Author Topic: The Barbarian Report: Darmstadt: An Expansion Too Far  (Read 3113 times)

Offline Whaleyland

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The Barbarian Report: Darmstadt: An Expansion Too Far
« on: October 02, 2015, 03:37:37 PM »
Carcassonne as we know it has ended as of 2014. A new reprint of the game with a new artist has shaken the foundations of the fan-base leaving many questioning whether to go on. The appearance in late 2014 of the special "Darmstadt Spielt" 20th anniversary tile-set perhaps is the most symbolic of this change. Drawn in the old Doris Matthäus art style, it represents everything that Carcassonne has become since it first appeared on the market in October 2000.

Where Am I Again?
 :neutral-meeple: Forgotten Origins – Did you know that the Franks were originally a Germanic people? How about the Visigoths? The Vandals? The Lombards? Well that's good if you did, because Carcassonne expansions of late are keen to remind players of the Germanic origins of the French peoples. Darmstadt is probably the most specific of these expansions. Running off the backs of German Monasteries and Dutch Monasteries, and foreshadowing the German Castles, Darmstadt focused on one specific German city, Darmstadt, a city that's relationship with France and especially Carcassonne is virtually non-existent. Why did this city deserve such a specific expansion?
 :black1-meeple: Forgotten Time – To make matters more complicated, Carcassonne is a medieval game set in a period that not uncontroversially ran from c. 450 to c. 1550, give or take a few hundred years on either end. Unfortunately, the wise designers of the Darmstadt expansion failed to notice this simple fact and included among its three architecturally-based tiles three Modern structures: the Church of St. Ludwig (1827), the Russian Orthodox Chapel (1899), and the Darmstadtium (1994). Granted the last structure has a bit of medieval architecture running through it, but that doesn't really count now, does it?
 :brown-meeple: Uninspired – So now that we have both the setting and time incorrect, let's add some uninteresting rules to the mix and call it an expansion, shall we? Seriously. The rules to this expansion are that when any of the three tiles are completed (or the feature which they are in is completed), the scoring player earns an extra 3 points. Three points... That's it. That's the whole expansion. There's nothing else special about these geo-chronological disasters. Hills & Sheep also has a +3 point mechanic for its Vineyards, but players actually have to work for that bonus. This one just hands it to you.
 :blue-meeple: Fleur-de-Lis – Uncharacteristically, I'm adding a fourth negative. While I appreciate the desire for the Darmstadt artist people to include a special watermark for its tiles, I really question both the watermark chosen and the colouring of it. The Fleur-de-Lis is indisputably the symbol of French royalty and has no relation to Darmstadt that I am aware of and, even if it did, it doesn't really work here. The blue colouring further emphasises the French royal feature and breaks the long-held tradition (since 2007) of the watermarks being semi-opaque black with a little outer glow around it. Instead of that rather subtle watermark, this expansion has a large stamp on the tiles that seems both out of place and abjectly erroneous. It would have been better to leave out the watermark entirely.
 :violet-meeple: Poor Bedfellows – And since we have a fourth, let's just continue with a fifth. This expansion is not stand-alone but requires the purchase of a printed sheet which features a total of five expansions for five different games, among them Hugo, Catan, Village, and Zooloretto. Now while all those games are fun and I do appreciate some collaboration between game designers, the cost of these three tiles is much higher than necessary because of this collaborative arrangement. I still have parts for Hugo and Village sitting on the cardstock unused and I don't suspect they will get used any time soon. I prefer expansions, even promos, that do not require other games' expansions to be purchased alongside them.

Struggling for an Upside
 :yellow-meeple: Palatial Awesomeness – One thing I can admit is that the tiles look amazing. Despite a slight colour problem (as with many Carcassonne promos), the three tiles in the expansion are amazingly vibrant and certainly stand out on the map. The rounded dome and puce colouring of the Church of St. Ludwig really stands in stark contrast to the surrounding green Fields. The onion domes and green and blue of the Russian Chapel are just stunning on the board. And even the Darmstadtium, a decidedly modern structure, has its own rather organic charm when placed into a City. The fact that the artist included the little bit of medieval wall sticking out from the building shows a very specific care for detail.
 :@ And....that's it

This is by far the least satisfying of any Carcassonne product on the market, and I include The Catapult in that mix. If this expansion is symptomatic of the end of Carcassonne, then I am sad that it had to end on such a low note. Since this expansion released, only German Castles has come out in the old art style, and most of the expansions are coming out with the new. It seems that this little three-tile endeavour was truly the expansion that Catapulted-the-Meeple. It is the only expansion I explicitly suggest that nobody purchases and it is the only one that I will probably never play again (although I do unfortunately own it). It breaks the theme of the game while adding almost nothing to it except some beautifully-illustrated tiles that have no real place on a Carcassonne board.

Playability: A+
Affordability: D
Compatibility (with other expansions): A+
Aethetics: C
Learning Curve: A+
FINAL GRADE: B (but only because of the above parameters)


Offline Decar

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Darmstadt: An Expansion Too Far
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2015, 06:55:19 AM »
Thanks for the writeup.  Perhaps slightly pessimistic but justified nonetheless.  I'm not a great fan of the up-selling involved when producing other expansions to sell alongside either.

Offline jungleboy

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Darmstadt: An Expansion Too Far
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2015, 06:59:29 AM »
Thanks for the writeup.  Perhaps slightly pessimistic but justified nonetheless.  I'm not a great fan of the up-selling involved when producing other expansions to sell alongside either.

I liked the pessimism :)

Offline Halfling

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Darmstadt: An Expansion Too Far
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2015, 08:51:45 AM »
The tiles exist so we gotta have them. I do anyway.
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