Manufacturer Hans im Gluck/
Rio Grande Games
Year 2000
Designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
Carcassonne cover

Carcassonne


Winner of the 2001 Spiel des Jahres AND the Deutscher SpielePreis 2001. With good reason.

Background

Carcassonne came from out of nowhere to become the sensation of 2001. Players are laying tiles creating the board representing the area around the walled French city of Carcassonne. As the tiles are being laid, players can place their "meeples" on various features created by the tiles. Completing these features scores points. A great mix of luck and strategy, playable with from 2 - 5 players, and very good for families. A free river "expansion" was published, and a new non-free expansion is about to be released.

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The Gameplay

In the basic game of Carcassonne, 71 tiles are shuffled and placed face down into stacks from which the players will be drawing. Each player is given 8 wooden "meeples", one of which is placed on a scoring track. A specially marked starting tile is placed face up in the center of the table, and the game begins. The tiles show one or more of four possible features: Cities, roads, farms, and cloisters. The city tiles contain portions of a city, with walls around them.

Here are some example tiles

Carcassonne city tile Carcassonne city with shield Carcassonne cloister Carcassonne road tile
City with road City with shield Cloister with road Road tile

On a player's turn, the player will draw a tile from one of the stacks, and place the tile onto the board. the tile must be adjacent to previously laid tiles, and any features on the tile played must align with those on the tile(s) that are adjacent to it. Thus if a road is extending to the edge of a tile, then that road must connect to a road on the adjacent tile. After placing a tile, a player may play a meeple onto one of the features on the tile. If any of the features on the tile are "completed", (see below), then the feature is scored, and all of the meeples on that feature are returned to their respective owners. Play then passes to the next player. When all of the tiles are gone, uncompleted features with meeples on them are scored, and the winner is the player with the most points.

Now this would seem to be very simple, and in fact, it is. However, there are a few tricky rules which come into play. The first is that a player may not play a meeple on a feature if that feature already has a meeple on it somewhere. So if a road has a meeple on it, and another player plays a tile on that road that extends that road, that player cannot then play a meeple on the tile. However, a tile can be played that will join two separate features, each containing a meeple. Much of the interesting play of Carcassonne is finding ways to play tiles so that they are unconnected to a feature, yet in position to be joined in with a tile play on subsequent turns.

The second tricky rule is that whichever player has the most meeples on a feature scores all the points for that feature when it is completed, and if players tie for the most meeples, all tied players get all the points as well.

The Scoring

Each of the different features scores differently, and has different rules for completion. Roads are completed when they have two endpoints. An endpoint can either be a city or cloister, or an intersection. When a road is completed, each tile that the road is made up of scores one point. Cities are completed when they are completely walled in, with no open edges. When a city is completed it scores two points for each tile that makes up the city, with a bonus of two points for each shield symbol, (unless the city only is made up of two tiles, (what we call "tomato cities"), in which case it only scores 2 points). A cloister is completed when all eight tiles that surround the cloister are played. When completed, a cloister scores 9 points. Farms are never "completed" and only score at the end of the game. When a feature is completed, all players take back their meeples from the feature.

End game scoring

After the last tile is played, all remaining meeples on the board are scored. Obviously, except for the farmers, all meeples on the board are now sitting on uncompleted features, which score a bit differently. Roads score the same as if they were completed, (1 point per tile). Cities score one point per tile plus one point for each shield. Cloisters score one point for each tile that surrounds them, plus one point for the cloister itself.

Farm scoring

The scoring of the farmers is the most complicated part of Carcassonne, so much so that the German publishers changed the rules for farmer scoring. Rio Grande Games has kept the original scoring, but offers the new scoring as a variant. I will start with the original scoring rules.

Look at each completed city. Count up the number of farmers in all fields that border the city. Subject to the standard rules for who gets the points, give 4 points to the player with the most. The key point here is that each city scores, (not each farm), and that all farms that border the city are counted.

Now the "new" farmer scoring

Look at each completed city. Look at each farm that borders the city. If a player has a majority (or is tied), in any farm that borders the city, that player receives 3 points, however a player can only get 3 points per city. Here is an example that shows the difference. A completed city has two farms adjacent to it. In farm 1 Player A has one farmer. In farm 2 Player B has two farmers. Under the original scoring, Player B would get 4 points and Player A would get nothing, (2 farmers to 1). Under the new scoring each has a majority in a farms, so each would get 3 points.

Why this game is so great

Carcassonne derives its greatness not from incredible strategic depth, but rather from the fact that it scales well from 2 - 5 players, looks good as it's being played, has relatively simple mechanics, and is fun. There are quite a few strategic decisions that a player needs to make, and while the luck of the draw can be a killer, the game is fast enough that bad luck can be forgotten relatively quickly. Also, the nature of the game changes dramatically with the number of players. As a two player game, it is very strategic, and a bit cut-throat, as you attempt to horn in and take over the other player's cities, sabotage cities that they are building, (by placing tiles that will make it next to impossible to finish their cities, thus stranding the opponents meeples), etc. As more players enter the game, it becomes almost a bit of a negotiation game, as players try to convince others to work together to try to complete cities that they share. This cooperation aspect makes Carcassonne an excellent "family game", and I will note that in my family, I have yet to win a multiplayer game. I do pretty well in two-player games, but no amount of skillful solo play can overcome the cooperative play of others.

In any case, the true key to Carcassonne is meeple management. I find that the majority of the wins I get come from my opponents spending large stretches of the middle/end game with no meeples in reserve. This is fatal, as you cannot then capitalize on key tiles you draw, and you are dependant on the luck of the draw to give you just the tile you need to complete a feature and get back a meeple. While you are waiting for your tiles to show up, I'm completing a road here, a small city there, picking up points. Often key tiles in this phase are the cloister tiles, which can provide a good number of points. If you have no meeples, and draw a couple of cloisters, that's generally 10+ points down the drain. The primary way people will lose their meeples are cities that become "unfinishable" and farming. Often there is nothing you can do about the former, as what looks like a good city placement can be completely hosed up by one or two "nasty" tile placements by opponents. Deciding where and when to farm though is a crucial skill.

Since any farmers you place are going to be there for the rest of the game, you need to place these with great care. Often, there will be one "mega-farm" at the end of the game and the points generated by this farm will determine the winner, so you need to get in on it. Especially during the end game, you need to be on the lookout for ways to get a farmer into the farm that will score the most points. If you are using the new farmer scoring, this effect is lessened, but still is an important source of points. If you see a megafarm developing, it is often worthwhile to start playing to a new part of the board, unattached to the megafarm, and get a farmer in there. Defensive play, (walling off areas of the board with roads to break up large farms), can be crucial as well.

Why others don't agree

There are those who don't like Carcasssonne, but they seem to be few and far between. I will admit that it is not my favorite multi-player game, but I do like it very much as a 2 player game. People will claim that it's too light and that the luck of the draw overrides all skill. I disagree. Having played a lot of this online at brettspielwelt, there are players there who have won an astonishing percentage of their games, far more than could be due to random chance.

The River

At the Essen game fair in October 2001, Hans im Gluck, (the German publisher of Carcassonne), gave away the River expansion for Carcassonne. this is a set of 12 tiles which are used instead of the normal starting tile. A spring tile becomes the starting tile, and the players all draw tiles from the river tiles, building a river across the board. Meeples can be placed on the features on these tiles, just as with normal tiles. After the last river tile has been placed, a lake tile is placed. Then the game continues normally. Theoretically, the river was supposed to help break up the megafarms, but I have only seen it do this on a few occasions, as both the spring and lake tiles are "open" on three sides, allowing farm continuity. Rio Grande Games now includes these tiles with Carcassonne.

The Carcassonne Expansion

Coming soon, and playable now on Brettspielwelt, is the official expansion for Carcassonne. This contains a couple of new gameplay features, and some new tiles with different configurations of the existing features. Pubs will double the value of a road, but only if it completed. If uncompleted the road scores nothing. Cathedrals are "full city" tiles that make the city worth three points per tile if completed, nothing if uncompleted. There is also a "Giant Meeple" that counts as two meeples for purposes of determining majorities. I haven't played this yet, but it should add some more spice to the game.

Recap

Strategy:  6
Complexity:  5
Fun:  7
Overall:  7

Buy/Read about Carcassonne now at Funagain

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