It is the height of the frontier, pioneers, mining towns and the gold rush in the American West. You, like countless others, have come to make your fortune as there is indeed gold in those hills. Stake your claim, and get mining as quick as you can, you aren’t the only one seeking their fortune and your’s could be stolen right out from under you – this is Carcassonne Gold Rush.
Carcassonne is, hands down, my favorite Tabletop game. Easy to teach, easy to play and infinitely fresh by changing up the game through its multitude of expansions. Similarly, I enjoy seeing the variations on gameplay that the standalone Carcassonne games bring to the table. My current collection encompasses 3 copies of the Carcassonne basic game, 26 mini and standard expansions (with 4 more on the way), and 7 standalone games with 2 expansions (and 2 more on the way). The newest addition to my collection is my 8th standalone game, the second in the “Carcassonne Around the World” series – Carcassonne Gold Rush. A portion of the gameplay elements in Carcassonne Gold Rush are familiar to those that have played Carcassonne and its expansions, but does it achieve in setting itself apart from the plethora of games in the family while not alienating those used to the established game mechanics?
Game Mechanics & Scoring
Transportation arteries are vital to help get people to the mining towns and the gold out of them. Railroads are the primary means of transport and operate as roads do in the basic game – 1 point is collected per tile the completed railway spans. Similar to roads with Inns by a lake from Inns and Cathedrals, railroads that have a Locomotive on them score 2 points per tile for the completed railway. Endgame railroad scoring is 1 point per tile regardless of locomotives and standard majority rules (player with most followers is awarded points) are applied.
Mountains in Gold Rush are the main attraction of the game. Their construction most closely resembles Cities in the basic game, but scoring is drastically different. Each mountain tile has an icon depicting 1-3 gold nuggets, when a tile is placed a corresponding amount of mining tokens are stacked face down on the mountain segment. These represent what gold is available in the mountain to be mined and collected. The mining tokens can be collected upon completing the mountain or through use of the tent meeple. Points equal to the number of gold nuggets from the icons on the mountain segments are awarded to the majority player when a mountain is completed, additionally any remaining mining tokens on the mountain are collected by the scoring player. During the phase of a turn where a player can place a follower, one can choose to instead place (or move) their tent on a mountain. A tent can be placed on any open mountain segment, even if another player’s follower or tent occupy another segment of the same mountain. On any turn where a player doesn’t place a follower or place/move the tent, they can collect one mining token from the mountain where their tent is. The presents an interesting opportunity to steal potential points from mountains that opponents have laid claim to. During the endgame the collected mining tokens are scored. Each token can award 0-5 points depending on the number of gold nuggets (1-point per) or rock (0 points) depicted.
Cities in Gold Rush are unlike any gameplay elements I have experienced in other Carcassonne games. Cities are single tiles with up to 4 railroad lines. Cities are scored when all their railroads are completed and earn 3 points per completed railroad, with the exception of railroads that start and end in the came city – these would score only 3 points. As cities don’t span multiple tiles, there is no opportunity for competition in claiming a city. While they add good variety to the game, cities appear to be designed as a secondary element as to not distract from the mountains.
Since cities in Gold Rush have taken such a departure from the familiar, the farms (Prairies) have also have quite the change. Followers placed in prairies do still become Farmers, are not returned to the player stock and are only scored during the endgame, but points are not based on adjacent cities. Prairie tiles have icons of Tipi camps and wild horse herds. Points are awarded for these features – 4 points per horse herd and 2 per tipi camp. Standard majority rules apply to prairies.
Apart from the mix of the familiar and new game mechanics that Gold Rush offers, one has to take into account one other somewhat drastic change. The Cowboy followers in each players stock is not the standard 8 (7 to play + 1 for score tracking), but 5 (4 to play + 1 for score tracking). Players must be much more judicious in selecting what features to lay claim to. This emphasizes the importance of using the tent as it can be what sways the outcome of the game.
In our first play of the game, my wife and I only need a quick few minutes to skim the instructions to pick up on what was new, but the learning curve is relatively low regardless of familiarity with other Carcassone games. There was a good amount of competition for the mountains and railroads. As I was not used to having so few followers to work with, I quickly ran out with them stuck in an uncompleted railroad, city, mountain and one placed early on in a prairie. She broke out to an early lead picking off easy points I had no opportunity for, and well into the game I still had no score. I needed to rely on my tent a great deal early in the game and was even able to clear the majority of one of her mountains before she could complete it. A well stocked prairie and 60 points in mining tokens gave me the edge in the endgame and the win, 179 to 135. We both had a lot of fun with this one. I see Gold Rush being in our active play rotation for a while and I am rather looking forward to my copy of The Sheriff expansion, which sounds like it adds quite a bit to the game.
The variety of changes to accommodate and accentuate the pioneer mining theme certainly make Carcassonne Gold Rush approachable and familiar, but also fresh and exciting. There has only been one standalone Carcassonne game I haven’t liked so far, The Discovery, it’s rules were far too simplified. Carcassonne Gold Rush I place up with The City, The Castle and South Seas – it is well designed for the theme but maintains proper connections to its roots. It is something that a seasoned Carcassonne veteran as well as the novice would enjoy. I look forward to sharing this game with others and recommend it for anyone with a Carcassonne interest looking for some variety.