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The Dad Game: I don't know about you, but I'm whelmed

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 9:46 am

I feel whelmed. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed; just whelmed.

We're barely into the new year, but my world is full of helpful advice and sincere motivation about making positive, proactive changes for 2014. I don't need any more advice right now. I need to process what I already have. I'm whelmed.

Since you're probably feeling the same way, I'll spare you my motivational thoughts for now. (No guarantees about next time, though.)

Instead, let's talk about evergreen trees.

If evergreens had better marketing, we'd know them as “no-rake trees” because they don't lose their tiny pointed leaves in the fall like the other trees do. They're bushy, green, pointy, and enjoyable all year long.

In the world of games (because you knew that transition was coming), when a game is perpetually awesome and enjoyable, we call it an “evergreen game.” Evergreens have strong replayability, so every time the game hits your table, you're practically guaranteed a great time.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great board games out there. Only a handful of those games make my evergreen list. They're the best of the best. Of the best. We're talking about a really rarified selection.

From time to time, we'll talk about evergreen games here, because they're the backbone of any family game collection. They'll become a regular thread in your memories because you spent so much time gathered around them. That's a good thing. That's why they're evergreen games.

And Carcassonne, from Z-Man Games, is one of the greenest of the evergreens.

It won the prestigious Spiel des Jahre, the German "game of the year" award, back in 2001. (We'll talk more about that award in future columns, but for now you only need to know that if something wins Spiel des Jahres, then it's a certifiably Good Game. Really.)

As you open Carcassonne, you immediately notice that the game has no board. Instead, it comes with 72 square tiles and a bunch of little wooden people-shaped playing pieces.

Each tile shows a cute cartoon of a fanciful countryside with roads, abbeys, cities, and so on. As you play the game, you and the other players put the tiles together to build the board. You score points as you add to the map by completing roads or finishing the walls of a city.

Of course, to score points you need a marker of some kind on the board to show what you've been doing. That's where the meeples come in.

“Meeple” is the name given to the wooden, person-shaped, markers used in Carcassonne. The term caught on so well that it took on a life of its own. These days, any small game piece that's made of wood and shaped like almost any familiar object is usually referred to as a meeple. (Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)

To score points in Carcassonne, you add one of your map tiles to the map so it connects with a tile already in play. Then you place one of your meeple on a feature of the tile you played. You might place it on a road, in an abbey, in a city, or even in the middle of a green field. Exactly where you place it determines how that meeple scores points for you in the game.

You only have a handful of meeples, so you can't scatter them just anywhere. Carefully choosing where each meeple goes plays a big part in the game's strategy.

Because there's no reading with Carcassonne, it makes a great choice for adults to play with younger kids. The meeple pieces themselves are solid and chunky, making it easy for small fingers put them into place and pick them up for scoring.

The game plays very well with 2 to 5 players. It's especially good with just two players, which you can't say about every game out there.

If you need to add a sixth player, get the game's first expansion, Carcassonne Inns and Cathedrals, to your shopping list. Come to think of it, you should probably just put that on your shopping list anyway because it adds some great new elements.

Carcassonne plays in 30 to 45 minutes, so nobody in the family will get bored. Since the tiles come up in random order, the game turns out very differently each time you play, giving it a very high replayability factor. Our family started playing it over 10 years ago, and we still enjoy it today, even after at least hundred plays. It's that good.

Fort Wayne resident John Kaufeld is a best-selling author, speaker and dad. He enjoys playing games with his family and letting others know about them. You can email him at john@johnkaufeld.com and read more of his work at www.johnkaufeld.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.