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Carson City is a rootin' tootin' game of cowboys 'n' guns -- lots o' guns.
There are 4 rounds per game. At the beginning of each round, players choose a character (there are 7 available) that gives them certain advantages (for example, the sheriff prevents any duels from happening wherever he is placed).
After selecting characters, your cowboys are placed on action track locations that allow you to construct buildings, houses or roads; claim ground; earn money; or score victory points. When more than one player is on the same location, get ready, it is time for a duel! Roll the dice and see if you are the last one standing and lay claim to the goods!
During the game, you can take various actions that earn you victory points for your plots, pistols (the hired help) and buildings. At the end of the game, your buildings, houses, mountains and money contribute to your victory points and the person with the most points wins. So go round up your posse of gunslingers and get ready for some Wild West action in Carson City!
Carson City combines city building, role selection, worker placement, and tightly-themed player interaction (cowboy dueling) and comes out a big winner.
Players select a role each turn (Sheriff, Grocer, Settler, Mercenery, etc.) and then alternate turns in placing their cowboys on the board (cowboy meeples!). Players have very tough choices before them: do I place my cowboy on a promising parcel of land so that I can build on it? Or do I buy a saloon for a cheap price, hoping no other players duel me for it, or do I pay a little more to make sure it remains uncontested? Do I pick the Sheriff this turn and secure my actions from being taken in a duel, or increase my firepower with the Mercenary? Do I risk fighting another player for the right to build a certain building? Do I dare roll the dice and gamble for extra income? So many choices, so much fun.
I should also mention that QWG's production values--always top notch--are yet again first rate. The artwork is evocative and the pieces are all extremely durable, functional, and thematically charged. There is also a genuine pleasure in watching Carson City grow from a tiny house into a full-fledged Western town. Kudos to QWG for making another game that makes you really WANT to play with those pieces!
As a highly involved strategy game, Carson City is demanding--especially on the first play--but it is worth it! Although the rules are sometimes ambiguous and in a few cases difficult to follow, the notes on Boardgamegeek.com offer welcome clarifications.
In short: Carson City is utterly engaging and atmospheric, with lots of room for surprise and tension in player dueling, and makes for a welcome breath of fresh air overall. Very highly recommended!
At the latest gaming convention, one of my friends had Carson City. Did I want to play that? You bet! A five-player game ensued.
My friend who taught us the game said it was a little like Caylus. I noticed a few similarities, and the game had a good flow to it. You start out looking at squares already dotted with nine randomly placed mountain tiles and the building located in the predetermined center of the city with four roads around it. You are introduced to your playing pieces, cowboys. Each participants has cowboys and parcel lots (12 allocated) to distribute. The maximum number of cowboys in your personal reserve is 10. At the end of the first round you get 4 cowboys, second and third rounds, 5 cowboys.
Then, the fun begins. On the first phase of your turn you select a role ranging from sheriff to grocer to banker to captain to settler to mercenary (gunfighter). You are given one gun or ammunition at the start. Little did I realize how important that gun and more guns would become in the game. At the game's beginning, each player chooses two of his parcels and randomly places them on the Carson City board. After that, it is time for the four phases, personality choice, cowboy placement, duels, and end of round.
I chose the grocer, because everyone else grabbed sheriff, banker, mercenary, and so forth. You, then, place your cowboys (limited to five at the start) on the specially designated squares like Caylus. You may want to construct a ranch, drugstore, mine, bank, or saloon, for examples. As you place your cowboy, remember someone else can place his or hers on the same construction site (or several people) and challenge you to a "duel." That is so frustrating, because I lost a ranch because of having too few guns. The mercenary beat up on the grocer. In addition to the construction sites, you may make some money, acquire some roads, or take more guns by your placement of cowboys.
The mine tile is particularly fascinating. You may attempt to buy the mine and place under an already placed mountain tile. Otherwise, you can place your mine anywhere on an unoccupied Carson City space or next to a mountain for extra income points. It is important to realize that buildings, obviously, can only be placed on parcel lots. You can't place a building on a blank Carson space without the parcel lot accompanying it.
Now comes a quirk of the game. For the role or personality you have chosen, you notice a money amount at the bottom of the card. That means you can't have any more money in your possession at the end of the round than what is designated.
One has remember that when you choose a bank, drugstore, or saloon, for examples, that choice (won, of course) comes with a house. Nothing can be started on the board without a parcel lot and a cowboy placed on the blank tile space on the Carson board Two of these parcels are allocated from your stock at the beginning of the game. Further, houses are never bought.
Something else becomes quite evident. You need roads to connect buildings. As a sideline, the hotel is a building that automatically acquires two houses. You already have one road at the start, but it take many more roads to accommodate all the building. For example, to acquire more roads, you can choose the personality of the Chinese Coolie. That gives you the ability to receive two roads plus having the cost of any building halved for that round. Roads are peculiar, because they only have to touch the edge of another Carson tile space to connect. Always keep enough roads on hand to build.
It soon became necessary to acquire the Sheriff. In previous turns I had already lost a mine in another duel. The valuable properties always seem to attract all the guns and the gunfighters. In acquiring the Sheriff I receive a "white" colored cowboy to go with my other cowboys. Cowboys also count as guns. Therefore, suppose you have chosen "three guns" square as part of your cowboy placement and you still possess two cowboys left over from the previous turn. Therefore, you are entitled to claim the possession of five guns for any possible duels initiated by you or another player.
Now, let's return to yesteryear and the selection of the Sheriff. During that round you cannot be attacked by another player or challenged to a duel. I could place my Sheriff cowboy on the saloon bid and automatically receive the saloon (and its accompanying house) once I paid for the saloon. No one could challenge me. I like the Sheriff for that reason.
The payment of your selected building is quite intriguing. You have your parcel lot placed and have bought the drugstore, for example. You notice in your placement you must pay "four" dollars. How was that arrived at? You have three buildings on pieces of land surrounding you (including reading diagonally); one dollar for placing and three for the surrounding buildings. Additionally, you must have a blank tile space for the house that needs to be erected next to the drugstore. In your placement of your drugstore on the parcel you need to spot what building properties are around you. Suppose you have two houses around you. Then, with the help of the parcel lot marking and its arrow, you place next to the rotated "6" on the drugstore tile to indicate income received at the end of the game as part of victory points.
As the game progresses, obviously, the board becomes quite crowded, especially with five players. It is rated as a 2-5 player game. As the game reached its climax, I forgot another player could place a cowboy as part of the actions on your owned building. Therefore, I suddenly found a foreign object called a cowboy on my only remaining ranch. Unless I challenged that player to a duel (didn't have quite enough guns), that player was entitled to half my ranch income at the end of the game in determining victory points. Naturally, I had to cave in. Irritation. . .
Still, I would rank Carson City as high in playability, possible choices and personality roles, and overall fast movement of the game. It is more than blazing guns and duels. To reiterate, during the phases of each round you need to do the following:
The game goes for five rounds.