Cornwall* is a tile-laying family game very much in the Carcassonne vein, but with a few interesting twists on the old classic.
It can take two to four players and a game lasts about 30 minutes. It’s probably best with three, as it’s a little predictable with two and you don’t get many turns four-player – but its fine across the board and play length is unaffected.
In the box you’ll find 37 strangely shaped tiles, 32 wooden player pieces, a wholly inadequate scoreboard (more on which later), a sadly one dimensional cardboard pub, 40 cardboard coins, some handy reference cards and the rules.
Component and art quality is solid throughout, without really impressing. Despite being called Cornwall, no effort has been made to differentiate it – it could just as easily have been called Devon or erm, Carcassonne. The tile art is OK it is a little bland, but does look pretty cool once the map starts to spread. The game nicely fits into a Carcassonne-sized box and can be picked up for £20, so is good value.
Anyone with experience of tile-laying game such as Carcassonne will be on familiar ground with Cornwall. Each player takes the seven meeple of their chosen colour, while all the game’s tiles are shuffled and placed face down. Player’s then take it in turns to flip one tile and build out from the start tile by matching terrain – and then choosing whether or not to place meeples on the tile they’ve just placed. Much as you might in, erm, Carcassonne.
OK, so I’m taking the Michael a bit – luckily, here the rules start to deviate enough from [insert classic tile laying game name here] to allow Cornwall to stand on its own two feet.
Each tile is like a triangular domino with a combination of two or three of the game’s five scenery types. When you lay the tile you have to match at least one terrain type (if you can’t, you can take another tile – but I haven’t seen this happen). If you can manage to match two (or very rarely three) types you’ll earn one (or two) coins respectively.
Once placed you can put between 0 and 3 of your ‘playing pieces’ (this is what the game calls them – more great use of theme there…) onto the three spaces on the tile (up to one in each space). The first is free, but if you want to place more each will cost you a coin. However, if you’re placing them into a connected area which already has pieces in it, you have to play an additional coin per piece (no matter who’s they are). These come in three shapes: you get one 3, two 2s and four 1-point pieces, which all cost the same to place.
Eleven of the 36 tiles also have a cottage on them. When these are added to an area it is immediately scored – as are any areas that can no longer be expanded as they’ve been hemmed in (as with fields in Carcassonne, there are ‘swamps’ that score at the end). The final wrinkle is that when your playing pieces are removed from an area after scoring they’re placed in the pub: it will cost you a coin to bribe them all back to be placed again.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: Coins are absolutely key to doing well at Cornwall. Both muscling in on key areas and being able to get your guys out of the pub when needed are vital; as is how many pieces to commit to ensure you can react to any situation (as it is in that other game we won’t mention). The designers have clearly decided to concentrate on the economic/area control aspect above all others and it serves it well, although I’m sure many other gamers will disagree.
- The thinker: I wasn’t really taken by this one, as I found there weren’t enough real choices to make. There were rarely big decisions in where to place your tile (it probably has one terrain type too many for the amount of tiles you play), meaning you’re only really deciding when to place a meeple – and what size it should be. With the tight economy this could have been interesting but, but luck plays a massive part. Crappy tiles are far more important an issue when you’re placing as few as nine tiles in a whole game – you lay twice as many in Carcassonne, for example.
- The trasher: As this is a game about majorities, why are playing a game called Cornwall where we, and I quote, “claim for themselves the fascinating landscape”?! On the box you’ll find a guy with a backpack and another with a shovel – I mean, really? No guns, no swords, no spaceships or orcs or ANYTHING? Schmidt Spiel has previous, of course, and is very much in the family game market. But this and Vienna (review coming soon) are plumbing new depths in pasted on nonsense. The game is fun too, which makes it a real shame as I don’t think it will find its audience.
- The dabbler: I think this makes for a good gateway game, as it’s even simpler than Carcassonne and the choices don’t escalate. Cottages restrict scope as to where you can build because once out you can’t expand those scored areas; so while the board is constantly expanding, you’re never overwhelmed by placement choices. The theme was OK for me and the tiles and pieces colourful – it will appeal to a family audience. And at 30 minutes it isn’t going to overstay its welcome, so even if people don’t get into it you’re not going to unduly annoy anyone!
The elephant in the room is, of course, Carcassonne (had I mentioned the two games have some similarities…?).
While imitation is of course the sincerest form of flattery, if you’re going to invoke a game through its mechanics it is at least then advisable to look/theme differently.
From the box size to the meeple colours, the green landscape tiles to the pasted on ‘random location’ theme – even the scoreboard is the same shape and design (which is made more maddening because it doesn’t work – see below). Even if you like how it turned out, you can’t deny it shows a staggering lack of imagination on the part of the publishers.
The interesting shape of the tiles is not enough to make this game stand out. I think that if they’d made it about almost anything else, and graphically altered it accordingly, they would have gotten away with the similarities in game play. But as it is, despite liking Cornwall, I find it impossible to defend against this kind of criticism – and that’s a shame.
And so, finally, to the scoreboard. It only goes up to 40 points, but you could score 200+ points in a game – and there are no components included to show how many times you’ve been around it. This makes the whole ‘copying Carcassonne’ thing even more of a joke, as they’ve managed to copy the awful windy road nature of the Carc scoreboard but only go to 40 (not the more sensible 50) and fail to make it work, at all. Laughable.
Despite everything I’ve enjoyed my plays of Cornwall, but it has left me with a dilemma: which should I keep, Carcassonne or Cornwall?
I don’t see any reason to keep both as I don’t play this type of game often enough and already have a few interesting alternatives (in particular Maori, Entdecker and Ingenious).
As a gateway game both are going to work very well, with Cornwall probably being a bit shorter and simpler to teach. But Carcassonne has the historical credibility, the expandability and is a little easier on the eye – and probably has more depth over time. For now I can’t decide, so they’ll both be staying until I can get a few more plays of both.
I’ve enjoyed Cornwall more than recent tile-laying alternatives such as Cacao, Citrus and Gardens – each of which I found pretty boring. The tight economy and focus on one key element make it a tight, strong game. So if you’re looking for a tile-laying game that’s more about area majority and a tight economy, that plays and teaches fast, I’d suggest giving Cornwall a play or two. Just don’t expect to be sucked into the Cornish countryside when you start to play.
* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.