Carcassonne : the classic tile laying game

There are a few games that can be considered true modern classics. Carcassonne is one such game. In it you are recreating the beautiful historical French countryside complete with walled cities, roads, cloisters, and fields. I have a newer edition of the base game, Carcassone 2.0, which is what I will present and review for you today. It comes with the mini expansions The River and The Abbot, which I will review towards the end of this post. This edition also has updated art, which I really like. The cities have a darker ground compared to the walls, both blue and red roofs on the buildings (which there are more of as well), and even some trees! The art is overall more detailed and looks really nice, especially with the added River mini expansion. Now, lets get to building those cities and roads!


The Basics

carcassonne-boxThe rules, or rather scoring, differ ever so slightly between editions. I will be using the rules of Carcassonne 2.0, but you can decide yourself how you want to do it and might be a good idea to check with potential veteran opponents what rules they are going with so you’re all on the same page.

The gameplay is simple. A regular game starts with the start tile in the middle of the play area. The players then take turns drawing a tile from the top of any of the piles and placing it in connection to one of the other tiles. At least one whole side has to touch another tile, but there are a few more rules to tile placement. The main thing to remember is that a structure of a specific kind has to be connected to the same kind of structure. A road cannot connect to a field for example, and a city has to be surrounded by a wall. A look at the picture further down of a (fake) game in progress should make it a little bit more clear. When you add a tile to the board you can also place one of your seven meeples on that tile, as long as it isn’t part of a structure already occupied by another meeple (be it yours or your opponent’s). Where and when to place a meeple depends on the kind of reward it may bring and the risk of not getting it back. You only have seven meeples, and you only get them back when you close/complete the structure they are on. So let’s have a look at the points.

Cities are probably the most valuable structures. A closed city claimed by a meeple is worth two points per tile + 2 points per shield icon in that city. In the 2.0 version of the game that also goes for cities made up by only two tiles (= a value of 4 points). If a city ends up having more than one meeple in it when it is closed off, the person with the most meeples in it wins the points. If it’s a tie, both players get the full points (no sharing in this game!). But remember, you cannot place a meeple in a city that’s already occupied. The way to fight over (or share) a city is by placing a city tile nearby and claiming it. Since it is not currently connected to the nearby city, and can potential become it’s own city, you can claim it. Then it’s just a matter of connecting the tiles into a bigger city and hope you will stand victorious. Any city that isn’t complete when the game ends will be worth one point per tile and one point per shield – that’s just half the points!

Roads are worth one point per tile and can be closed off in four ways. The end of the road may be a city gate, a cloister, or crossroads, but these are all in the middle of tiles so you’ll easily see when the road ends. You can also create a loop, meaning both ends of the road is the same crossroad. Roads can be useful to claim while they are being built, but it’s usually safer (and easy points) to claim a road when you complete it, thereby getting your meeple back right away. Be aware though, you have to place a meeple before reclaiming one from a closed structure. That means that if you close a city with a tile containing both a piece of the city as well as a road, and you don’t have any free meeples when you place the tile, you cannot claim the road! At the end of the game any open road with your meeple on it is still worth one point per tile. So it might be a good idea to claim unfinished roads towards the end of the game if you have extra meeples.

Cloisters are somewhat risky as they can lock your meeple. They are worth one point per immediate surrounding tile (including the tile with the cloister) for a maximum of nine points. You won’t get your meeple back until the tile with the cloister is completely surrounded. At the end of the game any occupied cloister gives the player one point per tile surrounding it (so at least 2 points).

Fields will never give you your meeple back, but if you play them right, you can really rack up some points. At the end of the game the player who has the most meeples on one connected field receives 3 points per completed city connected to that field. You cannot place a meeple on a field that’s already occupied (and look properly – fields can stretch all over the board!) If several meeples end up on the same field in the end, the player with the most meeples get the points, just as in a city or on a road. To mark that the meeple is on the field and won’t be returned to the players reserve, it is placed lying down. That way it won’t be confused with a meeple that has accidentally been nudged off the road it is claiming or something similar.

The score is kept on a score track with an eighth meeple of each player’s colour. The game ends when the last tile is drawn and placed on the board. The points are tallied for the meeples left on the board and added to the score track. Finally, a victor can be announced!

carcassonne-game
A player is about to place the tile at top left. This would close and complete the city, but as there is an equal number of red and blue meeples they both get the massive 30 points that particular city is worth. If the game would end here, the blue meeple laying on the field would acquire 9 points for the three closed cities the field touches. But since there are tiles left (grey pile) the blue player could hopefully make the field stretch to at least another couple of cities and get even more points. (This is a fake game set up to illustrate game-play, and in a real game someone would definitely be standing in one or more of the empty and open cities on the board)

 

I really like this game. It can look a little bit intimidating at first, and it usually takes a full game to properly get the hang of how to think. Once you get used to how it’s done and start being able to strategise a little bit it will become really enjoyable. It’s just so neat and well made with simple but good components that together create endless possibilities.

Tokens to mark when a player has surpassed 50 points would’ve been good. Such tokens do come included in the expansion Inns and Cathedrals, and possibly in other expansions as well. I really would’ve liked them included in this new edition as well, cause it’s not unusual for players to get well past 100 points (at least in two player games). But you can rotate the meeple to keep track, or take notes if you so wish. It would just be nice to have the tokens!

carcassonne-score
The score track. Blue is in the lead! Can red catch up?

Expansions

The new base game comes with the two mini expansions I mentioned earlier. The River is made up of 12 tiles and creates a different beginning of the game. Instead of starting with the start tile, the spring is put on the table. Then the players take turns drawing from the river pile, with the lake tile at the bottom, to build the river. Along it meeples can still be placed in cities and cloisters, or on roads and fields. Once the river is complete the game proceeds as normal. I rather like this expansion. It’s not changing that much, but it does make for a more exciting, and less crowded, start of the game. And above all: it looks really nice!

carcassonne-abbotThe Abbot is a tiny mini expansion consisting of an abbot meeple of every colour. This is when the gardens that can be found on some of the tiles come into play. The abbot can be placed in a cloister just like a regular meeple, or in a garden. The gardens then work the same way as cloisters – giving points for surrounding tiles. However, if you draw a new tile with a garden or cloister you can actually choose to retrieve your abbot rather than place a new meeple. You will receive points based on how many tiles are surrounding the cloister or garden tile at that moment and the abbot can be placed during your next turn (if you get an appropriate tile of course).

There are many more expansions that can combine with the base game, adding new rules to spice things up (there’s even a dragon!). When I was taught how to play we did so with tiles from several expansions, but without using the expansion-specific extras. It just meant we had a lot of tiles and could create a giant board which was quite fun. Carcassone 2.0 has the same art on the back of the tiles as the previous edition, so if you want to merge an original with the updated version that is absolutely possible. The finished game might not look as nice as a fully matching one would, but it will be twice as big! There are also a several stand-alone versions with different themes and new mechanics – e.g. Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, Carcassonne: South SeasCarcassonne: Star Wars

Carcassonne deserves to be a classic. It looks great, the components are of good quality,  it requires a decent amount of strategy yet everyone can play it, and it’s timeless. It really is a good staple for any game collection, so go get your copy too!

THE SPECS

  • Title: Carcassonne
  • Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
  • Publisher: Hans im Glück
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 35 min 
  • Type: tile placement
  • Size: medium
  • Release year: 2000

BGG link

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