Carpe Diem

Stefan Feld

Publisher: Ravensburger / Alea

Is Carpe Diem the end of the line for the vaunted Alea series? Should we seize the day and get this game? (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

Finally, Alea reaches the end of the line with who else, but Stefan Feld’s Carpe Diem. As Alea and Ravensburger plot a new line of revenue by revamping old games in their library, we are left to wonder if they saved the best for last with Carpe Diem. Will we see vintage Feld or will he surprise us with a new twist?

Carpe Diem is a light-to-middle weight tile laying game that is to me, most similar to Carcassonne: The Castle. Like Carc: Castle, players pick up tiles and try to assemble a town within a bordered region. While Carc: Castle allows 2 players to build over a shared space, Carpe Diem permits up to 4 players to each construct their own town. Of course in Carpe Diem, the buildings are more diverse, the decision space is larger and more complex and there are more scoring categories (this is after all, a Feld). However, when all is said and done, the underlying concept of both games are pretty similar: Arrange different buildings in your town and score as many points as humanly possible to beat your opponent. Either that or have an awesome gigantic villa at the end of the game!

In Carpe Diem, players draft tiles from a main board to build their individual towns within a predetermined rectangular frame. Tiles are selected in player order by moving or bouncing a meeple around a series of rectangular regions arranged in a circle, each containing 4 tiles. As tiles are picked and added to individual town squares, the regions are emptied. Tiles selected must immediately be added to the town with specific placement rules. Basically, the cardinal rule is that similar town elements must be placed together. When all tiles are either taken or removed from the rectangular regions, the round ends and interim scoring kicks in. Here, there is some tension as players must select specific scoring categories based on the scoring cards available. Chips are placed in between cards so that scoring occurs for adjacent cards. Only one player is allowed to place a chip between each card and in that way, players fight for the right to score specific categories. Since a chip straddles two scoring cards, both cards are scored independently and if you cannot fulfill a scoring criteria, points are deducted. The scoring cards remain on the board throughout the game, so there are dwindling options for scoring and a constant fight for scoring opportunities.

Carpe Diem once again spots many familiar Feld elements: I almost expect every Feld design to have an initiative track of some sort. In Carpe Diem, a Banderole bar pretty much serves as an initiative track. In this case, whoever is leading in the track during interim scoring gets first pick of the scoring criteria. Another Feld constant: the multi-scoring categories, aka: point-salad scoring. In Carpe Diem, the interim scoring is straightforward, but the final round scoring and end game scoring combined is quite extensive. Multiple things are scored: the interim card scoring, fountain scoring, frame scoring, banderole scoring, villa scoring, leftover item scoring, etc. It’s point salad scoring at its best.

When I think of Stefan Feld, these are the two mechanisms that usually come to mind. However, in a lot of Feld-designed games, there is a unique mechanism (or gimmick if you prefer) that brings and ties the game together. In Trajan, we have the mancala wheel; in Bruges, we have the oddly delightful multi-color/multi-use card draw mechanism; in In the Year of the Dragon, we endured the pain of negative events; in Macao we have the Wind-Rose and the list goes on and on. In Carpe Diem, I didn’t find that mechanism which brought it all together. I suppose the interim scoring is pretty neat but hardly what I would call a mechanism. The bouncing of meeples between regions during tile selection seems neat, except that an expose written in BGG argues against the utility of the “star” shaped structure for bouncing meeples between regions and instead argued for adjacent left-right movement which appeared to have the same effect (see this forum). So what are we left with? Nothing in particular, actually. Which left me a little disappointed.

The game is not bad by any means but I am accustomed to seeing a new or cool mechanism to accompany his usual signature elements. So when it wasn’t there, I felt a bit….. let down. Playing Rialto, Bora Bora and La Isla also left me with the same feeling, which is to say not all of Feld designs are equal. This is a tall order to begin with and few designers have been as consistent and solid as Feld. Clearly, we are all spoilt by his amazing output and when expectations are this high, it is inevitable that some of his games will disappoint. I think for me at least, Carpe Diem unfortunately falls in this latter category. Never fear though, I still have Luna, Oracle of Delphi and Aquasphere in the pipeline!

A final note about component qualities: Ravensburger has been doing a bang up job off late with component qualities. Particularly with mismatched color schemes. Knizia’s Orongo had tiles that were hard to see on the board and shells that rolled off tiles. I am not one to quibble about slight component defects but even I had to agree that the light/dark green tile backs were almost impossible to differentiate under normal lighting. Come on now, Ravensburger, even the slightest quality control should have caught this issue. We expected better from you.

Initial impressions: Average

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