Carpe Diem

Stefan Feld
2 - 4
10 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Carpe Diem. The fish of the day, as they say in Latin. It’s an odd choice of name for Stefan Feld’s game, considering that the fishpond is only one of twelve different things you can piece together on your player board. I guess they just wanted a Latin sounding name for yet another game about building the city of Rome.

I know that carpe diem really means seize the day, but the reasoning behind that name for this game is just as flimsy as mine above. There are four rounds, like four weeks in a month, and seven turns per round, like seven days per week, and every day your supposed to grab your opportunities by the throat. At least that last part does make sense, a healthy dose of opportunism is good to have in Carpe Diem. And who am I to complain about names, anyway? It’s a Stefan Feld game nominated for Kennerspiel des Jahres. My little fanboy heart goes wheeeeee!

City planning for opportunists – how to play Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem is a tile placement game. Turn by turn you build a Roman neighborhood on your six by six player board. The first fun mechanic around that is how you get those tiles. That heptagram on the main board is not for summoning demons! At each of the seven points there are four tiles to pick from, but you may only move your meeptrician – that’s a meeple patrician, obviously – along the star’s edges and you may only pick a tile from the point where he ends his movement. Planning a few steps ahead is crucial.

What you do with those tiles is pretty obvious: You place them on your player board. The rules how you do that won’t surprise anyone, either. New tiles must touch a tile already in place and you may not place tiles in a way that doesn’t match. Buildings and landscapes have to fit together. That’s it.

Each building or landscape has an effect. Villas, usually the largest buildings on the board, are the only ones with no immediate effect. What they do is, they score points at the end of the game based on their number of chimneys, but only if the villa is completed.

The four landscapes – gardens, farms, ponds, and vineyards – all work the same. When you complete one of them you take the corresponding resource: Herbs, chicken, fish, or grapes, in a number one less than the number of tiles in that landscape. All those commodities are important for scoring at the end of the round.

Next, we have the four dwellings. They are all made of exactly two tiles, there are no middle pieces for them. When you complete a Merchant’s dwelling you sell all your commodities from above for coins. Coins act as wildcard for any type of commodity, and when selling you get one more coin that you sold goods, so selling is always a net gain. When you complete a Baker’s dwelling you take two loafs of bread. One loaf of bread lets you move anywhere on the selectagram instead of following the lines. Three loafs of bread count as completing a scoring condition at the end of the round. For an Administrator’s dwelling you move two spaces on the banderole bar, which lets you choose scoring conditions earlier. A Craftsman’s dwelling lets you pick and place another tile from the special tiles lines up on the main board. This new tile comes with all the regular benefits, including picking yet another tile if it completes another Craftsman’s dwelling.

Finally, there are three one space buildings. They don’t have to line up with anything and are great to fill gaps in your grid. They also have an effect as soon as you place them, since they are completed in themselves. A Market gives you a free coin. A Bakery does the same with a loaf of bread. The Fountain is something new, something not just scaled down from a dwelling. When you build a Fountain you pick two Fountain cards and then discard one. Fountain cards give you new ways to score at the end of the game.

Now you might think there are enough things to consider when picking a tile. Where does it leave my meeptrician? What good does the tile do me? Does it actually fit? Is it a tile someone else needs and that I could get first? If you know Stefan Feld games you know there’s more. Oh Jupiter, is there more. On your player board you have nine banderoles. Collecting them lets you advance on the banderole bar, so you might want to build towards them, especially when it’s almost scoring time. But the tiles you really wanted might not fit for going towards the closest banderole. And that’s still not all. Of course it isn’t. Around the player board you have a randomly assembled border showing different landscapes and buildings. If you manage to construct that type of building or landscape across the grid line the border shows it on that’s worth points, too.

With all that to worry about you still have to keep an eye on the end of round scoring. That in itself is a masterpiece of agonizing decision making that could only come from Stefan Feld. Next to the heptagram on the main board lies a grid of scoring cards, dealt there at the start of the game. In the scoring phase, in order of the banderole bar, each player places one of their scoring disks between two of those cards and scores those two cards, either by paying the right commodities – or coins – or by having the right things in your neighborhood, like bakeries or ponds.

Scoring is mandatory. If your disk activates a card that you can’t complete you don’t simply not get points for that, you lose four points. There’s a special risk of that in the first round, when you didn’t have much time to prepare, and in the last round, when there are few spots left. Did I forget to mention that? Those scoring disks stay until the end of the game. Once a spot is taken that combination of cards can’t be scored again. And not only by you, by no one. That’s a mean bit of interaction there, you can force others to lose points by taking the only spot where they could score both cards. You can also really mess up your own future, though.

On the positive side of the scoring cards, if you meet their condition more than once when you pick that card – for example, the card needs three chickens but you can pay six at once – you score twice, too. That’s even more to plan. Maybe you can score a card once now, but in the next round you might be able to score it three times and get three times the point. Do you take it now? Or do you wait and risk that someone else takes the spot from you? That’s the kind of decision we get Stefan Feld games for.

All the above you repeat four times, then you have the final scoring. Points for chimneys in completed villas, for your position on the banderole bar, for your fountain cards and for everything you have leftover. Count everything up and you have a winner and the very best kind of headache.

Was Rome built in around sixty minutes? Our Verdict

I’m going to say it right out, if you like other Stefan Feld games you’re going to love Carpe Diem. It has exactly the kind of difficult decision I love his games for, where something seems as simple as placing a tile but it turns out there are eleventeen different factors going into that decision. That’s exactly what I want to do when I pick up a Stefan Feld game.

What was a very pleasant surprise was just how much interaction Carpe Diem has. After reading the rulebook I thought it was “everyone builds their own thing”, but that turns out absolutely wrong. You’re competing for tiles and you’re competing for those precious, precious scoring disk spots. Between those two things you definitely want to keep an eye on what your opponents are doing on their boards. At the same time, Carpe Diem works equally well with two, three or four players through a few simple rules that keep the game tight.

Carpe Diem looks a little utilitarian, you might even say drab. Not bad, but there are a lot of browns and dark greens around. That’s okay, though. Not every game needs bright, cartoony illustrations. One little bit that is not quite okay is that Merchants (golden roof) and Bakers (copper roof) are quite hard to tell apart when you don’t have good light. A little difference between the dwellings besides the roof color would have gone a long way here, especially for people with bad vision or lack of color perception.

When the only complaint about a game is color choices you know there wasn’t much to complain about. I might bring up the name again, and the overused setting. But just looking at how much I enjoy playing this game it’s another excellent Feld design.

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