Carcassonne

carcassonne box

I once asked the President of Rio Grande games what his favorite game was, in terms of game play, and he said it was Carcassonne (Rio Grande Games, 2000). That was when the game was brand new, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to play it yet (I had heard good things about it, though). When I finally gave it a try, I understood why he liked it so much.

Carcassonne was the second big hit – after Settlers of Catan – to come to America from the prolific European board game market (referred to as “eurogames”), and it pretty much solidified the genre and ushered in a new era of board gaming in North America.

So what’s so special about Carcassonne? It appeals to young and old, male and female, and has become a household favorite practically everywhere. The rules are easy to understand, the game is attractive and durable, most players are in the game right up until the end, and there is a satisfying blend of strategy and luck. Players take turns laying tiles onto an increasingly complex, ever-expanding playing field, and then have the option of placing their game pieces, little wooden men known as “Meeples,” on the tile they just placed. Points are awarded throughout the game, including a large portion at the end of the game when the final tile has been placed (see pic below).

carcassonne board

meeple

Points are awarded based on the size of the real estate parcel controlled by a player’s meeples.  The various types of real estate that can be claimed are cities, roads, fields, and cloisters (certain isolated buildings). Once a meeple occupies a portion of real estate, it has been claimed and no other meeples may be placed on any contiguous part of that real estate. However – and this is a critical element of the game – two noncontiguous parcels that have already been claimed might be joined by a certain tile placement. Thus, a player might have successfully claimed a city and added to it, making it worth more and more points, only to eventually see it merge with a far smaller city owned by someone else who then shares the points. The same can happen with roads and fields as well.

Players have a limited number of meeples to use, so they can’t simply lay them out every turn. When cities and roads are completed, the player scores immediately and the meeples return to his or her hand. When a cloister is played, the player must claim it immediately, and it scores points only after it has been surrounded by 8 other tiles, at which point that meeple is returned as well. Meeples placed in fields, called farmers, are different – they remain until the end of the game, and score points according to how many cities are adjacent to (and thus “served” by) that farmer’s field. Since the board is ever expanding, a farmer placed early might get more and more points throughout the game, or else might end up being boxed in by roads and cities and contribute very little.

Carcassonne has quite a few expansions and spin-offs – the Rio Grande Games website lists 22 stand-alone and expansion packs available! The expansions allow extra players and more variations on real estate. For example, Inns and Cathedrals (Rio Grande Games, 2002; $17.50) provides an extra set of men to allow a 6th player, extra land tiles (including inns and Cathedrals, of course, for more means of gaining points), plus six ‘Mega-meeples,” who are larger than regular meeples and count as two instead of one. Mega-meeple come in handy when a player anticipates a conflict over property, and wins the property over a player with just a regular meeple.

carcassonne inns and cathedralscarcassone kids box

I haven’t played all of the expansions or stand alones; the stand-alone games will be reviewed separately, but expansions will be treated along with the appropriate stand-alone. One spin-off that deserves mentioning is new from Rio Grande Games for 2009, The Kids of Carcassonne ($29.95), which is getting excellent reviews and is a less complex variation on the adult version, but still as nice and engaging.

I heartily recommend this to any person even remotely fond of games. If Monopoly, or Risk, or Pictionary, or Taboo, or Trivial Pursuit, or any of the other game night games were part of a family’s past and they have not yet discovered eurogames, Carcassonne is precisely what they need.

Buy Carcassonne on Amazon!

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7 thoughts on “Carcassonne”

  1. “I once asked the President of Rio Grande games”
    Hehe, just a little name dropping!

    I wonder if Carcassonne is really a “EuroGame” – although strategic, it certainly contains lots of randomness, and I thought randomness was a big no-no from the EuroGames purists?

    I’ve been playing Carcassonne for a while. BUT WRONGLY. I was suprised to see your comment about a town claimed by two players sharing the points between them, because I was convinced the rule was “equal meeples = no points”. Sad to say, I looked up the rules, and well … someone must have snuck into my house and changed them. 🙂

    Farmers: People I play with find farmers confusing and clunky. It’s usually complex to score (following the twisty bits of green about the board) and then usually massively changes the scores. I’ve had players request that we not use the farmers.

  2. Ha ha! You call it name dropping, I call it a true story!

    Carcassonne is literally from the European “german-style” board game market, which makes it a euro-style game, shortened to eurogame. There are EuroGames (spelled that way) purists who will insist that any element of luck somehow invalidates a game, but there is a place for those people to have that discussion elsewhere on the internet. I’m not about to engage them here, because I think it’s beyond the scope of this blog. So I will stick with the eurogame label because it is accurate and pretty well accepted.

    Wow – playing by the wrong rules. Next thing you’ll tell me is that players are supposed to collect money when they land on Free Parking in Monopoly! Now you’ll have to revisit all your past games and recalculate the scores…

    You are absolutely correct about those gol’dang (it’s a family site!) farmers! I think trying to figure out the best way to use them was the hardest part of playing Carcassonne. But in honesty, after 3-5 plays, one gets a decent handle on how to plan for and then count them. I find that good players get to be very good about expanding the fields for their own farmers, or isolating the ones owned by others.

  3. This is a great game! The Farmers seemed silly at the first of the game, but as the board develops and more tiles are placed, Wow. You better be able to control the farm land. Very easy for a player to win, seemingly out of nowhere with one of those farmers.

    Great replay value to this one. The landscape is always different and each player brings a new strategy.

    Just bought Kids of Carcassone as a Christmas present for some lucky kids. Hmmm, I hope they don’t surf blogs.

  4. This is a great game, one of those games that is very easy to learn but has depth to master, and still enough luck for a beginner to have a chance against a pro. I own the big box version with several of the expansions included. The playtime is also a great thing about it, I once took it to work and 4 of us had a great time playing a game in about 50 minutes (teaching rules as we played) during our 1 hour lunchbreak. I think Eurogame is the right label for this, it may not completely within the definition, but who cares! It certainly meets all the other criteria (except for the randomness). Damn Fine Game. John do you take suggestions on your upcoming games to review?

    1. I would love to take suggestions! Lately, I’m trying to write up the games I played most recently, and trying to stick with those that are still in print so that people can actually use any information they might get from me.

      So maybe you can suggest something and as long as I have it to play, I will do that and write it up!

      Thanks for posting – and keep ’em coming!

  5. I still need to check the rules when scoring farmers! I am wondering whether or not farmers are worth it. I usually place farmers down right away, and then don’t worry about them much until the end.

    1. Check the rules? Go ahead, then. But they make all the difference in the late rounds. Most experienced players will wait until later unless it’s very clear that a farmer won’t be cut off from the completed cities. But when there are 10-20 pieces left to draw is when farmers start showing up on the board. It’s usually best to make your opponents play catch up with farmers – but be careful to waste too many meeples on farming if there are cities and cloisters and roads to claim!

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