Author Topic: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)  (Read 538 times)

Offline Whaleyland

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The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« on: April 24, 2022, 06:40:14 PM »
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-

Linkback: https://www.carcassonnecentral.com/community/index.php?topic=5907.0
« Last Edit: April 25, 2022, 03:18:09 AM by Whaleyland »

Offline Meepledrone

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2022, 12:15:17 AM »
Great post!

+1 merit from me.

A couple of comments:

1) Features granting a gift:

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 Monastery.

You receive a gift when extending an opponent's city or road.... Monasteries are not in the equation...  ;)

2) Monastery control: Majority in a monastery can also be affected by a flier, but this requires a certain amount of luck as well... >:D

PS: Added comment on monasteries.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2022, 12:30:03 AM by Meepledrone »
Questions about rules? Check WICA: wikicarpedia.com

Offline Whaleyland

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2022, 12:22:22 AM »
Great post!

+1 merit from me.

One detail:

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 Monastery.

You receive a gift when extending an opponent's city or road.... Monasteries are not in the equation...  ;)
Oops! Fixed. Thanks for that.

Offline Meepledrone

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2022, 01:30:56 AM »
Some comments (repeated the first one here - you didn't see my previous update):

2) Monastery control: Majority in a monastery can also be affected by a flier, but this requires a certain amount of luck as well... >:D

3) Typos to fix: Check words marked in red.

Quote
Once you places a Monk on a Monastery, it is yours unless some Dragon, Tower, or Plague comes along and boots you off

Quote
But with those caveats aside, it is a great addition to any Carcassonne game. Even the two cars not discussed above—Cash Out and Take 2—are useful.

Offline Whaleyland

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2022, 03:19:56 AM »
Some comments (repeated the first one here - you didn't see my previous update):

2) Monastery control: Majority in a monastery can also be affected by a flier, but this requires a certain amount of luck as well... >:D

3) Typos to fix: Check words marked in red.

Quote
Once you places a Monk on a Monastery, it is yours unless some Dragon, Tower, or Plague comes along and boots you off

Quote
But with those caveats aside, it is a great addition to any Carcassonne game. Even the two cars not discussed above—Cash Out and Take 2—are useful.
Thanks! Corrections made. Not sure why so many snuck into this review. I'll have to fire my quality control editor.  O0

Concerning The Flier, I think there are a few others that could hypothetically impact Monasteries in various ways, but yes, The Flier does let you full on grab one, which is unusual.

Offline Meepledrone

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2022, 10:51:38 AM »
Ha ha ha! Your quality control editor was probably busy on BGA... ;)

Happy to help!

Online kothmann

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Selfish Altruism (The Gifts)
« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2022, 08:13:38 AM »
Great review as always.  +1 merit from me.

But the randomness of the expansion is all in the cards, which may be its greatest weakness.
For me, there are 3 canonical rules of Carcassonne:
  • Randomness is exclusively in the tile draw.
  • There is a maximum of one meeple per tile.
  • No "spendable" resources are accumulated.
I sometimes play expansions or variants with minor violations of one of these rules, but this one violates all 3!

Quote
But fan variants don’t belong here.
Don't ask, don't tell.   >:D


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