Carcassonne is a classic map building game that requires the players to optimize their control of the area in this ever-growing world.
Total Game Play: 30 to 45 minutes
Designer(s): Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artist(s): Doris Matthäus, Anne Pätzke, Chris Quilliams, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Publisher: Hans im Glück
I’m not going to lie. I only recently played Carcassonne for the first time, and I found it to be remarkably interesting. The only reason I was able to try it was because one of my coworkers lent me their copy. I was both impressed and underwhelmed by Carcassonne. And I know that is not going to be a popular opinion.
The game was fun, had interesting core mechanics, and was something I outgrew a while ago. That isn’t saying it’s not a great game. I just was introduced to Carcassonne a little late in my board game journey.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
Carcassonne is a competitive game for 2 to 5 players. This review is only going to focus on the base game because that is the only scenario that I have played. But that isn’t to say it doesn’t have expansions. Carcassonne has about one hundred and sixty-six expansions which is an insane amount!
The game flow is extremely simple. Each player gets a turn, and this goes around and around until the game ends. There is no game rounds or actions occurring outside of player turns.
There is not much going on for game setup. Each player chooses a color and puts one of their pieces on the scoring track. The first tile is placed in the center of the table. This tile has a different back than the other pieces, so it is a specific tile. The remaining tiles are shuffled together and placed in a stack or stacks that are accessible to all the players.
On the players turn, they will reveal a tile and determine where to place it. There are a few placement rules that need to be followed:
- The tile must be placed along an existing edge
- The tile must continue the current terrain type with the edge it is being placed against (i.e., a road must remain a road, a field must remain a field, etc.)
Once the player has placed the tile, they can choose to place one of their meeples on the newly placed tile. There are four potential slots that meeples can be placed but not every type of slot shows up on every tile.
The types of slots include roads, cities, churches, and fields. The corresponding meeple jobs are thieves, guards, priest, and farmers. All meeples can do all jobs. Thieves, guards, and priests have the potential to score victory points during the game while farmers do not score anything until the end. When meeples score during the game, the meeple is removed from the board and returned to your supply.
But you shouldn’t underestimate the farmer points! They can really add up depending on how the map was built. But more on that later. First, let’s talk about the points you can win on your turn.
Being a thief is like be a road pirate. You’re patrolling the roads and taking tolls. A thief type meeple will score points when the road is completed. Which means that either end of the road has terminated in a city, a church, or a crossroad.
Points are then gains from the number of tiles that the road spans. While thieves can get you points, I feel like road score the least out of the four potential scoring options.
A guard rules over the city. And there can only be one guard per city, so they really have a tight grasp. If you ever go to expand a city that already has a guard, you cannot place your meeple there. But that isn’t to say two guards can’t end up in the same city. If someone connects two cities that each contain guards, they begrudgingly live in the same city.
Points are gained when a city is completed. Players will score two points per tile within the city and an additional two points for any shields that can be found in the city. The cities are the big points scorers during the game.
A priest holds rule over a church (or chapel which is what I think that game calls it). The church wants to extend it’s reach so they want to be fully surrounded by other tiles. I mean, what church doesn’t want to be the center of the community?
Churches will score nine points when they are completed surrounded! This can seem like a lot but don’t worry is you aren’t able to randomly draw a church tile. End game scoring can impact the game just as much, if not more, than scoring during the game.
The game ends when the last tile is drawn and placed. Then, we get to go to end game scoring. Roads, cities, and churches will all score points, but some will score less than what they would during the game. Roads score for what is on the board, cities only score one point per tile within the city, and churches score for tiles that is surround them. But one of the biggest scorers at the end of the game is the farmers (explained below).
Scoring farmers took a long time to wrap my head around. Honestly, I still find it confusing. I think the best advice I can give about farmers is don’t underestimate their scoring capabilities.
Each completed city will check to see which farmers are supply them from the surrounding fields. The player will the most adjacent farmers will score four points. This check is the repeated and completed for all of the cities. If a city is supplied by equal farmers of different players, then all players would score the four points.
Who Will Like it?
Carcassonne is a great game because it explored world building, optimizing tile lays, mitigating the randomness of the tile stack, and figuring out the best way to place your meeples. Although a lot of though can go into the game, this game is not complex when it comes down to the rules.
Carcassonne is a game for anyone in the hobby whether people are just dipping their toes in or are already in the deep end. I know a lot of other people who find this game to be a treasure. From what I’ve heard, the expansions also help add layers of complexity to this game for something looking for a more challenging time.
What I Think
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I do worry that I found Carcassonne a little too late in my board game journey. While I appreciate the elegance and simplicity of its design, I want a little more autonomy over my board state.
What did I like?
I do love how Carcassonne teaches players to mitigate their luck. What tile you get on your turn is never your choice. It’s random. So now, you’re in a situation where you must figure out what the best approach will be.
Where will this tile benefit you the most? If it can’t benefit you, can it hurt your opponent? Are you willing to take a risk on future tile draws for the right tile or will you take the immediate payout? What meeple works best with this type of tile? Do you even want to put a meeple down?
The fact that a simple action can get a person to ask so many questions is fantastic. Even though you don’t have the choice of tile, the choice of what you do with the tile is all yours.
What didn’t I like?
While mitigating luck can be a fun aspect of a game, I do feel that the lack of control of the tiles was a little much. Even playing at two players, I could spend my whole game waiting for one tile that I just never drew. This can be really frustration because your decision may not be investing in a strategy as much as it is gambling that you get what you need.
Carcassonne is a fun game but it’s not something I would naturally gravitate more. I know I only played the base game and I’m sure some of the expansions would fit that game more in line with my current tastes. But I can understand how it is the classic favorite of so many people.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook is straight forward and fairly easy to learn. I am eternally grateful that the designers/editors put in an example for how scoring farmers work because otherwise, I don’t think I would understand that part at all. The quick guide that came with the game was extremely helpful. It highlighted the main rules while the rulebook went more into details on certain situations.
The first time I played Carcassonne was with my brother. It was a two-player game where I was still figuring everything out. I believe that my brother had played at lease once before. Over the course of the game, I thoroughly underestimated the importance of farmers.
I think I hyper focused on cities because they seemed like bigger victory point payouts that anything else. I only realized my mistake after the game had finished. Hyper focusing on one thing will not do well overall. You need to diversify!
After that first play, I started paying attention to every type of scoring potential that Carcassonne offered. I jumped into farmers a little too soon. Its so interesting how placing farmers can limit your meeple pool for the rest of the game. I think it’s normal to place other types of meeples in the beginning and shift toward farmers in the later game.
One piece of advice that I wish I could have given myself was always keep a couple of meeples behind in case you draw a church! That was a lot of potential points that ended up just being tossed into the void…
Carcassonne is a fun game but it’s one I would play after considering a breadth of other games. When it comes to games about mitigating luck, I much prefer kingdom builder. In terms of tile laying, I would want to play a polyominos game first.
*See my rating scale Here