Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carson City - Western Town Building Game

After my tenth round of listening to Dwight Sings Buck I thought it might be nice to review a western themed game. Happily I was able to track down Carson City, a town building game which is about to appear in a second printing.

In the game of Carson City the players compete to build and develop and area of western desert. Some players may build mines, others hotels or ranches. There are a variety of ways to score victory points and the winner is the person with the most points after four turns. The basic mechanism of play in Carson City is straightforward. In a given turn a player may claim some land, build structures or roads on land, rob another player's building, or simply try and earn money based on how many building or followers they have. A player may try any one of the above or do several. At the end of the turn victory points are added to the player's total and the next turn begins.

Carson City adds a number of twists to the gameplay. Each turn the players choose a "character" that they will be for the duration of the turn. each character gives some benefit in play. For example, the person who is the "grocer" can earn much more money for their buildings. The "settler" gets a lot of land immediately for free. Players have to decide which character is going to help them the most in a given turn.

There is also a limit on certain actions. For example, only one player can collect victory points based on the number of buildings they own per turn. Certain buildings may be present in limited supply. Whenever two players want to do the same action the fight a "duel." Duels seem to be best avoided so the result is that you may not be able to do exactly what you want in a given turn and there may be some racing to see who can build the church or collect income from property at any given time.

The concept of changing your character each turn combined with being able to earn victory points in several ways is pretty typical of contemporary gaming. There does not seem to be a single "best" way to play Carson City. You can try robbing other players, building property, having lots of followers, or just earning lots of money and then buying victory points with the cash. In one sense it makes for lots of interesting strategy and good replay value. In another sense this can be baffling and irritating for some beginners. Some players find that a lot of choices is overwhelming. If your target audience includes a lot of players of that sort then Carson City will be a huge disaster.

I think Carson City has a lot of potential to be fun. It mixes concepts form many other games in a way that verges on derivative rather than inventive but I think that just makes it a "B" game rather than a classic like Race for the Galaxy or Citadels (both of which have elements that end up in Carson City and are themselves based on earlier games). I would recommend introducing Carson City in the sense of "let's just try this and see how it goes," rather than "this is exactly how to win, now let's aim for exactly that goal." I think players will discover the game's flow through playing it and as they do they will find fun strategies and ways to score. That was how my players approached Dominion and that became a gaming stable. Hopefully your crowd will feel the same way about Carson City.

I haven't checked but I suspect you can find Carson City at Pandemonium Books in Central Square.

Pros: lots of options and surprising ways to win

Cons: potentially too many options and surprising ways to win

Beyond the Basics: Decent replay value and a good introduction to other similar games

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