CARCASSONNE GOLD RUSH by Klaus Jürgen-Wrede is published by the exceptional German games company Hans im Glück. It is the latest in the great Carcassonne range and is for 2-5 players aged 8+ with games taking from half-hour upwards.
Carcassonne games are renown for being tile based with each game adding something new or changing the way players score points. Each game in the Carcassonne range is similar but different and that's what keeps the players coming back regularly for more. Personally my family and gaming friends enjoy the Carcassonne games, some more than others, and this is rapidly becoming one of our favourites. The theme is basically the same, lay tiles, place Meeples, score points during the game and at the game end. The main differences this edition are that instead of roads or dirt tracks you are connecting railway lines, plus there is a random scoring for Gold Mines, and endgame scoring for Horses and Indian Camps.
The game rules remain the same. Play begins with a "Start" tile and then in turn the players draw a tile and place it, they do not have a hand of tiles to choose from and they never keep the tile they have drawn, even if they don't like where it has to be placed. If it cannot be placed then it is discarded from the game, but this is a very rare possibility and about as unlikely as the Miami Dolphins winning the Superbowl in the same season as Tottenham Hotspur win the Premier League. I have to say that in earlier editions of Carcassonne our group decided to change the draw and place rule for one where the players are dealt 3 tiles at the game start and then play and place and draw back to three, finally playing out their hand(s) to end the game. Our house-rule works well with some of the Carcassonne versions but not so well with others; this edition is one of the others.
So we actually play GOLD RUSH to the rules and it works a treat. As with most Tile laying games you have to place your tile fully adjacent to one side (or more) of a previously laid tile or tiles, matching each side that touches with the terrain (or train in this case) so that there aren't any mismatches. Simply put, a railway track cannot go into a mountain and a mountain cannot butt up to a meadow etc.
GOLD RUSH has some great new ideas, such as the campsites and gold mines. When a gold mine is placed it will show a number of gold nuggets and that number of mining counters are placed face down on the mine. When another mine is added to the same terrain grouping then the nugget/mining counters from that are added to the others to make one larger stack. Players can build their campsite on the terrain where a gold mine or gold mines lay and then each turn instead of doing an action, other than placing a tile, they may take the top mine counter from the stack. When the mountain terrain is completed any remaining counters are taken by the mining player with the majority of Meeples plus they get one point per nugget showing on the mountain, these points being scored immediately.
The train tracks are scored slightly differently. When the track reaches a station, junction or town it is scored. If there are no trains or more than one train on the line then the player scores the number of tiles that make up the track. If there is just one train on the line then the tiles are counted as normal but then the number is doubled; a clever way of having players help each other while hurting their scoring at the same time.
In Carcassonne Gold Rush there are many options for players despite there only being three actions they can take per turn. The most interesting and possibly game winning action being when the player draws a Town tile. Towns have a number of exit routes, noted by railway lines. The player who places the Town may place a cowboy (Meeple) on the town in which case they will score immediate points when all exits from the town are completed, ie the tracks reach a junction, station or other town. This can result in a fair few points as the score is 3pts for each completed exit, that's up to 12 points depending on the Town. If the player has also taken control of the tracks (by placing cowboys astride them) then this can be extremely lucrative, points-wise.
When the last tile from the supply has been placed (or discarded) the game ends. Unlike many games, incomplete tracks and mountains score now, but not as well as they might have if completed during the game. This means that there is never a lost cause and that placing the last tile can always be beneficial if played to its best advantage. Our games are always fairly close. There is the odd, very occasional, game where someone strikes it lucky, but generally only a few points are the difference, and these games usually roll around the final scoring.
Everything about CARCASSONNE GOLD RUSH screams quality. It also suggests that after many years of designing the same game over and again (same meat different gravy as my mum would have said) a much better game has emerged. I would happily recommend Carcassonne Gold Rush to any and all board games players, be they hard core or family oriented. Some games "have it all" and Carcassonne Gold Rush is one of those games. It has Luck, Thought, Skill, Random, Clever Play plus Long Term and Short Term strategies. It is an extremely fine game that reflects what the Carcassonne game series is all about.