Carcassone: You make the board!

Ah, the simple joy of Carcassonne!  This was a game I was exposed to early on in my NBG career.  It gently introduces you to a few more common NBG concepts:  a customizable board, victory points, and a vaguely medieval theme.  2-5 Players, (6 with an expansion)

The charm of Carcassone is that you actually make the board as you play.  You lay down tiles that connect roads, cities and fields and create a sunny provincial countryside…full of delicious victory points!

Here’s how the game works.  All the board tiles have one or more of four different kinds of landmark:  cities, fields, roads and cloisters.  Each turn a player blindly draws a tile and connects it to another tile on the board.  The landmarks must be contiguous to surrounding tiles.  Roads must connect to roads, cities to cities and fields to fields.  Playing near the edges of the board allows for most freedom in tile-placing since roads and cities may be left incomplete, but may not conflict with other landmarks.

The goal is to complete and control landmarks to gain the most victory points that are counted along a track.  The game ends when all the tiles are placed.  There is no cap on victory points.

Here are the landmarks in the basic game (each tile contains more than one landmark):

You start the game with nine little guys that look like this:

These are your ‘followers’ popularly known as ‘meeple’ (get with the lingo!).  You can choose to populate the tiles you lay down with them in order to gain victory points.  If you set a follower down onto a landmark, it stays there until the landmark is completed.  Then you get your follower back to use again on another turn and you immediately get the victory points associated with completing a landmark.

Each landmark has different scoring rules:

Cities: Worth two points per tile for a completed city, one point per tile on an incomplete city (double with shield).  Get your follower back when city is complete

Roads:  Worth one point per connected road tile.  Get your follower back after tying off both ends

Cloisters:  Worth one point per connected tile (including diagonals), maximum of nine possible points and your follower back.

Fields:  Worth three points per completed city it touches.  Fields are the green space in between the other landmarks.  The other landmarks also define field boundaries, so a field bisected by a road is actually two fields until connected elsewhere.  Fields are scored at the end of the game, so a field is never ‘complete’ meaning you never get your follower back once you place it to claim a field.  Think of your fields like investments as opposed to the immediate profits of cities and roads.

Conflict?

Of a sort.  A landmark is controlled by having more followers on it than any other player.  In case of a tie, the point value goes to all tied players.  No open invasion of other people’s property is permitted (this is a peaceful land after all).  BUT players can (and should) encroach on other people’s property indirectly.  For example:

You, the yellow player, want to take over the green player’s city.  You draw this tile:

You may NOT do this:

But you MAY do this!

Now, if on a later turn you draw a piece like this:

You may connect it to the city and share in the point value!

At that point, you get to pull your followers off the board and use them again.  If you somehow managed, through the same process of indirect aggression, to get one more follower on the city, so that it ended up like this…

Then you would score the full +18 points for the city!  However, if your opponent managed to place this tile:

Like so:

…then he would have separated the two cities, leaving you with the smaller, less valuable one and preserving his lead with the more valuable one.  Often, ensuring your opponent has a deficit of points is more important than scoring higher and higher points.  Your 32 point city doesn’t mean squat if your opponent(s) has an equal share in it!

Logic

Heavy emphasis on spacial reasoning.  If numbers are your game then you may not like this one.  However, for the rest of us who did okay in geometry, this game is loads of fun.

Complicated?

Not really.  once you get the scoring in your head and the rules of taking over others’ landmarks then it’s pretty straightforward.  Further expansions have altered the game majorly, but simply variate on the theme.

Strategy?

Sort of.   You may find your though-out designs achievable toward the start when there’s a big mound of tiles to be drawn and a lot of potential, but things get a little trickier once there are a lot of tiles on the board.  Maximizing your potential often means knowing which tiles have yet to be played (the game supplies you with a cheat sheet).  You don’t want to commit your followers to a city that can’t be completed!

This makes strategy fairly fluid, as other players may thwart your attempts to activate your master plan.  Every good game should allow players to do this, but when you’re also blind-drawing tiles, the game changes pretty much every turn, and makes the best strategies the ones that provide you with the most immediate gain.  The fields are meant to offset this, but since immediate point-gains allow you to take your followers back to use again, field population often amounts to late-game maneuvers in which the players who have had the fortune to get the most immediate points use their regained followers to neutralize enemy fields.

Play time?

20 minutes for 2 players, 40 for 3-4 and at least an hour for 5 or 6.

Verdict

8 out of 10.  This is one of the most well-loved NBGs out there.  It’s only got one mechanic in the base set:  tile-laying.  The interaction is fast and fun, and subsequent expansions have changed the game dynamics very interestingly.  The fun thing about the expansions is that any number and combination of them can be applied.

The only limiting factor which has yet to be altered (to my knowledge) is blind tile-laying.  It’s the game’s random factor, and it has advantages as well as drawbacks.  It keeps the game simple, but it limits the amount of strategies one can employ.  It’s deeper than Ticket to Ride, but not by much.  Still, I like it a lot better and it’s quite satisfying to have built an bit, pretty, vaguely medieval wonderland throughout!  Cloist on, meeple!

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About alexwilgus

Twentysomething from Texas. Living in Chicago. Working for a living. Writing for life.
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One Response to Carcassone: You make the board!

  1. Trey says:

    We love this one. It seems that playing that game is a rite of passage here. Yet to meet someone who hasn’t played it. Hope you both are well.

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