Published on April 2nd, 2015 | by Justified Croak0
Average play time per game: 40 minutes
Suggested for ages: 13+
Number of players: 2-5
Ever wonder what it would be like to be a civic planner in mediaeval Europe? No? Well you’re missing out friend. Perhaps that’s not the best way to pitch this one, how about the titan of Euro games that has seen us build vast castles and cities, deploy thieves and farmers, and leave countless monasteries unfinished.
Named after the idyllic mediaeval fortified town in France, Carcassonne is the daddy of all tile placement games and has seen many expansions, spin-offs and pc/console/mobile versions. The game is never the same twice, as players draw tiles and add them to an ever growing map. To score points players connect and claim features using Meeples – those adorable wooden figures which have seen use in many games of the last decade or so, but were first introduced by Carcassonne. Carcassonne plays simply, quickly but harbours a surprising amount of strategy when you really get your teeth in.
In order to start players must:
-Locate the starting tile (different backing) and place in the middle of your play space.
-shuffle the remaining tiles together then place them in a face down stack within reach of all players.
-Players choose a colour to play and then take all 8 corresponding Meeples of that colour.
– Each player will have one large Meeple, which is placed on 0 of the score board. The remaining 7 Meeples stay by that player as their personal supply for the game.
-Designate a first player. The rulebook suggests youngest first.
Each turn a player must draw one tile from the stack and place the tile connecting to at least one tile already played. A tile placed must always continue any features on adjacent tiles: Roads to roads, cities to cities etc. Note that a full side must be touching, tiles do not connect diagonally.
Once a tile is placed players may choose to allocate one Meeple to one of the features on the tile they have just placed. Doing so will claim the feature for that player and opens the opportunity to score on that feature. Meeples are committed to the board until the feature is completed and “scores”; players may only place a Meeple if they have one spare, encouraging players to claim wisely.
There are four types of Meeple placement in the core game, with a few more in the expansions (but more of that later).
Roads: a Meeple placed on a road becomes a thief. Roads are counted as complete when both ends of the road end at other features or loops back on to itself. Roads are worth 1 point per tile.
Cities: a Meeple placed in a city becomes a knight. Cities complete when all the walls are connected and are worth 2 points per tile. Some city tiles have a small “banner” icon which provide an additional one point when scoring that tile only.
Monasteries: a Meeple placed on a monastery becomes a monk. A monastery completes when surrounded by tiles. The monastery is worth 1 point with an additional point for each surrounding tile for a total of 9 points.
Farm: a Meeple placed on a farm is laid on its side and becomes a farmer. Farms do not complete until the end of the game – that is to say, once you claim a farm, you are down a Meeple for the rest of the game. At the end of the game a farmer earns 3 points for every completed city connected to that field. Fields are separated by roads, cities and the edge of the board.
Once a feature completes the controlling player may return their Meeple to their supply and immediately tallies the points earned. The player then moves their Meeple on the scoreboard forward that many points. Remember farmers do not score until the end of the game.
The game ends when there are no more tiles to place. Meeples left on the board at the end of the game still score points towards a player’s final total. All remaining Meeples are tallied up with road and city tiles worth a point each. Monasteries receive one point and a further point for each surrounding tile, and farmers score as above.
The winner is of course the player with the highest victory point total at the end.
Carcassonne has been running long enough to have acquired an entourage of expansions both big and small. To do them all justice they would need their own reviews as the game changes drastically from expansion to expansion but just to give you a little tease, expanded features include, resource gathering for extra points, builders laying another tile per turn, inns on the road to double your road points and yes, dragons eating all your Meeples.
Carcassonne also boats a range of mini expansion that add around 6 tiles and a small new mechanic such as flying machines giving you the opportunity to get in on already claimed features, and ferries to let you get a little more strategic with your roads. All in all there are plenty of extra bits to throw in if you fancy it.
Carcassonne is a beautiful gateway game. No prior board game expertise is needed to be able to jump right in and get building. Once it’s all explained then any one can set it up and teach it to others, its simplicity is its greatest appeal for me and yet the more I play it the more tactical I want to be. There is tremendous room for strategic thinking – do I place this road on the end of my road? Or next to my opponent’s city, making it harder for them to finish? Do I take a quick four points for this little city or do I finish the city I already have, using this piece to make it look a bit like a butterfly?
One important detail: if you’re anything like me then you have to have all the shinies. When I first played Carcassonne I immediately started to ponder on how many expansions worth of tiles I’d need to completely cover my table in a mega game. It is only with hindsight that I see I was so preoccupied with whether I could I didn’t stop to think if I should. There is little synergy between the expansions. The more you add they more they conflict and the tiles you need to make effective use of them begin to dilute amongst each other. If your going to expand stick with 2 or 3 expansions at a time or the game gets a little messy.
As a core game it’s beautiful. I’d always like to see more tiles but as it is the game is short and sweet. I play this a lot with newbie gamers and find it to be very inclusive – so long as the experienced players don’t get too sneaky. If you haven’t tried this one yet then frankly, you need to. I want people to play this game. I need people to experience what I have. One time, another player and I were working together on a city and she placed the final piece. At which point all the players shared in a euphoric realization. With no intent on either part, perhaps even guided by forces unknown and unseen we had sculpted our city in the perfect form of a lobster. It was awesome, and that is why you need to play Carcassonne.