Carcassonne has proven itself to be one of the greatest board games ever made. Millions of copies sold, nearly 20 expansions to add on, and fast strategic game play make Carcassonne a tough game to beat.
Why review a old classic?
Reviewing Carcassonne is the Euro gaming equivalent to reviewing Monopoly. The problem exists (the only reason I’m doing what I’m doing here) that too few people play European style board games and that needs to change.
Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan are the staples in their field for introducing new people to board games. Don’t hesitate to make either one of them your next purchase for your family and friend board game nights. However, if I had to pick one, go with Carcassonne.
True story time: The day after I started writing this article I met a colleague at work and mentioned a board game I was creating (stay tuned that’s far in the future). He mentioned that he loves board games and starts naming a few. He has played quite a few Euro style games and about 10 minutes in he said “There are a couple games I’ve been really wanting to try… one is (I didn’t recognize the name) and the other is Carosso, Carcaso… I can’t remember.” To which I quickly chimed in “Ooo you mean Carcassonne?” and he was like “Yeah that’s it!”.
That story is 100% true and happened yesterday, so yeah, plenty of people still don’t know this great game.
Carcassonne is easy. Draw a tile, place the tile anywhere the sides match, and choose whether or not to place a meeple (miniature people) on the tile you just placed. There are cities, roads, monasteries, and fields (the grass). That’s it. Simple, elegant, and quick. When a road or city is completed, you score points for every tile that is part of it, 1 and 2 respectively. Monasteries score 1 point for itself and every tile surrounding it, and fields score 3 points for every completed city touching the field. The bigger the city, longer the road, or more cities in the field, the more you score. When something is completed, you also get your meeple back… except for fields, because a farmer’s work is never done.
Some expansions add different tiles; Like the ability to fly your meeple to an adjacent tile, bridges that let your road change directions to connect to a better road, or complex tiles that create large weirdly shaped cities. Other expansions add new meeple types, such as thieves that steal points, pigs that raise the value of fields, and big brutish meeples who can muscle their way into another person’s area. Typically I don’t push expansions as part of a review, but in the case of Carcassonne, there are plenty of boxes that include them with the base game. So for a fraction of the price of buying it all separately, I encourage you to pick up a combo set.
So Do Lucky Tiles Make a Winner?
It seems that Carcassonne would be just a game of drawing tiles and hoping to get what you want to complete your big point areas. Needing a piece that has a road on top and a city to the side does happen quite a bit, and there is a chance that you may never see it, but Carcassonne is a game of diversification. Remember, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Sure, you can build a city worth 30 points, but you can also build 4 cities worth 7 points each; Even if you fail to complete the last city, you still have scored quite a bit, without risking the lot of it.
Another major point to supporting the strategy of the game is stealing/sharing. In Carcassonne you can’t place a meeple on anything already claimed by a meeple (including your own). Even if a city is 30 tiles large, one lonely meeple takes the whole thing. In order to share the points of a road, city, or farm, you must place your meeple on a new, unclaimed area and then connect the two together. Doing this awards full points to both parties, but if you can get two meeples in an area to the other players one, you get all the points. Stealing is a great way to let another player do all the work, and you get all the glory.
Blocking is another major point to the game. See that giant city your friend is building? Try putting pieces around it that require him to draw the perfect tile to complete his city. He might get lucky, but chances are it is done forever, eliminating his ability to complete it or regain his meeple. Be careful though, doing this ends friendships or leads to sleeping in the guest bed- you’ve been warned.
So simple, will I ever play it again?
Carcassonne lacks very little in replayability. Since this game should be your first choice for introducing new players to Euro games, and since you should be introducing people to new people to advanced board games all the time, Carcassonne should pop out quite a bit. Also, expect people who just learned the game to demand rematches since they will grasp the strategy fairly quickly. This game also plays well with two or six people, either way is fun in its own right.
It’s only fair to mention at this point that the game becomes much less skillful over 3 people. The game is still fun, but, due to drawing tiles so rarely, you really do need to pull the right pieces. I would also recommend adding in more tiles from expansions to allow each player to have a reasonable amount of turns.
Carcassonne also gets requested regularly for the reason that makes it one of my favorite games. Time per play. Not time to play the game, but actual time each turn takes. If a player draws a tile during the turn of the person before him, (this is what happens at my house) unless he is blocked, he will play that tile within seconds of it being his turn. This allows people to take turns a minute after their last turn. The phrase that describes the opposite of this is “analysis paralysis”; Analysis paralysis is when someone spends so much time taking a turn that others get bored waiting. Carcassonne has so few options that it allows people to move the game very quickly, while still enjoying themselves.
Is It Really Worth It?
Is Carcassonne the greatest board game ever? No, probably not. There are more fun, more strategic, more diverse games out there, but very few out there are as balanced for beginners and for advanced players. Few games offer the combination of simplicity, variety, quick gameplay, and multiple strategy paths that Carcassonne offers. This is why Carcassonne has multiple awards, a consistent 9/10 and 5/5 rating across reviewers, and over 10 spin-offs of basically the exact same game.
So go to google, search your nearest board game store, and pick up a copy, because your collection cannot be complete without it.