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Topics - Whaleyland

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1
As a last hurrah in celebration of Carcassonne’s 20th (sic 21st) anniversary in 2021, Hans im Glück released yet another promotional expansion: The Gifts. Unique among all other Carcassonne expansions, The Gifts is composed of 25 small playing cards that are awarded to a player randomly whenever they add on to another player’s City or Road. The concept implies altruism but, in reality, this is one of the most brutal, cutthroat expansions released to date. These gifts are laced with arsenic.

A Spoonful of Poison
* Unhelpfully Helpful – Great strategy often hinges on a single tile, and when all of your opponents are trying to complete your low-value Roads and Cities to win themselves a Gift, it’s quite frustrating. Gone are the days when nice, mid-sized Roads and Cities are possible. With this expansion, the only ones you will get are small features—because an opponent “helped” you complete it—and large features—because your opponents still want to try and steal them from you.
* Monks Against Synods! – With exceptions for The Count of Carcassonne and The Shrines, Monasteries have been one of the few inviolable features in Carcassonne. Once you place a Monk on a Monastery, it is yours unless some Dragon, Tower, or Plague comes along and boots you off. You could always be assured that the points would come to you eventually, and you never had to worry about some other player raining on your parade. But no longer! Now, with a simple play of the Synod card, a player can add their Monk to your Monastery and share the points with you, or add a second later and even steal your Monastery. I will be writing the pope on this matter forthwith.
* Two Is The Loneliest Number – Say what you will about Carcassonne, but it is a great 2-player game. The competition between features, the ability to neutralize your opponent by sharing the feature, the sheer number of tiles each player gets to draw (36 each if playing with a 72nd draw tile). It’s nearly perfect, even if there are benefits to playing with more people. But this expansion is not so great with 2 players. Whereas in a larger game, people can help each build Roads and Cities in order to take down another player, in 2-player games, it’s just the two of you. There’s no informal alliances to make Gifts worthwhile. So the only reason to get a Gift is to screw over your opponent. So everything becomes a race to the bottom: How many Farmers can you get in a Field? Can you complete the City or Road fast enough? Are they going to share your Monastery? The entire game becomes something different, and not necessarily for the best since the cards are all randomized and any Gift could change everything.

Backhanded Negotiations
* The Enemy of Your Enemy is My Enemy – The Gifts is a game-changer, which is startling for a two-decade-old game. Never before has so little changed so much in Carcassonne. These cards destroy traditional strategies, make meeple placement far more strategic in the long term, and create far more opportunities for conflict. While many players enjoy the relatively peaceful nature of Carcassonne, it is undeniable that the game has a lot of untapped potential for conflict. This expansion, in reality, does a lot of what The Count of Carcassonne should have done, but didn’t. It makes stealing features, repurposing meeples, and tile placement itself a meta-game, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
* Lounge Rats – Ever miss that opportunity to take a Field by one turn or one bad tile draw? Well now you can just steal it later. The idea that a meeple could be repurposed from an adjacent feature and turned into a Farmer is surprisingly novel and remarkably effective. Now, low-value adjacent features can serve a double purpose, so long as you draw the right card. Large Fields especially are a risk since more tiles means more opportunities to move Meeples onto it. Now the other features themselves could be sources of new Farmers. And if, for some reason, a player overcommits, they can use the card in reverse to claim an adjacent incomplete Road, City, or Monastery, sweeping in for the steal. It’s frankly genius.
* Streamlining Traffic – Did you accidentally place a meeple on a dud Road? Are you sharing a high-value Road with an opponent? Have you unintentionally combined two of your Roads into one? Worry no more! With the Road Sweeper 3000, you can take all the Robbers off of any Road on the board for the low, low cost of one Gift. So take those Robbers, sweep them up, and rake in all those sweet, sweet points.* (*Disclaimer: Points are awarded to the player with the majority Robbers; players with fewer Robbers do not receive points; current player may place new tile in such a way that it continues the feature just scored.)

Inconclusion
The Gifts is one of those rare expansions that changes up everything, generally for the good. Is it conflict heavy? Yes. Does it play well with 2 players? No. But with those caveats aside, it is a great addition to any Carcassonne game. Even the two cards not discussed above—Cash Out and Take 2—are useful. The former allows players to cash out meeples stranded on low-value features, while the latter lets players choose their tile from two tiles. At the end of the game, all unused Gifts are worth 2 points. The Gifts is a vicious expansion, moreso than almost any other one except perhaps The Plague. But the randomness of the expansion is all in the cards, which may be its greatest weakness. Although the cards are balanced between the five types, it would possibly be better for each player to only have access to one of each and be able to activate them whenever they help build another player’s feature. That would fix the obvious imbalance caused by a player, say, grabbing several ‘Change on the lie’ cards. But fan variants don’t belong here. This expansion is a wonderful addition to Carcassonne and it will definitely change your gameplay experience if you feel the game has become stale over the past twenty(-one) years.

Playability: A-
Affordability: A
Compatibility (with other expansions): A
Aesthetics: A-
Learning Curve: B
FINAL GRADE: A-

2
Can someone tell me the way to Carcassonne? No? Okay, well is there a sign somewhere? Oh my... there are signs EVERYWHERE! Or so it seems with The Signposts, yet another annual promotional expansion available exclusively from Hans im Glück. I suppose in a game where road-building is one of the major mechanics, it was inevitable that road signs would appear. But have they really appeared? And who is marring my beautiful landscape with these unsightly arrows?! Darn, I've begun my review already...

Corn Circles III
* Aliens Have Invaded Again – At first it was strange shapes in corn fields – now it is strange arrows beside Roads. When will these strange occurrences end? Carcassonne has long abandoned some of its more visually pleasing elements in favor of blunt gameplay features, but The Signposts are definitely near the top in obviousness. Large arrows sit beside every road of this 12-tile expansion, and they are as ugly as they are easy to read. They less resemble Signposts (which, by definition, require both a sign and a post) than garish painting on an otherwise green lawn. They might as well have called this expansion "The Arrows" and just admit that's what they are.
* Math is Hard – If the arrows don't bother you, the sheer amount of math involved with this expansion may. You see, to make the most of your Signposts, you need to collect multiple ones – one of each type, in fact. But these must be valid Signposts for them to count, so if you have a tile with a Road that goes in the wrong direction or that dead-ends, then that won't work. Confused yet? And don't get me started on the tile with the two curving Roads, or the roundabout Road. Keeping track of what's a valid Road or not on a long Road can produce headaches. Tylenol is recommended.
* Now now, Stop Fighting, Children! – By this expansion – at last count number 761 – there have been a few Road-focused expansions released. You have the Wagon, the Inns, the Robber Baron, The Ferries, The School, German Castles, Bridges, Labyrinth, The Tollroads, etc. Some of these multiply Road points, some redirect the Roads, some give bonuses. And now this expansion encourages you to do some urban planning (in a "luck-of-the-draw"-based game, no less). Indeed, it could directly contradict some of the cards in the more recent The Gifts expansion. And in usual Hans im Glück fashion, the rules instruct you to simply only play this expansion with the base game – any other combination is at your own peril. Woe to ye who tries to play with several Road-based expansions at once!

Roads Get Around
* Expanding Out to the SuburbsCarcassonne has always had a tile balance problem. While the base game had a fairly safe ratio of Road-City–Monastery, most of the expansions have thrown this some to increase the benefits of its own features. Inns & Cathedrals included a lot of tiles that made large Cities and longer Roads. Traders & Builders was all about City-building. Princess & Dragon was more about sheer volume of tiles so that the Dragon could spread out its wings. This expansion is all about Roads, and the designers smartly realized that more Roads were needed to optimize it, so all 12 tiles have at least one Road, and there are some real gems, including a Roundabout and a Road-over-City. There are also balance-correcting tiles such as a new Monastery and Garden, and half the tiles feature City segments. In other words, this expansion is great for someone who wants a whole lot more tiles without imbalancing their feature ratio.
* Clarity Can Be A Blessing – Say what you want about the terrible visual look of the arrows, but at least they are very clear, which is more than can be said about other expansion features (looking at you, 20th Anniversary expansion!). And the different colors help differentiate the directions of the arrows, which is very useful for calculating the multipliers.
* More and More and More – Math is terrible, yes, but multipliers can really be awesome once you overcome the challenges. Carcassonne has never included a proper multiplier feature before, so it is certainly a novel development. If a player scores a Road with one type of valid arrow, they get 1 extra point per valid arrow. If they score a Road with two different valid arrows, each valid arrow get 2 extra points. And if they have all three different valid arrows, they get 3 extra points per arrow. The points can really add up if you make a long enough Road with several valid arrows on it!

Inconclusion
The Signposts is really a mixed bag expansion. The vast number of well-balanced tiles is a wonderful addition to a Carcassonne collection, but the arrows are ugly at best. The rules are also very fiddly, although the potential return in points can make it worth figuring out. Perhaps the price of this expansion is its saving grace: it's quite affordable from Cundco.de and can be added to an order without usually increasing the cost of shipping. So while I can't strongly recommend this expansion, there's no reason to avoid it either.

Playability: B
Affordability: A
Compatibility (with other expansions): C+
Aesthetics: C+
Learning Curve: B-
FINAL GRADE: B-

3
The Carcassonne universe has seen lots of conflicts over the years, but The Cathars, The Siege, and The Besiegers are probably the most blunt in their intent. The Peasant Revolts returns to this classic theme and perhaps attempts to replace it, since none of those earlier expansions have been re-released in the newer art style. Yet peasant revolts were a very real thing in the Middle Ages, so how well does this expansion recreate the revolting serf experience?

Simply Horrendous
* The Upsidedown – The entire premise of this expansion is that the peasants are revolting. There are three ways you can tell this on the tiles: by the pitchfork watermarks, by the marching army of peasants carrying said pitchforks, and by the crappy little sepia icons on each tile. I have never been a fan of instructional icons on Carcassonne tiles. Indeed, both the 20th Anniversary Edition expansion and the newest Signposts expansion includes terribly-themed icons that make me wish for anything else. But even thematic icons like those in The Princess and the Dragon or the Carcassonne Minis expansions are ugly. These are no exception. And the fact that all three of them look the same at a glance doesn’t help. Anyone with the slightest vision problem will need a magnifying glass to see whether the icon shows a City, Road, or Monastery. Surely the designers could have thought up a better, more thematic solution.
* Predictably Annoying – There’s a randomization mechanic used in many games where a certain number of cards or tiles or some other object is shuffled and then a small percentage of said item is discarded unseen. No matter what the game, the mechanic is always clunky and annoying for the person setting up the game, but the payoff is usually increased randomization. While it usually doesn’t bother me, in Carcassonne, it seems to go against the very nature of this countryside-building game. During set-up, players are instructed to shuffle the 12 tiles together and then discard three at random, without looking at them. This is done in order to vary the number of each type of bonus in the game. But I want to play with all my Carcassonne tiles, darn it! The Hills expansion from Hills & Sheep at least puts those tiles to some other use that fits the theme without entirely sacrificing the tile. Discarding three and never seeing them in any shape or form for the rest of the game just seems like a waste that could have been avoided.
* The Inevitable Incompatibility of Expansions – Hans im Glück has repeated since 2015 that it would not provide FAQs or instructions regarding how to play promo expansions with each other. They encourage it, but they don’t support it. For the most part, that has been easy enough to work around, but this is the game that finally breaks compatibility entirely, namely with one of Hans im Glück’s very first non-Spielbox promos: The (German/Dutch/Japanese) Monasteries. Namely, when you “protect” a meeple from revolting peasants, you set it down flat on the board in the same manner as a Farmer in a Field. The only problem is that Monks placed in The Monasteries as Abbots (Goodness, Hans im Glück has to get its terminology worked out!) need to also be placed a certain way. What if you want to protect a Monastery with an Abbot So, in situations where both expansions are used (and I would argue The Monasteries is one of the best and simplest of all promo expansions so it should be used a lot), players now have to determine a third way of marking a protected Abbot in a Monastery.

Hiding in the Springtime Grasses
* Meeples in Repose – The extension of reclining meeples to all standard features is long-in-coming and, despite the misstep mentioned above, is overall welcomed. While I am not certain this was the best use of the mechanic, I think the idea of laying meeples down to “protect” them is quite visually useful, especially since the Farmers are always protected from the peasant revolt tiles. By the end of my two play-throughs with this expansion, most of the meeples were lying flat, fearing the inevitable arrival of a peasant revolt that had already passed them by. The randomness of the revolts, while annoying, also ensures that players aren’t able to count precisely how many of each type of revolt may strike, so it is usually a safe move to protect a meeple unless you are certain that a specific revolt type has run its course.
* Long-term Investments – Carcassonne has traditionally not been a strong push-your-luck game. There have been auction elements, dexterity mechanics, various forms of randomness, and aggressive attacks, but this expansion allows players to take a gamble. They can choose to save their points and leave their meeples unprotected, or spend some points in either fear that someone will draw a revolt tile or hope that someone will pull several, in which case they may earn their points back (or even in excess). The more valuable the feature, the more likely a player will want to protect their meeple. This is truly novel for Carcassonne and can prove quite fun for people that like playing the luck game. By itself, the reward for surviving a single revolt is rarely enough to justify the cost of protecting the meeple, but compounded with the risk of losing the meeple and, by extension, the claim to the feature, now that can be costly. But, I mean, 4 points is 4 points, and that sometimes can make the difference at game end! Argh!
* A Revolt-load of New tiles – It may sound obvious, but I love myself some new Carcassonne tiles, and this expansion gives players a dozen new ones. While most are standard arrangements from the base game, there are a few stand-outs, including a “witch’s hat” City that is good at separating Fields, two disconnected Roads allowing a large Field to merge, and a dead-end Road with a Garden. And more Gardens are always nice. Ironically, this expansion doesn’t include a new Monastery even though most 12+ tile expansions do and this expansion in particular includes a Monastery-related mechanic. Still, the new tiles are nice, the art with the revolters is fun and welcome and nearly in scale, and I personally really like the new crowded Cities.

Inconclusion
This expansion is a mixed bag, much like most of those released from December 2020 to November 2021. Its core features are quite fun and provide nice new mechanics that are not like anything in Carcassonne before. But the execution is sloppy or even lazy, and the lack of consideration for other expansions is really showing a dirty corporate side to Hans im Glück’s operations. More generally, this expansion really needs to be paired with The Flying Machines or The Magic Portals from The Princess and the Dragon, because it will cause several tiles to become vacant with no way of easily reclaiming them (especially Monasteries). As a stand-alone expansion, it shows promise but also a lack of forethought, but some of those problems can be addressed through careful selection of companion expansions.

Playability: B
Affordability: B+
Compatibility (with other expansions): C-
Aesthetics: A
Learning Curve: B
FINAL GRADE: B

4
Note: This is only a review of the 20 extra tiles in the game. This is not a review of the edition as a whole.

Carcassonne has been around for over two decades now, so it is pretty impressive that expansions are still being released annually for it. The only other game with such a track record is Catan. That being said, many of Carcassonne’s expansions have been less than impressive, and some have been downright dull or confusing. The 20th Anniversary Expansion—or rather “inspansion” since it is exclusive to the 20th Anniversary Edition of the base game—chose to play it safe, but as a result it sort of just makes parts of the first three full-sized expansions redundant. Let me explain…

Pride & Prejudice
  • I’ve Seen This Before – Hans im Glück loves its legacy and it knows that the first two expansions, Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders, are the most popular expansions in the series. They have been included in every Big Box as well as several combo boxes over the years. So, instead of developing something new, the designers of the 20th Anniversary Edition decided to borrow the most popular concepts from the first three expansions, namely Big Meeples, the Builder, and Magic Portals (from The Princess & the Dragon). This is all done through 20 extra tiles (15 are marked with a lazy “20” watermarks on them—the remaining 5 are new River tiles with nothing interesting to note except for the double-sized source tile with a “20” emblazoned in the middle) that are shuffled into the rest of the tiles. The tiles are uninspired—many are just base game tiles with the new mechanic on them—and the actual mechanic is lazily depicted in a relatively small blue arrow that can be difficult to differentiate. Furthermore, playing a game of Carcassonne using both the 20th Anniversary Expansion and any of the first three expansions will inevitably result in confusion and a general feeling of repetition between features and rules.
  • Double the Punch, Half the Impact – While there are certainly tactical advantages to the new mechanic where a player can double-up their meeple presence on a feature, thereby replicating the effect of the Big Meeple from Inns & Cathedrals, the end result may be that two of your meeples are now stranded on a feature for the rest of the game. Inns & Cathedrals addresses this by providing an entirely new meeple that doesn’t cost you one of your normal meeples. The mechanic in the 20th Anniversary Edition, however, does the opposite. It now costs a player two meeples from their core supply of 7—that’s a high cost! If someone manages to trap those meeples, they are there for the rest of the game unless you also mix in an expansion like The Festival, that helpfully can be used to remove trapped meeples from tiles. While the benefit of dropping a second meeple on a feature can be shocking and game-altering, it is a risk that rarely equals the reward.
  • Bad Strategy, Now With Punishment – One mechanic I always dislike in games is account-keeping. It’s just annoying. Whenever I play The Princess & the Dragon expansion, I ignore the bonus points from the Fairy. In 2-player games especially, it rarely moves so just continues to accrue points each turn for whoever happened to move it last, and trying to remember the +3 points for completed features with the Fairy is futile. Other than the Fairy, Carcassonne hasn’t really had a ton of account keeping. But this game has it twofold. First, if a player places a tile so that the bonus action arrow is not pointing to an adjacent tile, then the player receives two points. This is just dumb. Don’t reward a bad move. If the player didn’t get the bonus action, it’s probably because they had a more valuable use for the tile. But then to add a dumb rule to a dumb rule, a player in a later turn can place a tile adjacent to an arrow and activate the bonus action. I get that this is to further emphasize the importance of these bonus tiles, but just no. We forgot about that rule at least twice when playing, and also forgot about the +2 points for not using the bonus action. And then there is the situation where you don’t want to or can’t use the bonus action but don’t qualify for the bonus points. It’s all a bit too much.

Sense & Sensibility
  • Return to a Land of Magic – Introduced in The Princess & the Dragon as a way to claim vacant features left incomplete from previous rounds, the Magic Portals are by far one of the most popular and useful features introduced to Carcassonne. Thus, their return in the 20th Anniversary Expansion, albeit in a slightly modified format, is extremely welcome. Any player of Carcassonne knows that there are situations where a player must leave something vacant because something else is potentially more valuable. This little addition corrects for that by allowing a player to claim any vacant feature left over from a previous round. And I mean ANY, including empty Gardens or Monasteries, or unclaimed Fields. This feature can be a game changer in all the right ways!
  • Churning Those Tiles – Another popular mechanic from an expansion is that of the Builder, which allows a player to take a second turn if they expand a feature that has their Builder figure on it. In the 20th Anniversary Expansion, players only have to draw and place the appropriate tile to receive this bonus, but the benefit is still very nice. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like getting a second tile to place in a row, and this mechanic also helps go through the tiles a little faster.
  • More is Better – Perhaps the simplest but best feature of this expansion is the fact that it adds 20 new tiles, however simple they may be. Among these new tiles are 2 new Gardens, which are always welcome since they are slightly less represented across the line than Monasteries, and a new Monastery, which increases the number in this edition to eight total. I have always felt that Monasteries, which are limited to 6 in the base game (7 with The River), get short shrift in Carcassonne despite the fact that 10% of people in the Middle Ages were directly involved in some capacity in the Church. Adding new Monasteries and Gardens helps increase the odds that a player will pull one of these tiles, increases the chances that they will be able to claim a Garden, and provides for a more exciting play experience. The other additional tiles, including the new double-sized source tile, the new lake, and the 3 other new River tiles, are always welcome, although I wish this version of The River expansion had its own unique watermarks like those on the Big Box 6’s River tiles.

Inconclusion
This expansion was certainly not Hans im Glück’s best, but it also was far from its worse. At least everything was fairly straightforwards, which is more than can be said about the Carcassonne Minis and half of its promo expansions over the years. Nonetheless, I feel that this expansion was a missed opportunity to do something that respected the legacy of the series but in a new way. Simply copying mechanics from the first three expansions doesn’t respect the legacy, it undermines the first three expansions! In 2011 and 2016, The Festival was released as a new expansion with a simple but useful mechanic. I think that 15 bonus tiles (not the new River tiles—those are fine) could have done something similar, perhaps by borrowing concepts from some of the most popular spin-offs or creating something equally useful and new. This is not the place to propose alternatives, but it is the place to say that Carcassonne deserved something more useful and interesting to commemorate 20 years of an amazing game. Fortunately, Hans im Glück is giving us The Gifts at Essen this year, so there is perhaps some little bonus expansion that will satisfy, if not replace the disappointment that is the 20th Anniversary Expansion.

Playability: B+
Affordability: D
Compatibility (with other expansions): B
Aesthetics: B
Learning Curve: B
FINAL GRADE: B-

5
The Marketplace / WTS/WTT Carcassonne PixelPark.co.nz Edition
« on: July 20, 2021, 01:33:24 AM »
In case you didn't see this on BGG, my coworker randomly brought an unpunched but opened copy of Carcassonne 1st edition to work. It is in a PixelPark.co.nz branded box (printed, not stickers) with Rio Grande Games 1st English edition branding on the back. It includes an unpunched copy of The River, as well. The scoreboard has a grey track. Meeples are still in their bag, presumably never touched. The rules are presumably the Rio Grande 1st edition Farmer scoring (I can check) but the formatting is awful and perhaps redone by PixelPark for some reason (I can also check this).

My coworker donated the box to the library, but we already have a Big Box 6 that I donated in 2019, so we don't need another copy and this one clearly has some value since it was a very limited print run...the New Zealand board game market is not that large and printing branded copies of Carcassonne could not have been cheap. Since we have the game, my coworker (who just left for a new job today, sadly) gave us permission to sell or trade it for another game.

I think a sale is preferred so we can buy some smaller, 30-minute games that can be played during lunch times, but I'd be interested in a trade if one is appropriate. At this point, I don't know the value but if you feel like making an offer via PM, please feel free. Consider it a blind, non-binding auction at this point. I'll try to post some photos shortly and I'll try to be careful not to dislodge any tiles, although I can't guarantee they'll all stay in place during shipping. Shipping from New Zealand can be expensive, so keep that in mind if you make an offer.

6
General / MOVED: Custom scoreboard
« on: February 25, 2021, 10:42:37 PM »

7
I may love the postman, but I don't like international shipping charges right now. For €28.95, I'll pass...


8
General / US East and West Coast Maps
« on: October 19, 2020, 07:18:29 PM »
I'm somewhat surprised that the announcement of a re-release of Winter-Edition with the River included and a printing of German Cathedrals in the new art have completely overwhelmed any discussion regarding the new Carcassonne Maps for the East and West Coast of the United States. I'm very excited about these, not just because they are two new maps or because they represent my home country, but because they are clearly intended to be played together in a truly epic game. The current posters are already A0 size, I believe, so this will be twice that! You will need about 200 tiles to play, based on previous Maps, and these ones actually look quite open, too, so it may require up to 250 tiles, or perhaps the equivalent of three full sets (216 tiles). And there are bound to be new rules that use the Map Markers as well. Will two sets of Markers be required? What will the new gimmick be?

9
After a year absence (wow, really?!), I have come to once again regale everyone with my magnanimous thoughts on an expansion to a game that I seriously thought five years ago had finally given up the ghost. And just to give a previous of my final thoughts, how are they still pushing out new and interesting expansions that improve gameplay after twenty years?! But I digress. First, THE REPORT!

The Road More Taken
 :-* Novel Approaches – Tollroads are a fact of life, especially in developing areas, or highly-developed areas, or places where road construction is/was especially expensive. And that fact was true even in the Middle Ages, at least in some places. And while I don't know for certain weather medieval Languedoc had toll roads, the idea that it did is not far-fetched and is also very relatable to today. So bravo on finding yet another reasonable mechanic.
 O0 No Costs, High Rewards – Despite the name of the expansion, Tollkeepers does not actually ask anyone to pay a toll, which is a pleasant enough fact. Instead, you just get to collect tolls from Roads. And the mechanics are quite easy since the cardboard is all player-specific. Simply claim a crossroads (yet a new "feature" that hadn't been a thing before) with your toll gate and reap the rewards when any of the connected roads are completed. And make sure to drop those juicy eight Travellers tiles on your tollroads for extra bonuses and the ability to increase (or decrease) your profits going forward.
 :)) Did Someone Say Vanilla? – Basic, feature-less tiles are always a special treat in Carcassonne because they change up the tile tower (or bag) without changing the rules. This expansion includes two tiles, one of which is new in the context of the base game, both featuring "Crossroads" but otherwise not possessing any new features. Toss these into your standard rotation and enjoy varying your game just that much more.

This Road Costs How Much?
 :neutral-meeple: Nude Is Still Not In – While this certainly isn't the first time it has happened, The Tollkeepers is yet another expansion that introduces player-specific cardboard, which means only six players can play it at a time (which I acknowledge is reasonable) rather than the twelve that can hypothetically play using the full set of Hans im Glück brand meeples (which I agree is entirely unreasonable). More annoyingly, though, is that even with games using smaller player counts, people who prefer the better, variant colors must use different color cardboard.
 :-X No Looking Backwards – The Tollkeepers is also another expansion that relies on the new thematic features on the second edition tiles. While you can proxy in bushes and farmhouses from the first edition, there is no guarantee that they have the same balance of features, and not every bush is associated with a specific segment of road in the same way the second edition features are. So adapt wisely and house-rule often to enjoy this if you have not upgraded to the new edition.
 >:D Problems with Promos – The Tollkeepers represents the fourth promotional set in four years to not be linked to some geographic region or branding strategy (the others being The Watchtowers, The Fruit-Bearing Trees, and The Barber-Surgeons). In the meantime, only one new full-sized expansion has released in that time: Under the Big Top, way back in 2017. Although these expansions are all available through Cundco, most people outside of Germany are unaware of this and these remain a real hidden gem in the pocket of Hans im Glück. An official expansion collecting all four of theses NEEDS to come out. And soon. They are treated as random stand-alone outcasts when they could constitute a viable expansion taken altogether.

Inconclusion
You would be hard-pressed to find a better stand-alone expansion to Carcassonne than this in recent years. Simple, intuitive rules with basic mechanics completely redefines the Road game and shifts the entire Carcassonne experience just enough to make it feel fresh. Competition between players over Roads and Travellers is a fun new aspect while the abundance of tiles with Roads in the base game means that the Tollgates won't just get used, but they will shift usually a couple times through the course of the game. There's nothing inconclusive about this expansion: get it now!

SCORES
Playability: A
Affordability: A+
Compatibility (with other expansions): A+
Aethetics: A+
Learning Curve: A-
FINAL GRADE: A+

10
News and Events / Dragon and printed sheep
« on: January 16, 2020, 10:14:39 AM »
Also a stupid question I was wondering: If we play with expansion dragons and expansion hills and sheep, what if dragon lands on a tile with a sheep painted like on River III for example ? If there is action gather flock, should we score point for the sheep ? That would seem counterintuitive since it should be eaten, but poor sheep is just painted on tile. I don't think it was ever discussed.
My own personal take on this is that, while the sheep would obviously remain on the tile, the presence of the dragon on that tile means that you can't include them in a gather flock action until the dragon moves. Basically, the dragon blocks the sheep. I doubt you'll get an official ruling on that, though, since the only pre-printed sheep appear on CC1 tiles (River III and Halflings I), which Hans im Glück is done making new rulings for. At least for thematic reasons, however, the dragon should still block sheep from being gathered even if it can't eat those sheep.

11
It has been years now since Hans im Glück started releasing Carcassonne expansions with rules in English. Spielbox magazine also has an English-language magazine now. But somehow this travesty of a name – Barber-Surgeons – survived copyediting to become the ridiculous title of this promotional expansion. And I haven't even begun my review yet!

Differing Opinions
 :-[Fill in the Square...Again – Monasteries? Fill in the square. Gardens? Fill in the square. Siege tiles? Escape via a tile making the square. Bathhouses? Fill in the square. It's becoming a lame pattern among Carcassonne expansions that features require the square – the eight tiles around a centre tile – to be filled to meet some requirement. In this case, it seems unnecessary too – surely some other release mechanism, perhaps one more thematic, could have been chosen. Just lazy.
 :'(Minimal Gain – Another lazy tactic taken by a lot of promos in recent years is a low bonus thresh hold. For this expansion, the most points you can gain from the bonus is 6 points, and in a 6-player game, the odds of one player getting more than maybe two such tiles is pretty low. Considering there are also 3- and 4-value tiles, the situation is even lamer. Frankly, these tiles provide very little point benefit to players.
 C:-)Maximum Punishment – In direct contrast to that, these tiles provide a massive punishment: the trapping of a meeple. The two ways to release the meeple are a) the annoying fill in the square technique discussed above, or b) pay the value of the bonus, thereby negating the bonus. In my experience, most of the time you can fill in the box to release the trapped meeple, but in one instance I intentionally stranded another meeple on the same Road just so I could get both back when the Road was completed (thereby earning the points). In another instance, I just took the score without the bonus so I could retrieve the meeple immediately. The benefit of the points is so low compared to the value of a free meeple that sacrificing the meeple is often just worth it, especially when you are running low on meeples.

Impartial Agreement
 :PA Theme! A Theme! – One thing positive you can certainly say about this expansion is that it has a theme. Granted, the English translation of that theme is not a theme, but the original German – The Bathhouses – feels right. Meeples, after a long days' work, take a break in bathhouses and lose all track of time. Sounds about right. The little bathhouse images are also cute, if somewhat simplistic.
 :oA Bridge Too Far – There is one crossroads tile included that is simply awesome: one road runs directly OVER the other. This tile is not unique, but it is also only found in one other expansion making it quite useful. While I generally hate RRRR tiles, I do like ones that get creative with their layout, such as this.
 ::)...

Inconclusion
The fact that I couldn't think up a third positive item for this expansion should show you my final thoughts. It is a meh expansion. It has a stupid name, it has stupid point mechanics, and its tiles are mediocre bordering on derivative, with the one exception of that over/under road tile. It is certainly not an expansion to track down unless you feel especially keep to own everything (sadly, like I am). Otherwise, go ahead and skip this one or wait for a convention or other event where it is available cheaply.

SCORES
Playability: B
Affordability (Obtainability): C
Aethetics: B
Learning Curve: B-
FINAL GRADE: B-

12
Reviews & Session Reports / The Barbarian Report: The Markets in Leipzig
« on: January 15, 2019, 12:38:21 AM »
Four double-tiles. An extra set of meeples. And a German city in southern France. What could go wrong?

Differing Opinions
 C:-)Two Tiles for the Price of One – This is not the first time Hans im Glück has made this mistake – they did it with German Castles, too – but the company really needs to figure out its two-tile rule. Considering this expansion is meant to be played with the base game, the question must be answered: are these two tiles or one when scoring for Monasteries? Logic dictates that they are two, but the lack of any faux divider between the two halves and previous rulings regarding German Castles suggests they are one, and so adjacent Monasteries will score fewer points. it is a simple problem to solve by just printing a faint line down the middle where the two tiles would separate, much like the border of the Wheel of Fortune tile or the City of Carcassonne. Get it together, Hans im Glück!
 >:DMeeples for Sale! – The original version of this expansion, released at the Modell Hobby Spiel in Leipzig, came with a full set of meeples for every player because, quite frankly, this expansion requires it. With up to 4 meeples heading to Leipzig as am investment, that can leave a player a bit short on the Meeplage. Unfortunately, people who got this expansion elsewhere must substitute with their own meeples, of which not everybody has a ton of spares. I used the scoring meeple as my #8 and subbed that out with a fem-meeple from The Messengers. Still, not ideal. All versions of this expansion really need a full set of meeples included.
 :black1-meeple:The German Invasion Continues – I know, I know, I've been harping on this for years now, but seriously: German Monasteries, German Castles, German Cathedrals, Darmstadt, and now Markets in Leipzig? I'm pretty sure there are more German-themed expansions in this game than actual French-themed elements. It's getting a bit ridiculous.

Impartial Agreement
 8)A Better City than Carcassonne – The core mechanic of this expansion is obvious but very well implemented. The idea that the four quarters of the city benefits players in four different ways. It's almost like they had used a similar mechanic before... But this works much better than the City of Carcassonne, ruled over by that tyrannical count. And they all work. Really! One gives an Inn-like bonus that requires a long-term investment but pays off very well. The city bonus is a little less grand, especially if you are just playing with the pennant-low base game. The Monastery bonus can earn a total of 24 bonus points with just the base game if invested early and if all six Monasteries are completed. Perhaps not the greatest bonus, but still worthwhile. And the field bonus, well that's just a perfect use for those strange buildings in the fields that have hitherto been without purpose.
 :yellow-meeple:Making It Work with 1.0 – Speaking of those hitherto unused field features, the original Carcassonne game has them just like the new version, and while the distribution may be slightly different between versions, it still works and this expansion suddenly makes those long-neglected farm structures worthwhile. I earned nearly 24 points from the farms playing with a mixed selection of a 1.0 base game and some 2.0 tiles (primarily from The Festival).
 :-*A South American Bonus – Who dislikes free tiles? Granted, you really need to own Amazonas to appreciate this item, but this expansion includes two additional tiles for that game, which I think means that every Carcassonne Around the World game has an expansion now except Safari, which just come out in 2018.

Inconclusion
This expansion is actually quite worthwhile, assuming you can get it cheaply. It is available from CundCo.de right now, but they can be pricey depending on if you buy anything else with it and where in the world you live. Nonetheless, this is definitely one of my top promo expansions, which is saying something. This along with German (or Dutch or Japanese) Monasteries is a good combination, while using The Festival alongside this allows for the retrieval of meeples from Leipzig or a German Monastery, which is definitely not a bad thing. This is also the first expansion that I actually recommend players use Carcassonne in the new art (2.0) if they have access to it. The use of the Abbot provides an additional meeples that, even with the one bonus "supplied" by (or more likely added to) this expansion, will definitely help keep your supply of meeples flowing. This is a rare expansion that I don't think would work especially well with Inns & Cathedrals, though, since the city's Road bonus may get undermined by people blocking the Inn bonus (even though the two should stack).

SCORES
Playability: A
Affordability (Obtainability): C
Aethetics: B+
Learning Curve: B
FINAL GRADE: B

13
News and Events / New Expansion: German Monasteries Second Edition
« on: October 10, 2018, 03:02:53 PM »
A re-release of Klöster in Deutschland (German Monasteries) has been announced prior to Essen Spiel. This will feature the original six monasteries in new art from Anne Pätzke. The number of tiles and watermark remains the same. No further information is available at this time.

14
News and Events / New Expansion: Die Badehäuser
« on: October 10, 2018, 02:59:32 PM »
A new mini expansion has been announced just prior to Essen Spiel entitled Die Badehäuser (The Bathouses). It includes six tiles with two 3s, 4s, and 5s printed on flags above buildings. The watermark for the expansion is a wooden bucket. No other information is available at this time.

15
Other Games / Saboteur: Das Duell (Schnupperspiel) English Rules
« on: October 09, 2018, 01:53:10 AM »
As one of the other promos included in Spiel DOCH! Winter 2018, a copy of Saboteur: The Duel (Trial Edition) was included. These are a close approximation of the rules, as mostly translated using Google Translate. Feel free to make recommendations regarding the translation if something is not clear. I have not yet played this game nor ever played Saboteur or Saboteur: The Duel.

By Frederic Moyersoen with illustrations by Andrea Boekhoff

Players: 2 People
Age: 8 or older
Duration: Approximately 10 minutes
Components: 31 game tiles, 3 dwarf markers, 2 keys
Goal: The player who has found the most gold in the end wins!

[The original game has 74 tiles – with trolls, ladders, and much more gold – can be found in game stores.]

Game Preparation
One player receives the green dwarf tile and the other player the blue dwarf tile.

The three target cards (red-brown back) are mixed face down and placed on the table together with the two starting cards (ladders) as shown in the picture.

All path and action cards are shuffled. Each player gets face down five cards on the hand. The cards are prepared as a hidden draw pile. In addition to the draw pile, a discard pile will be needed during the game.

The dwarf tokens and keys are laid out.

Gameplay
The younger player starts, then it continues alternately. In their turn, the player performs one of the following actions:
  • a. Play a route map
  • b. Play an action card
  • c. Discard two cards and remove a sabotage card
  • d. Pass and discard a card
After the action, the player must draw one card from the draw pile into their hand.

Attention: If the draw pile is used up, it is no longer necessary to draw.

a. Play a map tile
With these cards, a path is created between the starting tile and the target tiles. A new map tile must be placed beside an existing route card or a start card. All map tiles on all sides have to fit exactly to each other and the maps tiles must not be laid in a different direction (see picture).

Attention: Newly laid out map tiles must always have an uninterrupted connection to their own start tile at the moment it is placed.

Destination Tiles
If a player creates a connection from one of the starting cards to a hidden target tile, they turn over this target tile and place it at this place appropriate to the adjacent map tiles.

Attention: It may happen that a target tile is uncovered so that it does not fit between the existing map tiles. Only in this case may the target tile be placed incorrectly.

Map tiles with doors
Doors represent blockages. A path with a blue or green door may only be used by the dwarf of the corresponding color. A door will only be passable to the other dwarf if they have used a key to open it (see "Play an Action Card").

Secure Gold
If a player makes an uninterrupted connection from their starting tile to gold on a target tile, they take a dwarf marker from the supply and place it face-up on the gold.

Attention: If a player with a map tile does not connect to their starting tile but instead to that of their teammate, then that player immediately places a marker on the gold.

b. Play an Action Card
A sabotage card (red icon) is placed in front of the other player. As long as the card is there in front of them, they cannot play a route card, they may only play one action card, discard two cards, or pass.

Each player must have only one sabotage card in front of each player.

With a repair card (green icon), a player can remove a sabotage card in front of them and show the same icon. Both cards are then placed on the discard pile.

The treasure tiles allow the player playing them to look at one of the face-down target tiles. They then place the target tile face down in its place. The treasure tile is placed on the discard pile.

With the key card, a player can open a door of the opposing colour. They take a key and place it on the affected door. This is passable to the end of the game for the player. The key card is placed on the discard pile.

Attention: By playing a key card, the player can reach gold on a target card that has not yet been occupied by a dwarf. In this case, the player picks up a dwarf marker and places it face up on the gold.

c. Discard Two Cards and Remove a Sabotage Card
Dropping any two cards on the discard pile allows a player to remove any sabotage card in front of them. The player also draws only one card in this case. They, therefore, play for the rest of the game with one less hand card.

d. Pass and Discard a Card
If a player cannot or does not want to play a card, they must pass. They put a card from their hand facedown on the discard pile.

Game End
The game ends when...
  • ...all three target tiles are revealed and all three dwarf tokens are used
    or
  • ...the draw pile is used up and both players have no more cards left.
The player who has more gold with their dwarf marker wins. If there is a tie, another game is played immediately.

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