New Twists on Old Favorites: Carcassonne, Catan, Dominion

Three of the most wildly popular Euro strategy games – Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan, and Dominion – have come out with new variants and expansions in the past month, and as these games represent the ideal intersection between casual and veteran gamers, nearly everyone in the Eureka gaming community will find something to love in these additions.

Carcassonne, winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres prize in 2001, is our favorite introduction to the world of adult strategy games. With rules simple enough for kids as young as seven, and enough cutthroat, strategic thinking to appeal to the most competitive of gamers, Carcassonne’s unique premise of building the board as you play appeals to players of all stripes. It also boasts the most dazzling array of expansions in the gaming world, from the miniature King expansion to the enormous Wheel of Fortune, from the shrewd economic management of Traders and Builders to the freewheeling dexterity of The Catapault – and perhaps half a dozen more for all levels and styles of play.

For its tenth anniversary, Rio Grande Games has released a deluxe Festival edition of the original game. This edition comes with ten unique bonus tiles, transparent plastic figures, and, adorably, a scoring track in the iconic shape of a giant Carcassonne meeple. If you’ve never played Carcassonne before, now is the time to start!

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Carcassonne

And for those of you who have the original Carcassonne with wooden meeples, there’s also an ingenious little expansion that incorporates the new clear plastic design, called The Phantom. In this expansion, each player receives a single phantom, who may be placed on the same turn as another meeple, on the same tile, on a different terrain feature. Those who already play the game will appreciate the elegance of this small change.

The Settlers of Catan, which won the Spiel des Jahres in 1995, can claim more than any other game to be the impetus for the recent renaissance in the world of strategy board games. With its intuitive gameplay, modular board, fierce but non-aggressive competition, extensive player interaction and endless replay value, Catan set the pattern for dozens if not hundreds of games to follow. Over fifteen years later, it remains the only game to so successfully integrate the diverse strategic elements of network-building, negotiation, resource management and set collection in one game that typically takes under an hour to play.

In addition to several well-received expansions and variations, Mayfair Games has released numerous card game versions of Catan over the years, and the latest, The Struggle for Catan, has just hit the shelves. The Struggle for Catan retains the resource costs and victory point values of the original in building a winning combination of roads, settlements and cities, but introduces a novel system of stealing knights and roads from opponents, a dynamic feature that compensates in terms of player interaction for the loss of the board. It also incorporates the city expansions from the beloved Cities and Knights expansion, granting players special abilities as they upgrade their cities. The game uses the cards to great effect, incorporating alternate advantages on opposite sides of the same card.

The Struggle for Catan

Finally, Dominion was the 2009 winner of Spiel des Jahres, and the first in a string of card games (the next most popular is Ascension) to incorporate deck building as part of the gameplay. Collectible card games like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh have long depended as much on building a good deck as on playing the game well; it was Dominion’s innovation to make this an integral aspect of play. Players begin with treasure cards and victory cards, and use their treasure cards to buy more cards – more treasure, more victory cards that give the player points, and the action cards that form the real meat of the game. Since each game of Dominion uses only a set of ten action cards to choose from, and the original game included twenty-five, this format allows for considerable variation in strategies and combinations from game to game. The structure of the game also leaves ample room for expansions, and the fifth, Cornucopia, was released in May.

Cornucopia’s theme is diversity, encouraging players to use a wide variety of action cards as they build their decks rather than sticking to a few reliable ones. Thus, Harvest has the player reveal the top four cards of their deck, and gain one coin for each different card shown; Menagerie gives a player extra cards if they have no duplicates in hand; and Fairgrounds is a new victory card worth two points for every five different cards in a player’s deck at the end of the game. Most unique to Cornucopia are the prize cards, highly powerful cards, with a single copy of each, that can only be obtained by playing a Tournament and sacrificing a Province. (Experienced players will appreciate how strong these cards must be to justify the expense.)

Dominion Cornucopia

If you play any of these games – and chances are, if you’re involved in the world of Euro strategy games, you play all of them – now is a terrific time to head over to Eureka and add some more depth to your collection. And if you don’t play these games yet, the 10th anniversary edition of Carcassonne is the ideal place to start!

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