#729 – Carpe Diem

Base price: $45.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 45 – 75 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A review copy of Carpe Diem was provided by Ravensburger.

As promised, we’re getting deep into Feld territory. Not entirely sure where it will lead, but, I’ve got Castles of Burgundy still in the pipeline, so, it’ll probably lead there. As I’ve mentioned before, these are a bit longer / Euroier / heavier than my usual, but I figure if I can only play like, one game a day without getting tired, I might as well play a game that’s a bit heavier than my normal, so it feels “worth it”. I still have a review of Dominations kicking around in my brain; I’ll get to that at some point in the future maybe probably. As you might guess, there’s always more to review around here, anyways, so never fear. Might as well get started with Carpe Diem, then!

In Carpe Diem, you play as influential patricians, founding districts and improving your city with your influence. You want to build great buildings to make the city richer and nicer (and, I mean, if you get wealthier along the way, that’s just a happy bonus, right?). That said, you’ll have to be quick on your feet if you want to get the best tiles before someone else gets them; in pretty much every case, only one person can end up on a scoring card. Hopefully that’ll be you. Make the best of trade and construction in order to win! You’re in Rome, after all; will you be able to do as the Romans do?

Contents

Setup

Setup takes a bit. First, you’ll want to build your player area. That means making a square out of 4 frame boards:

And then adding a city district board to the center:

After doing that, you should place the writ tokens on each of the indicated spaces on your city’s district board:

I may have forgotten to do that in the photos; oops. Anyways, give each player a resource board, too:

Give them a patrician and the player tokens of their color:

Each player should place their patrician in an unoccupied blue rectange on the game board:

That is a nice segue into setting up the game board. Separate the forum cards by back, and then take some from each pile to form the scoring deck:

You’ll do so depending on your player count:

  • 2 players: 2A / 2B / 2C / 2D
  • 3 players: 2A / 3B / 2C / 3D
  • 4 players: 3A / 3B / 2C / 4D

Shuffle those and place them on the spaces on the game board that have a number of dots corresponding to your player count. That means that all four corner spots will be empty at two players, two opposite corner spots will be empty at three players, and the board will be full at four players. Next, shuffle the Fountain cards and set them aside:

You can sort the victory point cards into 5 piles, as well. I didn’t, because of table space concerns, but you can:

You’ll want to separate the light-backed building tiles from the dark-backed building tiles next. Shuffle the light-backed ones and place four face-up on each of the 28 available spaces on the game board, setting the rest aside:

Set 11 of the dark-backed building tiles in a row at the bottom of the game board, after shuffling them:

Set the goods in separate piles near the game board, including the coins and bread:

Finally, give each player victory points in player order, depending on your player count:

  • 2 players: 8VP / 9VP
  • 3 players: 8VP / 9VP / 13VP
  • 4 players: 8VP / 9VP / 10VP / 11VP

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of Carpe Diem is surprisingly not too complex. Over the course of four rounds, you’ll acquire prestige and build a city district, scoring it at the end of each round. As you do so, since it’s a Feld game, you’ll also find a variety of additional ways to score points, and at the end of the game the player with the most points wins!

A round takes place over a series of 7 turns. Each turn has a Movement Phase and a Building Phase. At the end of the round, a Scoring Phase occurs.

Movement Phase

To start your turn, you’ll move your Patrician token onto the space to the left or right of your current space. You may pay 1 bread to move to any space (including the space you’re currently on). You can move onto a space with another player’s Patrician on it.

If you move onto a space with no tiles in front of it, you may move again in the same direction (no turning around!) until you hit a space with tiles.

Building Phase

When you build, take a tile from the four potential options near your space and place it on your board. There are a few caveats:

  • Your first tile must be placed on the shovel.
  • All subsequent tiles must be placed adjacent to existing tiles.
  • If you place a tile on a writ space, remove the writ token and gain 1 prestige. If you move your token onto the same space as another player, place your token on top of theirs.
  • Completing buildings earns you rewards. For Villas, it’s points, for Dwellings, it depends on the dwelling, and for Landscapes, you gain a good based on the size of the landscape. Fountains, Markets, and Bakeries are always completed as soon as they’re placed.
  • You cannot place a tile if it does not match the adjacent tiles. Keep in mind that the outer edge counts as empty space, so you cannot have a tile touching it with any side other than the tile’s grass side.
  • In lower player count games, you must eventually discard tiles. In a two-player game, once two tiles have been taken from a location, discard the rest. In a three-player game, once three tiles have been taken from a location, discard the fourth tile.
  • You don’t have to use a tile you take. You may discard it from the game, if you want. I have not seen many players go for this one.

Scoring Phase

Once all tiles have been taken or discarded, the round ends. The player farthest along the prestige bar goes first in this phase, with player order being determined for the Scoring Phase by your position on the prestige bar. If multiple players are on the same space, player order is set from top to bottom.

This part is fun. Choose a pair of cards and place your marker on an empty spot between those two cards (if there is one). You can gain victory points, coins, prestige, or bread depending on the top half of the card. If you have three bread, you may spend all three to fulfill the top requirement of any card.

The cool thing is that once you’ve chosen a scoring pair, you can score it as many times as you are able during the scoring phase! So if it’s 1 point for a chicken and you have 6 chickens, you can score 6 points! Fun times. You can also use a coin in lieu of any good. You can also choose the order in which you fulfill your scoring cards, as fulfilling one may allow you to score more with the other. Combo potential!

If you can’t meet the requirements of a scoring card, but you placed there anyways, you lose 4 victory points. That does mean it’s possible to lose 8 points in a round. Don’t do that.

End of Round

After a round ends, refill the board depending on your round:

  • Starting Round 2: Use the light-backed tiles.
  • Starting Round 3: Use the light-backed tiles.
  • Starting Round 4: Use the dark-backed tiles.

End of Game

At the end of the game, you should also check your frame bonuses! These are bonuses given if you have a completed building of a certain type along the line indicated on the frame. Do that, add all your points together (including fountain card bonuses and 1 point for every 2 goods / coins / bread you have) and the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

It’s an interesting thing, how player counts change the game in Carpe Diem. I wouldn’t say the board is more or less busy, since it compensates by dumping more tiles at lower player counts (once two of the four tiles are taken from a spot in a two-player game, the other two are discarded, for instance). That still gives the game a good feeling of urgency, since you need to get to a spot before everything is ruined, but it’s perhaps not as urgent as in a four-player game, where the non-you players can swarm a spot and pick it dry? Part of the reason I find it interesting is because dumping tiles that someone wants feels like a decidedly less personal attack than you taking the tile that they want, even though the end result is the same: they don’t get that tile. This means that at lower player counts, the player interaction seems to feel less directly negative, even though the difference between me taking a tile you need and dumping a tile you need, from your perspective, is negligible. I like that gray area, personally; it means that I can mostly work to benefit myself without directly angering my opponent, which I try to avoid in games (when possible). There’s a bit more downtime at higher player counts, granted, but the turns are short enough that I barely notice. Plus, there are additional scoring cards in play, so there are more ways to score big (potentially). This has the nice added effect of potentially pushing players in different strategic directions, which is good!

Strategy

  • Try to plan out which scoring cards you want to go for. This is, of course, a generally good idea, but it’s worth stating. The tiles may cause you to pivot, a bit, but if you know what your goals are, you can try and get the tiles you need to build long-term towards that goal. This is kind of the entire core idea of the game.
  • If you’re worried about an opponent going before you in scoring, make sure you’re well ahead of them on the prestige track. It’s definitely a possibility that you and your opponent will be going for the same scoring intersection on the board (especially if you’re trying to swipe it from them). If you really want to make sure you get it, being as far ahead on the prestige track as you can will make sure that they understand they have no hope of taking the scoring spot you want. If you’re looking to be more sinister, keep in mind that you place your token on top of another player’s when you advance on the prestige track, so if you wait until the very end of the round and advance onto their space, you’ll still get to go before them, but they will have wasted a round chasing a card they won’t get. It’s cruel, but, fair.
  • You can usually see what your opponents are going for, and how long it will take them to get there. You may be able to head them off if you’re faster. Generally your opponents’ boards have open spaces with certain building configurations they need to close up their buildings. Those tiles likely exist on the board, and they want them, so they need to gradually move towards them. This makes their strategy a bit transparent, if you have enough time to see what they’re planning. This also means that if you can, you may want to take a tile they need to really throw a wrench in their scoring gears. Or not! You can be nice.
  • Careful about your planning once your opponents get some bread. Once your opponents have bread tokens, the calculus on trying to check their plans changes pretty aggressively, since you can no longer guarantee that it will take 3 turns for them to move 3 spaces. They may just hop there next turn! Or they may use the bread to keep you in check while they move there, so they don’t waste the bread. Either way, it’s more challenging.
  • One thing that works well in a lower player count game is the indirect spite, where you don’t take the tile that an opponent needs but you do take the last available tile for that section so the rest get dumped. Generally if you take enough tiles that your opponents want, you will incur their wrath sooner or later. If you manage to just consistently dump the tile they want, they may not be quite as mad. It’s not personal, you’ll tell them; you just really needed that other tile, you know? Maybe that will work? It shouldn’t, but it might?
  • Keeping three bread handy is a generally good idea; you really don’t want to lose points. Having three bread as a bail-out tactic is generally good, especially early in the game. By the end of the game, if you’re still using three bread to hit scoring targets, you’re probably in trouble. By then, you should be placing tiles so that you can score independently without relying too much on bread.
  • Remember that a lot of the scoring cards count per instance of that thing you have, meaning that if you go deep you can really rack up points. This allows you to drill down and score the same card multiple times, which can really help you if you can go all-in on one tile type. Naturally, this is hard to do, but it’s very lucrative if you can pull it off.
  • Similarly, if you see an opponent trying to go deep with one scoring card, you can be somewhat obliged to block them. You may not be able to block them as intensely as you’d like, given that many cards can be scored more than once, but if they’re going to be scoring over 20+ points in one round, it may be best to cut them off. That said, unless you’re already in good shape, that may be a kingmaker move, so up to you if your ethics system allows for that.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • For how serious the game makes losing four points during the scoring phase sound, it’s not too challenging to avoid. When I played, I scrambled a bit to avoid losing the points, but you can largely avoid that if you’re planning well enough. As the game progresses, players essentially tend to split along some scoring card interaction lines, so you’re rarely directly competing with another player for one particular intersection. This means that you can usually make something work unless the game really gives you some tough scoring cards. If that happens, though, it’s more likely that everyone is going to get messed up, so, don’t worry too much about yourself in particular.
  • I like the player interaction, since you can sort-of-see players all racing for the same few tiles. There are going to be circumstances where players aren’t competing for scoring but they might be competing for certain tiles (there are, for instance, some tiles that let you effectively take an additional tile, which is pretty good no matter what your strategy is). When that happens, the racing element is pretty interesting, especially for players who have the ability to jump via the bread tokens. They then have to weigh whether or not it’s worth it to jump, which is cool! It’s a nice tension, and I think Carpe Diem does a good job creating some strategic tension for players.
  • The actual tableau- / city-building experience is very satisfying. It looks nice on the table (especially with the new art upgrades). I’m, as I’ve noted in previous reviews, kind of a sucker for any game that gives me as a player a good sense of progression, and Carpe Diem’s city-building elements do a lot for that, for me. You end up with a robust little city and some cool and complex scoring interactions. It’s challenging, at times, but still fun.
  • Having played the original version online, I really appreciate what this new version does for cleaning up some of the more problematic areas of the original’s graphic design. In the original, it was pretty difficult to tell some sets of buildings and structures and landscapes apart. That would cause problems if, for instance, you spent a few turns moving towards a market only to find out it was a bakery. This has, graciously, been corrected for this version. Most things look pretty distinct. There are still a few issues with the frame boards, since everything is smaller, but on the tiles I’ve found that everything is pretty easy to distinguish.
  • For a medium-length game, there’s not a lot of downtime, which is nice. Each turn is pretty short since it’s just move a space and take a tile, potentially drawing another tile or some cards. Those things can largely happen while the next player is moving, anyways, so I haven’t seen a ton of downtime when I’ve played. That’s good! It’s nice to have medium-weight games that are still pretty quick.
  • The box is very stately. I mean, it should be, for Carpe Diem, but I appreciate that it is. I really like what Alea has done with all of their boxes for this line; they look very good.
  • I like the intersection scoring for this game as well; it’s pretty interesting. I hesitate to call games with high variability “highly replayable”, since those aren’t quite the same concept, but I do like what the scoring scheme does for the game. It essentially forces you to cross two potentially unrelated tiles in order to progress in the game, which changes up your strategy from game to game (especially depending on the scoring cards). For instance, one game my opponent and I had scoring cards that all rewarded small amounts of things, so we were quickly building tiny villas and getting those completed as quickly as possible. Another game rewarded large quantities of fish, so the player(s) going after that had to pivot to think about larger landscapes. It’s an interesting thing, tying together two unrelated tile types for scoring purposes, and I like it a lot! It does seem challenging to balance, but if there’s anyone who is an expert at “you just … get points for things”, it’s Feld.

Mehs

  • While it does barely fit on my table, I do kind of wish the tiles were bigger. It would help a bit with that one legibility issue I mentioned, but it would also make this game into a massive table hog. Trade offs! I find that the tiles are a bit small, but I suppose they would have to be if you didn’t want the board to be even larger. Oh well.
  • It would be nice if the game had something like Village Green’s lawns, that would at least allow you to close off problem spaces. The first time I played the game, I was a bit frustrated that there were double-ended tiles that you couldn’t connect to the frame (since they didn’t match up). I almost want a “blank” tile that would leave a building incomplete but at least cover that spot so you could build off of it. Naturally, that would cause all sorts of downstream effects, but it’s occasionally a nice thought.

Cons

  • It’s still a bit of a pain to set up. There’s just a lot to do with a lot of components that don’t shuffle well (small tiles are tough to shuffle). The multiple different sets of scoring cards that need to be shuffled and then selected and then shuffled again is also a bit of a pain. It does mean that I will probably more commonly play this on Yucata, since I appreciate that it takes care of setup (and scoring!) for you.
  • Bad luck on tile draws can really mess you up. You can definitely go all-in on a few tile types, only to have none of their endpieces show up in the next round. That kind of clowns you pretty aggressively, especially if that means that most of the endpieces showed up in previous rounds. There’s not much you can do about that, beyond getting the building that lets you take a bonus dark-backed tile and having the tile you need be in the bottom row on the board, but it can be frustrating to see a chunk of the game junked up by bad luck. Thankfully, that hopefully happens early enough that you can recover, or late enough that you’ve scored in other ways and aren’t directly depending on this particular setup.

Overall: 8 / 10

Overall, yeah, I had a bunch of fun with Carpe Diem! I think I’m slowly getting into the Eurogame mindset or whatever, I guess? It’s not the most thematic game I’ve played, and that kind of defeats it a bit for me, but I like city-building a lot and I think the pseudo-rondel thing it’s got going on is pretty fun. I will say that, of the Aleas I’ve played so far, I’m definitely the biggest fan of The Castles of Tuscany, but that’s also pretty solidly more within my wheelhouse than Carpe Diem, in terms of the weight of games I normally play, so that’s not exactly a huge surprise. I think the next step is to go for the Original One and try The Castles of Burgundy. We’re just gonna see how that goes. I may love it; I may not! No idea. What I will say is that I’ve tried Carpe Diem’s original version and this new Alea version, and I vastly prefer this new version. The graphic design is cleaned up pretty significantly, to the point that it is now much easier to tell everything apart, which was a major flaw in the original (both in my experience and it was just a thing I heard chatter about when it first came out). I also just think the new box is stately, and I kind of like that. If I were in a position to actually display game box fronts because they look nice, the Alea set might be a set worth displaying. They’re simple and tasteful. To the game itself, I actually find the scoring mechanics probably the most interesting, since they pair up potentially diametrically opposed ideas and force the player to try and score both, lest they lose points. This means even if you want to aggressively focus on one thing, you need to at least do the bare minimum to score its adjacent card or you’ll lose some of the points you would have otherwise gained. You won’t always be able to rely on the same strategy to carry you through, and I think that’s a nice touch. My complaints are largely around setup. It takes a while (trust me; I had to set it up alone), and that can be frustrating for an otherwise snappy game. I also would just love for the tiles to be … larger. Easier to handle, easier to set and pick up, and easier to see. Maybe I’m getting old. Either way, I think Ravensburger’s got another solid title on their hands, and if you’re looking for a fun game that’s a little more medium-weight, I’d recommend checking out Carpe Diem! I’ve certainly enjoyed it.


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