Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Board game review: Carcassonne Princess and the Dragon

What is it?

Carcassonne Princess and The Dragon is an expansion set for the Carcassonne board game, a clever tile-laying game where 2-5 players build up a map of roads, fields and cities by connecting tiles together to form bigger features.  By strategically placing followers, or meeples as they are known, onto these landscape features, victory points are scored.  The bigger the landscape feature, the more points are scored.

Who will enjoy this game?

Obviously, this is an expansion and as such, the original game is required before-hand.  Carcassonne, the board game in general, is very much geared towards a fun, family-orientated game and the rules are relatively easy to pick up.  Euro or German style games such as Carcassonne place the emphasis and theme towards economy and area control as opposed to combat and luck.  Players tend not to be eliminated, rather they stay in the game until the end, allowing for a high level of player interaction.  More importantly, family members aren't left out because they've been knocked out of the game early. 

What's in the box?

The Princess and The Dragon expansion contains a number of new landscape tiles with various features pertaining to the expansion on them, a wooden Princess piece, a wooden Dragon piece and an A5 double-sided sheet of rules.  As with all Rio Grande games, the components themselves are of a very high quality.  The tiles are printed on very thick card and stand up well to repeated play.  The wooden pieces are in the typical meeple style and are also thick and chunky.

How do you play it?

The Princess and The Dragon expansion adds an element of fantasy to the normally grounded-in-history Carcassonne game.  This is not a bad thing but could put off the more traditional games players.  There are several new game mechanics added to the original game with this expansion, namely the Dragon that moves around the map, removing meeples back to their respective owners and the Princess, who provides shelter from the Dragons fiery breath.

The Dragon starts the game on a volcano tile.  If another volcano tile is drawn by a player, it will immediately fly to wherever that tile is placed.  If a tile with a movement icon is drawn, the dragon will move around the board, throwing meeples back to their respective owners. 

There is a restriction on its movement however. It can only move 6 squares, horizontally or vertically only and it can't revisit a square it has already occupied on this movement.  Each square it moves, the responsibility for the move transfers to each player in turn until it can't move anymore.  Any meeples it encounters are returned to their respective owners.  Moving the dragon around is fun and calls for a little forward thinking when it comes to your turn to move it.  You can try and steer it into a cul-de-sac, away from your own players or move it towards your opposition. 

The Princess acts as a protector for a player as the Dragon can't move onto a tile occupied by the Princess.  Players can take control of the Princess at the start of their turn.  An extra point is accrued for the player who is being guarded by the Princess at the start of his or her turn.

To counter-act the effect of removing meeples from incomplete landscape features, there is also a portal tile that allows a player to place a meeple onto any previously incomplete and uninhabited feature, a significant rule change over the original game.  In addition, there are Princess tiles that allow a player to kick an opposing knight out of an incomplete city. 

Does it work?

In play, the Princess and The Dragon expansion calls for new strategical thinking and ramps up the tension, especially when the dragon is moving round the board, closing in on ones unprotected meeples.  The deliberate placing of a volcano tile near an opposing players settlement is also good fun. 

A drawback was remembering to score the extra point on each turn for possession of the Princess piece.  Trying to remember even to claim the Princess piece is a feat in itself.  While there is a small element of luck in the base Carcassonne game, especially when trying to draw just the right-shaped tile to complete a large city for example, in this expansion, if you don't draw any portal or Princess tiles, you're almost out of the running, meaning luck seems to play a bigger part than it originally does.

As with most (if not all) of the Carcassonne expansion packs, they can be combined with other expansions in the range to create one great big mega mega large game.  Just make sure you have the floor space.


Saying all that, it's still a fun addition to the series, my ten year old daughter in particular loves it.  The rule for the extra point seems to be one rule too far but is quite easily ignored.  It does extend the game time from 60 minutes to around 90, mainly because of the extra tiles and occasional rule lookup.  It's a worthy addition to an excellent board-game series.

Priced around £15 and published by Rio Grande Games, The Princess and The Dragon can be bought at any good board-game stockist.  The Carcassonne board game series contains elements of arithmetic, strategic and forward thinking and good old gamesmanship.

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