of Players:
2 - 5

G@mebox Star



In recent years meeples in placement games had a quite exciting life, and so they could build a cathedral at Kingsbridge, a castle at Caylus or even a Stone-age village. This year they have decided to cross the great Altlantic Ocean, and now they have arrived as cowboys in the Wild West, helping the players to construct the town of Carson City. With the still lasting boom of worker placement games as an ideal background, author Xavier Georges has convinced QUINED WHITE GOBLIN not only to publish his new game, but actually QWG has added a special edition of the game to their limited book-case series, making it the fifth game in the circle.

Turning towards the gameboard, the players find themselves in command of a group of cowboys who have just arrived at a peaceful patch of land where somebody has erected a house and gave this shack the spectacular name "Carson City". Seeing the potential of the surrounding area with green rangelands and some mountains full of precious metals, the players have decided to stay in order to play a part in the development of the city. Thus, the main part of the gameboard shows a grid of 8 times 8 parcels, with a few of them containing mountains and one of them containing a house-tile which has been surrounded on all four sides with roads. The whole initial setup was decided by the roll of dice so that the players will find a different setup with every game, and the gameboard even offers a backside featuring a river which can be used by advanced players. Among some coloured property tiles which are used for marking parcels acquired by the players, the players themselves receive three cowboys, one road and $15 as basic equipment. As final preparation, a line of seven character cards is placed next to the gameboard, and some building tiles and a "3 Guns" markers are placed on the snakelike action track on the gameboard.

The game runs for a total duration of four rounds, and in every round the players will determine their actions by placing their cowboy figures either at a parcel on the gameboard or at a space on the action track. The functioning of the action track is somewhat similar to the progression of a turn in Caylus, with every space of the action track being associated with a certain kind of action or benefit for the player who successfully placed a cowboy there. However, the Wild West always has been dangerous, and so Carson City actually allows more than one player to place a cowboy at the same space. When the actions will be performed, all spaces containing two or more cowboys will see a duel, with each player determining his firepower by adding up his gun markers and the unused cowboys still in his personal stockpile. In addition, a dice is rolled and added to each player's firepower. The player with the highest result wins the duel and is allowed to use the action associated with the particular space, whereas the looser(s) take his cowboy back into his personal stockpile, loosing the action but having a slight bonus in additional duels in the same round due to the returned cowboy. As you can see, Carson City is much more confrontative than other worker placement games due to the possibility to compete for the use of a desired action or parcel. The duels certainly introduce a luck factor which is somewhat unusual to this kind of games, but on the other hand they are an attractive solution to offer some uncertainty and instability which offers the players ample room for speculation and for waging risks.

Turning to the action track, the first four spaces of the track create some additional income to the players in form of money and roads, and one of the spaces allows the gaining of the "3 Guns" marker which will increase the firepower of the player who wins this action for the rest of the round. The map on the gameboard becomes involved with the parcel purchase space. No cowboys have been placed there, but instead the players will look at the parcels containing cowboy figures. After duels have been determined, the players with a cowboy left at a yet owner-free parcel is allowed to purchase it and to place one of his property tiles there. The parcel price is increased for every neighbouring parcel containing a building or a mountain since these features have an influence on the income which can be generated on the acquired parcel.

To generate income, the players must own appropriate buildings, and so the following spaces on the action track offer an assortment of randomly drawn building markers for purchase. If a player successfully purchases a building, he may either keep it in his personal stockpile or - usually the better option - he may instantly place it onto one of his parcels on the map. Here the precondition must be met that the parcel on which the building is constructed must be adjacent to a road, and so a player first is allowed to place one or more of the roads in his personal stockpile to extend the ring-road which was placed around the first house tile on the gameboard. Most of the buildings will draw additional inhabitants to the town, and so the players are required to place an additional free house tile anywhere on the gameboard (provided the parcel can be reached by a road and does not contain a building, a house or a mountain).

The action phase then continues with some spaces generating a basic income for each parcel and for each point of firepower a player possesses, plus an additional gambling option which creates a variable income. However, in terms of income the space for estate income is most important, since once again no cowboys were allowed on that space, but instead all buildings on the gameboard are evaluated and create income for their respective owners. Now the features on the eight spaces surrounding a building are of real importance, since the income of a building gets higher with every matching feature in the area. Thus, a Ranch profits from empty rangelands, a Mine from mountains or a Saloon from houses, but the players also need to observe some special rules which are associated with some of the buildings. Thus, the Mine, the Ranch and the Prison generate additional firepower for their owner, or the Hotel counts for two houses when evaluating adjacent buildings. Jealous players actually may try to participate in another player profits by sending one of their cowboys into a building to steal half of its income, but here an adjacent church protects a player's buildings from such an attack. The Drugstore and the Bank finish the choice of available buildings, and both of these profit both from adjacent houses and Ranches / Mines owned.

The final spaces on the action track are associated with the generation of victory points, and here victory points may be gained for parcels, buildings or firepower and they even can be purchased for money. However, once again it must be kept in mind that such an action only will be performed by the player who successfully has placed a cowboy there, and so there is no automatic generation of victory points in the course of the game, and even though some final points are distributed for the player's possessions at the end of the game everybody will need to keep an eye on the fact that they need to generate enough victory points during the four rounds of play.

At the end of a round buildings which were not purchased will get cheaper and the players get some of their cowboys back. However, I have not yet explained the use of the seven character cards which were placed next to the gameboard, and their distribution each round depends on the players' order, which in turn depends on the placement of the cowboys. Thus, a player gets a better rank in the players' order the sooner he finishes placing his cowboys, and apart from retaining more cowboys in a personal stockpile to generate firepower this also means an early choice of a character card at the beginning of the next turn. Each of the seven characters gives the players as special action for the ongoing round, and so the Sheriff means an additional cowboy-figure which cannot be challenged to a duel, the Settler allows the taking of an owner-free parcel, the Captain recruits additional cowboys and the Mercenary increases a player's firepower. Some money is received if a player choses the Banker, roads and a rebate on building purchases is provided by the Chinese Worker and the Grocer doubles the income of one of the player's building types.

To my mind Xavier Georges succeeded rather well in finetuning the different options available to the players in Carson City, and on first playtesting I could see no single winning strategy but the players can try different ways to win. Much depends on the individual layout of the gameboard and the choice of available buildings each round so that the players will be faced with a new constellation in every game, and to add even more variety not only the river-variant on the backside of the gameboard was provided, but in addition several other optional rules have been included. Thus, each character has a second side listing a different attribute, and the game also includes duel tiles which can be used instead of a dice to make duels more deterministic. The also included "Kit Carson" variant is very demanding, since in this variant the players are allowed to act simultaneously in the cowboy placement phase. Each player is allowed to move his cowboys freely on the gameboard until he declares that his placement is over and takes his place on the players' order. Although this might sound quite chaotic, the challenge is even higher because players now have a chance to react to other player's placements, possibly avoiding duels by chosing other less popular spaces. However, the pressure in this variant is immense due to the reward of a good positioning on the players' order if a player finishes early, and so hectic situations are alternating with phases in which everybody waits and sees.

With all these special turns and twists the game outclasses similar looking games like Oregon which was released by HANS IM GLÜCK in 2007. Most remarkable for me is the fact that Carson City not only successfully integrates an element of luck and risk taking which I am missing in some other worker placement games, but instead the author actually includes enough variant materials to suit the taste of different gaming groups. Thus, the duel tiles make the game more strategic by removing the dice, and the "Kit Carson" variant actually adds some direct interaction on the player level. Overall, Carson City for me is one of the highlights of the SPIEL 09, and I keep my fingers crossed that perhaps some kind of expansion like a Railroad or additional characters will be sent into the West!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany