Designer Stefan Feld
Time: 45 – 60 minutes
Times played: 3, with a copy I purchased
It’s always hard for me to wade through all the lists of games coming out at Essen; the descriptions make so many games sound like I need to own them, and unfortunately I just don’t have the room or the budget to own all the games. I need to apply some filters to what I am interested in, and Stefan Feld is one of those filters. There’s no guarantee I’ll like a game just because he designed it, but I do enjoy many of his games and always feel like they have been well-tested, so I was looking forward to giving this one a try.
In Carpe Diem, players are patricians who are working to make the best city district that they can. Each player has a personal city district board on which they will build various structures; the board has randomly-distributed frame pieces that indicate bonuses for buildings of a certain type being built in line with the bonus. The board also has nine banderoles (more on those later) and a starting space in the center, indicated by the shovel.
The main game board is placed in the center of the table. One half of the board is the city building section, from which players will take tiles. The other half of the board is the scoring section, where scoring cards are laid out. The top of the board has a banderole track and the bottom of the board has a row of city tiles that are similar to the other city tiles, but have a slightly darker green back. To the side of the board are the victory point cards and the fountain cards, which give you scoring bonuses.
Players all start with some points on the previously-mentioned banderole track – the starting player puts a disc on 8 and subsequent players get one additional space than the player before them; this track is used to determine scoring order and gives you victory points at the end of the game. Players place their meeple in a space on the tile semi-circle and the game begins.
On your turn you move your meeple on one of the two paths available from your starting space to another space. You take a tile and immediately build it in your city. Your first tile must go on the shovel space in the center of your board; future tiles must be orthogonally next to another tile already on your board and all edges must match. When a tile is built on a space with a banderole, you remove it and move up one space on the banderole track.
There are various tile types in the game. When you complete a building in a certain type, you get a bonus and/or possible victory points.
Landscapes help you produce goods based on their color: purple (grapes), green (herbs), brown (chickens) and blue (fish). Once you complete the landscape you get the number of tiles minus one in goods (so a three tile vineyard would give you 2 grapes). Completed landscapes will be between 2 and 4 tiles.
Dwellings are buildings that give you a completion reward based on their color; they will always consist of two tiles.
Administration (silver) lets you move two spaces on the banderole track.
Bakers(brown) give you 2 bread from the supply. 1 bread can be used at the start of your turn to put your meeple on the tile space of your choosing; 3 bread can be used to fulfill the requirements of one scoring card.
Craftsmen (green) let you take one of the dark green tiles from the bottom of the board and immediately build it, taking any completion reward it may give you.
Merchants (gold) give you one coin plus one coin for every grape, herb, chicken or fish in your supply (which you must return to the supply); coins are wild and can be used as any one of these resources.
Villas are red brick buildings.. You don’t get a reward for completing a villa during the game, but get victory points for completed villas during end-of-game scoring (the bigger the better). However, villa tiles have chimneys, which can be used for end-of-round scoring.
There are also some single-tile buildings.
Markets get you 1 coin,
Bakeries get you 1 bread token from the supply
Fountains let you draw two cards from the fountain deck and keep 1; these cards will earn you victory points for specific completed buildings or tiles at the end of the game.
Play continues until all players have taken 7 tiles; you then proceed with end-of-round scoring.
At the start of the game a grid of scoring cards were laid out on the main board; these cards are selected randomly from a supply, and cards not chosen are returned to the box unseen. In banderole track order players place one of their disks on the intersection of two scoring cards and score both sides.
There are two types of scoring – cards where you pay resources to gain the benefit at the bottom of the card and cards where you must have completed buildings/tiles or chimneys to gain the benefit. Coins can always be used as wild resources and 3 bread can always be used to fulfill the requirement of one card. If you cannot fulfill the requirements of a card you lose four victory points.
Play continues for a total of 4 rounds. At the end of the 4th round there is a final end-of-round scoring, followed by end-of- game scoring:
ü Count the chimneys on all of your completed villas and score VP based on the chart on your player overview board.
ü Count all of the items in your storage area (resources, coins, bread), divide by 2 and score that many points.
ü Reveal your fountain cards and score the applicable number of victory points,
ü Evaluate the goals on each of your frame parts; if you draw a line from the one side of the frame to the other do you cross at least one building of the indicated type? If you do, score the number of points indicated on the frame.
Count up all your VP cards and the player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player farthest back on the banderole track.
My Thoughts on the Game
What do I like about the game? Well, I am a fan of tile-laying games, and this one does not disappoint. You are trying to maximize your available resources/completions for the public scoring while also trying to meet your frame scoring and any hidden scoring goals you may have taken, so there’s a bit of a puzzle to be worked out. Since it is a Feld game there is of course a luck element – you don’t know which tiles will come out when or what tiles will be available to you, but you can mostly adapt your plans. You can see what options the players before you have, so you can get an idea of what might be available to you and turns generally do not take too long.
You only use a small number of the scoring cards in a game (the number varies depending on the number of players), which means that there will always be different paths to scoring and victory and no one strategy will win you the game, although villa/chimney scoring has been important in all three games I have played.
What isn’t good? Well, the graphics are not. The difference in greens on the backs of the two groups of tiles is hard to see. While that doesn’t affect the game play, it’s a pain to try to sort them. What does affect the game play, however, are the graphics on some of the buildings; patterns aren’t distinct enough and colors are too similar, which can cause some confusion –is that a herb field or a vineyard? The patterns are a little different, but if you’re colorblind it may be hard to tell. It would have been easy to print the symbol of what you earn to avoid this problem,
Having cards for victory points is annoying. I wish the money spent on cards had been used to print a victory point track or at least little chits or something. We’ll be using poker chips with this going forward.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Lorna: I was quite pleased with this addition to the Alea Big Box. I like the choices you have to make in tile selection and if you can possible hinder OOP nets by taking tiles they might need. I agree with Tery on the poorly done graphics. This could have been sooo much better.
Patrick Brennan: A thinky Carcassonne. There are more types of buildings and fields and therefore more ways to score and more approaches to explore. It’s no longer just about completing buildings but now also about getting those buildings on the right spots within your personal tableau for bonus points. Further, there’s now choice on which tiles to pick up, but also competition to get them first given the tiles are in an open draft (but with only a subset available to you on any one turn). I don’t rate it as highly as Carcassonne though as the game slows down with the added weight, but the randomness doesn’t seem to have dissipated – more building types means the probability of you getting the tile you want diminishes. At a fast pace, you live with it. Here it edges towards resignation that you may not be able to complete all you want. It’s still a fine game providing decent brain food though, providing the challenge of making the best of what emerges.
Joe Huber (6 plays): I have a very mixed history with Stefan Feld games. My favorite of the lot – Macao – is the odd game that simply does not work thematically, but which I enjoy anyway because the mechanisms are so interesting. So I approached Carpe Diem with – the hope that I have for an Alea game and the ambivalence I have for a Feld game. And – it all works for me, however that came to be. I agree entirely that the graphics leave something to be desired – but at the end of the day, I can tell them apart without issue, so I have a hard time getting too personally bothered by that. And unlike many of Feld’s designs, this one doesn’t feel like a point salad. It is, of course, but less obnoxiously than many – and, for me, more coherently. There are choices to pursue, but the reward for each is relatively clear.
Mitchell Thomashow: I only played Carpe Diem once so I don’t feel that I know the game well enough to assess its long term staying power. But I very much enjoyed that play. There are many crunchy decisions, interesting scoring options, and neat spatial puzzles to solve. It’s easy to learn and teach. I don’t think the graphics are quite as bad as advertised but they certainly do not help.
Dan Blum (3 plays): I’m not a big Feld fan in general, but I do like some of his games, generally those that are organized around one big central mechanism instead of those where you have a dozen different things you can do; Castles of Burgundy is a good example of the former (almost everything in the game is driven by taking and placing tiles) and Bora Bora is a… striking example of the latter. Carpe Diem falls into the first group – as in Burgundy everything is driven by the tiles. It doesn’t feel a lot like Burgundy, however, and is simpler, shorter, and has more built-in variability due to the scoring cards. So I’m liking it so far. I agree the graphic design leaves a lot to be desired and I hope the forthcoming second edition improves it.
Larry (2 plays): The game scores with its pace of play. Turns are very fast and the game gives you a lot of decisions in its one hour duration. I do enjoy it, but I’d probably like it more if there was a bit more control. Even though there’s things to think about, this is pretty much a middleweight and my preference is usually for things that are a bit heavier. Still, it’s a good solid game; I just don’t have much confidence that we’ll be playing it a year from now.
The graphics are indeed pretty bad. People complain about the art in Alea games all the time, but I rarely have a problem with their production quality. Here, though, it’s a real detriment. However, there’s one huge saving grace and that’s the excellent player’s aid, which illustrates all of the tiles and gives their abilities. This has become such a rare thing in games these days that I have to applaud Alea for it. It doesn’t excuse the poor graphics, but at least it makes the game playable.
Then there’s the bizarre decision to use a 7-pointed star for movement, instead of just moving your pieces around in a circle. As a few folks have pointed out, the two methods are completely equivalent and using a circle is certainly easier for people like me with poor spatial recognition. It’s hard to believe that something like that could get past two smart fellows like Feld and Stefan Brueck. If you’re having trouble seeing the relationships of the spaces, you’ll probably find it a lot easier if you follow the circle when you move.
Edit: Evidently, the second printing of the game will incorporate some changes, including improving the color differences on the tiles (we’ll have to see how far that goes–I suspect the graphics will still wind up being substandard) and changing the movement rules to traveling in a circle instead of a star. Looks like a lot of people objected to the star movement and Alea decided to make that method the official one. Predictably, there has been some complaints about that change online, primarily, I suspect, from people who can visualize the star movement easily and don’t understand what all the fuss is about. But for the rest of us, with poorer spatial reasoning, it’s akin to being asked to play a game while hopping on one foot. Sure, it can be done and could even be classified as a “skill”, but is that really the play experience you want? So I’m happy with these changes–let’s see how much better they make the final product.
Craig: Snappy pace of play as you weigh the merits and tradeoffs of your choices each turn put this onto the list of Feld games I enjoy (which is not a long list when I think about it). The theme is irrelevant and the graphics and artwork are a big step below not good. I think everyone is being too kind here, but I’ll leave it at that.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Joe H.
I like it. Tery, Lorna, Patrick Brennan, Mitchell, Dan Blum, Larry, Craig
Not for me…