Dale Yu: Review of Carpe Diem, 2021 Edition (white box)

Carpe Diem, 2021 Edition (white box)

  • Designer: Stefan Feld
  • Publisher: alea/Ravensburger
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Ravensburger NA

In early 2021, Ravensburger re-released Carpe Diem, a game which released with a fair amount of fanfare but some grumbles about the graphic design…  Those issues were heard, and a re-vamped version of the game – now in a stark white box and upgraded graphics – has come out.  It has a number 5 on the side as part of the anniversary reprint series.

I was sent a new copy to review, and the gameplay has had some minor changes as well.  However, for the most part – the game plays the same, so I have taken Tery’s description from our previous review on 1/1/2019 and edited it.

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 writs (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 prestige track and the bottom of the board has a row of city tiles that are similar to the other city tiles, but have a black 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 victory points – taking anywhere from 8 to 13 VPs to start the game. Players place their meeple in a space on the tile circle and the game begins.

On your turn you move your meeple on one of the two adjacent paths available from your starting space to another space. (You essentially just move around in a circle). You take a tile from your new location 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 writ token, you remove it and move up one space on the prestige track on the board.

If you move to a space that has no tiles associated with it, you simply keep moving in the same direction until you reach a location that does have tiles; and then you must take a tile from that location.  Alternatively, remember that you can always spend a bread token to move to any location you want or even to stay in the same location you are in now.

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 black 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 in the round; you then proceed with end-of-round scoring.  In a three player game, the last unchosen tile in each of the areas is discarded.

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 prestige 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:

  • Count the chimneys on all of your completed villas and score VP based on the chart on your player overview board.
  • Count all of the items in your storage area (resources, coins, bread), divide by 2 and score that many points.
  • Reveal your fountain cards and score the applicable number of victory points,
  • 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 COMPLETE  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 with the most writs left on their city board.

So what are the changes? (You can skip this section if you haven’t played the original)

  • Graphic design – the new tiles are white and black as opposed to green and just slightly darker green.  Also the icons on the border pieces more closely match their targets.  The starting player token is now a marble bust instead of a hand.
  • Movement – you now move in a circle instead of a star pattern. Also, there is no bounce-back option, if the space you land on is empty, you must keep going forward in that direction until you get to a space that has tiles

My thoughts on the game

Carpe Diem remains a solid game, and one of my favorite Feld games – probably because it is more straightforward that some of the “point salad” games that Feld is perhaps better known for.  I think that the game has had its share of fans, but this is now the third edition of a game which originally came out only in 2018! And, unfortunately, the game has been tweaked along the way – so now when you are playing this game, you’ll have to make sure that everyone is on the same page…. (A decision which also plagues some of my used-to-be-favorite games: Carcassone, Union Pacific, etc).

Carpe Diem is a good fit for me, there is a nice puzzle here in fitting the tiles onto your city board.  I have generally liked tile-laying games, and this one does not disappoint.  You are trying to juggle all sorts of demands as you choose your tiles – you are working to build a meaningful landscape that will produce resources and finished buildings, you are thinking about how to score points in the scoring phase and you are also working on the endgame frame bonuses.  Placement of the tiles can also affect your standing on the prestige track, and this can be vitally important.  Because, of course, like all good Feld games, you are striving to avoid the penalties that are sure to come when you are naughty and miss your goals.

Turn order in the Scoring phases can be crucial.  It helps to closely examine the scoring options at the start of the game, as well as seeing what cards your opponents seem to be working towards.  Obviously, going earlier in turn order is better as you have more choices of scoring card intersections, but some times it may not matter – if no one else looks to be working towards the cards you’re working on, maybe there won’t be any competition for your space…  However, there aren’t that many spots – only one will be left unused at the end of the game – so players who end up last in turn order are much more likely to get stuck with a painful -4VP penalty when they have to take a card that they cannot score…

As with most Feld games, there is also a medium to large chance element – the random drawing of the tiles can obviously affect your fortune, and the fountain cards can also widely vary in usefulness.  Sure, some of the fountain cards seem better than other, but it all still depends on your individual situation.  If you have no chicken coops, it doesn’t matter that there is a card that score them well!  For me, I generally try to decide if I’m going to play the lottery or not – if I want to play, grab a Fountain or two, try my luck and see what happens.  Otherwise, I should spend those actions on tiles that will maybe do more reliably useful things for me.  If a Fountain comes up early in the game, you might be able to shape your strategy towards the scoring criteria on your chosen card; and late in the game, it’s definitely more of a lottery.

I should comment on the graphics as this seems to be the biggest change in this new 2021 edition. Overall, the graphics are much improved, but frustratingly still not perfect (or nearly perfect).  The huge issue of the light/not quite as light green tiles is now gone- surely people can’t mistake white and black for the two types of tiles…    I also like the white box much better than the older version.  But I still have some problems distinguishing the gardens, vineyards and farmyards from each other – but this might be my poor eyesight and dim lighting in the game room instead of poor graphic design.

The rules, for a Feld game, are pretty simple, and more in my wheelhouse. The game can be taught in fifteen minutes, and most people pick up the rules without issue.

For me, the game pretty much plays the same.  Yes, I know that the “bounce rule” isn’t included in this game.  In the first edition of the game, you were allowed to “move again” when you encountered an empty space – this meant that you could go back to where you came from.  In the new 2021 version, you are directed to keep moving in the same direction until you encounter a space with a tile.  Sure, this does limit your options as compared to the original rules, but I haven’t found this to change my game much – other than possibly causing me to slightly value bread more in case I need to spend one to stay in the same place…     As far as the change in movement pattern – topographically it’s identical, and I think that it saves a lot of mental gymnastics to be able to see what comes next in a simple circle rather than having to trace lines all over the place to see where you go next.  However, now as with Carcassonne, Union Pacific, and a few other games, I will have to be careful when sitting down at a table to make sure we are all playing with the same rules.  The Bounce/No-bounce difference is certainly not as big as the difference in farmer scoring between EN and DE Carc.  Like Carc, my current rule is to play the rules as written in the box that hits the table.

I still enjoy the game, and I’m happier owning the newer version than the original – I had to trade away the original version because I honestly couldn’t see the difference in the green tiles, and it was just too frustrating for me.  Carpe Diem gives you a full Feld experience but in about half of the time of some of the fullblown point salad games, and for me, that is a huge positive.  I would play this everytime over Trajan and Notre Dame!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Larry (2 plays):  Here’s part of what I had to say in our first review of this game.

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.

My prediction, sadly, was entirely accurate.  The game hasn’t been played since I wrote that.  And you can’t even blame the pandemic, because it had been AWOL for over a year by the time the lockdown started.  It’s a pretty good game, but does nothing extraordinary and the amount of control isn’t that great.  I give it an “I like it” rating, but only by the barest of margins.  I can’t comment on the new graphics or rule changes because I haven’t played with them, although it seems peculiar that they removed the bounce rule, giving the players even fewer choices.

Tery (8 plays): I have not yet had the chance to play the new version. I had considered buying it due to the promised upgrades to the visuals, but based on Dale’s feedback I am glad I did not.  The dark and light green tiles backs were definitely an issue, and I am glad they are fixed, but I am unhappy that they didn’t fix the different landscape tiles much, as I still have trouble with those two different greens.  However, I am still enjoying the game; my last few plays have been on Yucata.de, where the graphics are not great, but the game has held up well for me in terms of enjoyment. I do not think the movement changes will have much of an impact.

(to see thoughts from the 2018 version – please see the original review at https://opinionatedgamers.com/2019/01/01/carpe-diem/ )

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Larry, Tery
  • Neutral,
  • Not for me… James Nathan

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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