Board Games

Surprise Article

Surprise! This month, I planned to have a big ol’ article that I have been spending the past 6-7 months writing, editing, and polishing. To my dismay, it is not in a condition where I am content releasing it. I plan on continuing to work on it with a revised timeline for next month. Instead, allow me to tell the anecdote of how Carson City took over my Thanksgiving Weekend.

On Saturday, I went to my friendly local game store (Dice House Games in Fullerton, California), hungry for something new. I had come to pick up a copy of Mysterium Park, which is lovely but another conversation. I lingered about the shelves scanning them for something that looked familiar. My eyes settled on the gold lettering of “Carson City”.

In retrospect, I feel my article I wrote about Eurogames is somewhat dated. I neglected to see how what I truly craved in games wasn’t systems but collectively experiencing something with other people. Since I have written that article, my collection has shifted toward game designers like Reiner Knizia. His games are lovely systems, but the designs accentuate fun conflict between people. 

I am chasing after those moments where someone pulls off a devilishly brilliant plan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. You can’t forget those moments, either, where someone is tallying up and mutters, “oh no,” as the whole table bursts out laughing. Games at their most sublime have this frenetic energy that is absent when I’m just crunching numbers.

I had heard Carson City referred to as a high conflict worker-placement game. Worker Placement is a genre where you receive a certain number of abstract “workers” that you place to perform specific actions in the game. A lot of worker placement games are pretty dry when it comes to theme, in my opinion. Carson City promised me a wild west adventure. 

When I first sat down to read the rulebook, I worried that Carson City wouldn’t be accessible. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. Learning the game was easy; I successfully taught the rules (minus some miscommunication) to my girlfriend to get us going on our first game.  

Carson City starts in the year 1858 at the founding of the city. You get to take out some lovely dice and roll them to determine where Carson City and the surrounding mountains start the game. This is a fantastic way to get everyone engaged because you can all build the map together. 

In similarity with other worker placement games like Agricola, Carson City has action spaces with wildly varying values. Instead of the Germanic way of dealing with conflict, which focuses on blocking the action spaces for other players, Carson City invites everyone to pile on in! Action spaces don’t activate when a worker… ahem… sorry, cowboy, is placed on it. Instead, action spaces all resolve after everyone has passed. This allows other players to deploy their posse of cowboys to the same spots you occupy. If multiple people want the same space, then death is the answer.

In an Eastwood-esque moment, each player wanting the benefits of that action partake in a duel! The duel winner reaps the rewards of the action space whilst the losing cowboys are sent packing. Some people have a problem with Carson City because a roll of a die decides duels. I think it is thematically appropriate that luck in a fight can be mitigated to some degree (with the use of revolvers), but ultimately is a dice roll. 

Throughout four glorious rounds, Carson City offers the ability to make your profit out in the west while robbing the other players blind. No other game with conflict that I have played also includes the same amount of delicious tension of a well-designed system. 

I usually don’t care what you do in a worker placement game because I am focused on optimizing my machine and making my points get larger. In Carson City, there are cheeky smiles around the table as you wonder whether or not you are both going to send cowboys to try to grab the guns. Each placement is a beautiful accent on the overarching story of a play.

Carson City is the real deal. It is a compelling worker placement game that can be taught and played in 90 minutes. The edition I bought came with a bouquet of variations to play with, which promise a tantalizing combination of ways to play. While it wouldn’t be the first thing I would show someone new to games, this game is a gold standard of what makes board gaming fun. 

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