My Wife Always Wins - An Uphill Battle in Board Gaming!
by: Brian Shabbott
Do you have that one friend who beats you at every game, no matter how hard you try? For me, that person is the one I game with the most: My wife! Welcome to “My Wife Always Wins,” my weekly exploration of our gaming relationship and all the pain and suffering that ensues!
This Week’s Game: Carcassonne
We recently had some snowfall here in Upstate New York. The knowledge that I would have to go dig out the cars loomed, but I just wasn't ready to do it; it's been a cold winter, and just by looking at the snow I knew it was the wet, heavy kind. I definitely had procrastination on my mind – so when my wife, Lyndsey, suggested a game I was quick to jump.
I reached for Forbidden Desert. It was seven degrees outside, so what could offset that misery better than a game set in a hot, dry wasteland? I wish that was my true motivation, but I feel the need to be honest here: Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game which means win or lose, we do it together. With co-op, I appreciate the idea of hoisting the trophy (or sulking in defeat) as an equal alongside my wife. It sure beats the alternative.
You see, with competitive games my wife always wins. Once we are foes on opposite sides of the table, her heart becomes icier than the coldest of winter days. She knows this as well as I do, and she was quick to veto Forbidden Desert. Instead, she dropped Carcassonne on the table in front of me. I looked from Lyndsey to the game to the window. In the face of the beating I was about to receive, the idea of shoveling suddenly became very attractive.
I grunted my approval; my chivalrous nature required me to assent to her game. But I'm not that chivalrous. "How about the loser shovels?" I asked. Perhaps setting a high stake would help me break the trend of bowing to her in defeat and allow me to escape the chore I was dreading at the same time. "Maybe we should just skip the game then," she said. "You'll be shoveling either way."
Before I get to our session, here is a brief breakdown of the game. Carcassonne is a tile placement game based on the fortress-city of the same name in Southern France. The object of the game is to build and claim various geographical landmarks, including roads, monasteries, and cities. Each player's turn consists of drawing a tile and placing it contiguous to another tile already in play. Tile placement must be consistent: for instance, a tile that ends with a road cannot connect to an open field. Once a player places a tile, he or she has the option to place a meeple token on it to claim it.
Scoring is a simple concept: points are awarded for each structure according to the number of tiles it includes. The longer the road, the bigger the city, or the more land surrounding a monastery the better. Some city tiles also have a coat of arms on them, which doubles the points for those particular tiles.
Completing one of these structures during gameplay allows you to score it instantly and reclaim your meeple to use again (you only have seven meeples, so if they are all in play on tiles, you can't claim anymore until you score a completed structure). Any incomplete structures are scored at the end of the game – and in the case of cities, each tile is worth half the value of those in a completed city.
If you are interested in seeing the full rulebook, please check the link here: http://www.zmangames.com/uploads/4/7/1/7/47170931/carcassonne_new_edition.pdf.
Time to Play
Lyndsey went first, drew her first tile, and played it next to the starting tile. It was a road and she opted to place her meeple on it. I played the start of a city above her tile and attached a meeple of my own.
After the first few rounds I felt good about my play. My wife had claimed her initial road and a monastery, while I had a meeple on two incomplete cities. I continued to add tiles to the cities, while she continued to build her road and add to the land surrounding her monastery. Lyndsey was the first to score when her monastery was completely surrounded by eight lands. Including the monastery tile, it was worth nine points.
I wasn't too worried, my cities were getting bigger. One was three tiles, the other was four. I intended on growing them even larger so that when they scored I could really cash in on their worth. While I was building for big points, Lyndsey was cashing in on smaller rewards: a few two-tile cities (which are worth four points each) and a three-tile road for three points.
Before I knew it, she had 53 points, while I was just sitting at 12 for claiming a monastery and a road. It wasn't as bad as it seemed though. I had one eight-tile city with four coats of arms. I figured I could close that out with two well-placed tiles. Ten tiles and four coats of arms would be 28 points when the city was complete. My second city was of a similar size but only with two coats of arms: I figured I'd be able to pull in at least 24 for that one. 52 points, along with whatever little stuff I could grab along the way would put me in the lead, and I'd be in a good position to stay there.
But I said it before. My wife is cold-hearted, and she had calculated my points as well. I didn't see it coming when she placed her first tile on my city. It was an illogical move, because she is not allowed to place a meeple on a tile connected to my city. But, for whatever reason, this move didn't strike me as strange. I even remember smirking at the look on her face – she looked so proud of herself, but she was only helping me.
When she placed a second tile on my other city, it became all too clear: she had connected my incomplete cities to two of her own. Unless I could figure out a way to get a second meeple on the city – not an easy task, as I would have to have a meeple on another nearby city and connect them like Lyndsey had – we would split the points allotted by the cities, thereby making it a wash. This late in the game, without having planned for this tactic, it was a near impossibility.
Despite my particular shortcomings, this event is exactly why we love Carcassonne. There is no perfect strategy, and seemingly anyone can win (besides me, apparently). You may opt to go for the small, guaranteed points as Lyndsey did. Those add up and can present a formidable score in the long run. You can also choose to sacrifice smaller points for bigger end game results, as I did.
But, as can be seen from our own experiences with the game, one or two moves can change the outcome entirely. Two more tiles from me could have secured the high score and the game, but then came two tiles from Lyndsey to deny it. Likewise, I could have still recovered and recaptured my city. It is a simple game, but one of nuanced strategy. In order to win, above all else you need to adapt. Adaptability is essential to success in all aspects of life, and gaming is no different. The same could be said for marriage; perhaps that is why we enjoy this game so much. Carcassonne is a classic, and remains one of our go-to games for this very reason. Adaptability is key.
So, did I adapt? Was I able to use my remaining moves to counter my wife’s roadblock, reclaim my cities, and – in doing so – claim the game?
Let me spare you the details here: we split the cities, Lyndsey kept her lead through the remainder of the game, she got the trophy, and I got a shovel.
Brian Shabbott is a 31 year old aspiring writer. Brian spends much of his time playing games with friends and family. Brian loves to compete and play games he loves - but he never wins against his wife! Brian is looking forward to introducing himself as a writer and producer for you!
Follow Brian on Twitter @heyshabbott
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