Carcassonne is a special game to me because it is the game that really got me interested in board games. My friends Jill and Morgan received Carcassonne for a wedding gift, and they taught us to play it in fall of 2009. It was eye opening! I had never enjoyed a board game so much.
Sean and I got a copy soon afterward, and we have played many times since then. I started researching other games like it online, found the BoardGameGeek website, and got hooked!
Although I now have many other great games that I enjoy, I still love Carcassonne. Last night, Sean and I had dinner with our friends Pat and Rich, and we taught them to play Carcassonne. Carcassonne feels like a mellow game, but it can be pretty cutthroat in a quiet way. I find something very satisfying in the puzzle-like game board that you create as you go.
Pat and Rich own a wine shop on Lummi Island called Artisan Wine Gallery, which Sean and I love. They give wine tastings and sell an interesting variety of wines. Rich has a blog for the wine shop, and he is the one who originally suggested that I start a game blog after the four of us played Survive: Escape from Atlantis back in July.
Pat and Rich like playing games and are always up for learning a new one, which is fun! Pat made an incredibly delicious salmon chowder, salad, and muffins for dinner, and Rich poured us some yummy Malbec. After dinner, we broke out Carcassonne. They had never played it, but they had actually been to the real Carcassonne in France just a couple of months ago! Rich showed us some photos, and the real thing looked a lot like the game!
Basic stats: 2-5 players (can play 6 with an expansion), ~45-60 minutes, ages 8+
The game consists mostly of tiles and little wooden pieces called meeples that represent your people in the game. The Carcassonne game instructions refer to the meeples as “followers,” but everybody calls them meeples, and the Carcassonne meeples are the classic meeples. (Many other games also have meeples. I posted earlier about the variety of meeples in my games.)
In Carcassonne, you get eight meeples, but you have to put one of them on the scoring track, so you really have seven meeples to work with. On your turn, you draw a tile and place it on the table. The game starts with one starting tile that you have to start building on. Each tile that you add must have at least one of its sides fully touching another tile that is already on the board.
Since the players build the board as they go, each game turns out a little different from the others. It’s like building a group puzzle and claiming areas of it for yourself as you go.
In the past, we created stacks of tiles face down for players to draw from, but one of our expansions came with a bag that’s handy for drawing tiles from, so we use that now.
Each turn, you draw and place one tile. You can place a meeple on that tile to claim a feature, such as a road, city, farm, or cloister. To claim a feature, you place your meeple on that feature.
You don’t have to play a meeple on the tile, but this is your only chance to put a meeple on that tile, because you are only allowed to place a meeple on a tile that you are currently placing. You can’t place a meeple on a tile that you or someone else already played. If you do place a meeple on your current tile, you can only place one meeple on it, no more.
A meeple on a road is a thief. A meeple on a city is a knight. A meeple on a cloister is a monk. These meeples are all placed standing up, and when the feature (road, city, or cloister) is completed, you will get your meeple back. If you place a meeple in the grass as a farmer, you lay the meeple on its side, and you will never get it back.
Roads, cities, and cloisters are scored during the game whenever the feature is completed. A road is completed when both ends of the road are placed. The player gets one point for each tile in the road. The road is worth the same amount whether it is completed during the game or not, but you won’t get your meeple back unless you complete the road during the game.
A city is completed when it is enclosed by walls on all sides. Cities are worth more if you complete them during the game. If you have incomplete cities at the end of the game, they are only worth half the points. Each tile in a completed city is worth two points. Some city tiles have special shields on them that make that tile worth double. If a city is incomplete at the end of the game, the player gets one point for each tile in the city, instead of two.
Roads and cities can vary a lot in size. A city can be as small as two tiles or much larger. Roads can vary a lot in length, too.
A cloister is completed when the cloister is surrounded by tiles on all sides, including tiles on the corners, so that there is a square of nine tiles. Each tile in that square is worth one point, and, like roads, there is no bonus for finishing the feature during the game other than getting your meeple back.
Meeples that are placed as farmers are never going to return to you, so placing a farmer is a permanent move for that meeple. Farmers are scored at the end of the game. A farmer gets three points for each completed city that is on that farmer’s area. Incomplete cities don’t count. So you want to lay your farmers strategically in areas where many cities are being completed.
You can’t place a meeple on a feature that is already claimed by someone else. For example, you can’t add another piece to someone else’s city and put your meeple on it.
But it’s possible to sneak onto someone else’s feature by placing a tile so that it doesn’t connect to the other feature yet, and then you can connect them later. If that happens, you and the other player share the points for that feature. This happens frequently with farms, because they can be so valuable, but it gets tempting with any feature that gets especially large, such as a huge city or road.
This sort of sneaky business can lead to people trying to sneak extra meeples of their own onto their own features to get more power over the feature. If you have two meeples on a feature, such as a city or farm, and another player has a single meeple on that feature, your meeples will outweigh the other player’s meeple, so you will win the points for that feature, and the other player will not get any points for it.
But since you have a limited number of meeples, you want to manage them carefully and not have them all out on the board.
Another interesting thing about Carcassonne is that nothing is secret. When you draw a tile, you show it to the rest of the group. You decide where to put it, but the others can give you advice. It encourages discussion and makes it a little easier on beginners who are learning how to play.
Since some features are scored during the game but others aren’t scored until the end, it may look like one player is ahead during the game when in fact that player is in last place. When we played last night, I looked like I was doing very well during the game, but after the farms were scored at the end, I was far behind the others!
Rich ended up way ahead, with Pat next, then Sean, and then me. I didn’t mind losing, though, because the game was so fun!
After Carcassonne, we had tea and some awesome Christmas cookies.
Pat and Rich’s cute Australian shepherds, Tater and Cooper, hung out with us.
After dessert, we pulled out Scopa (which I have blogged about before) and played that while we snacked on some yummy nut mixes. Rich and I had good luck! Our team won.
Pat and Rich liked Scopa a lot. It’s a nice quick game.
Here are some pros/cons of Carcassonne!
- Has the same satisfying feeling I get from jigsaw puzzles, but with the addition of competing and interacting with others
- The tiles combine to form an attractive looking game
- Can be played in a friendly or cutthroat manner, depending on your preference (I like playing cutthroat but wouldn’t do that with beginners)
- Beginners can learn as they go, because no info is hidden, and more experienced players can help identify options for them
- The number of decisions you make at one time is somewhat limited, because you only get to place one tile at a time
- Different every time because you build the board as you go
- Isn’t always obvious who is winning, so you still feel like you have a chance
- Really good for 2-4 players
- Has many expansions (not discussed here) which add to the variety
- Not as great with 5-6 players because it can be a long time before you get a turn, especially if players aren’t totally focused
- Not a boisterous party game, if that’s what your group is looking for
- In two-player, too often turns into a farmer shoot-out, so we often play without farmers in two-player
- Difficult for some people to visualize the possible tile placements (this kind of spatial/visual placement isn’t fun for everyone)