Some games feel pretty timeless. As much as many people in the BG community would probably hate to admit it, there’s a reason why titles such as Monopoly and Mouse Trap still exist in the wider cultural consciousness. Simple rules and an interesting concept can really help a game to stick around over the years. That’s part of the reason that Carcassonne is so well-known. Of course, it probably helps to be named after a famously beautiful castle-town in the south of France as well.
Compared to other ‘classics’, Carcassonne is relatively new. It was published first in the year 2000 by Hans Im Glück in Germany and is now published around the world by companies from Z-Man Games to Rio Grande Games. It has a deceptively simple design by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, famous for his other games, such as Downfall of Pompeii, although Carcassonne is by far his most famous and popular.
The main point of Carcassonne is that you are building a titular town. As you go you draw new tiles and have to place them in such a way as to continue the landscape. As you complete structures and features, you score points according to their size, and the person with the highest score, once all tiles have been placed, is the winner. To earn a score from different features, you must first claim them as your own by placing your meeple tokens onto empty structures each turn after placing your tile.
That’s pretty much all there is to Carcassonne. As I said, deceptively simple. While the description of the game itself isn’t particularly complex, and in fact, the game can be taught to pretty much anyone quickly, there are layers to the game. There is certainly a fair amount of strategy behind when you choose to place your meeple tokens, as well as where you place them. Using them up prevents you from controlling any new features, but a well-placed token can earn you a lot of points.
There’s also the fact that you have to bear in mind that going too hard after a specific structure can leave you unable to score your points. While your larger cities and monasteries are worth plenty of points, they can be hard to complete in the late-game when tiles start to run out. Choosing widely where to allocate your time and resources is a surprisingly important part of the gameplay.
There’s not much to say beyond that. Carcassonne’s beauty is its simplicity. The rules are simple, and yet you can play the game hundreds of times and still have a good time. It is sort of akin to chess in that way. The rules are entirely different, of course, as there is no direct player interaction, but the timeless replayability of the game is something you rarely find in modern games.
There is also one more advanced rule that you can add to the gameplay once you think you’ve got the hang of it: fields. Basically, as well as placing your meeple on features, you can place them on open fields. These meeples are known as farmers and are only scored at the end of the game. These farmers can result in some pretty big scores, but you have to leave them on the board for the entire rest of the game, meaning that it can be a pretty risky maneuver. It can be a big decision placing down a farmer before everyone else since it means you’ve had less meeples overall to work with through the rest of the game.
The artwork is very similar to the gameplay: simple but all the more beautiful for it. Everything on the tiles is illustrated beautifully, with vibrant green taking up most of the space on each piece. It contrasts nicely against the different brightly colored meeple tokens. The city spaces are brilliantly jumbled-looking collections of tiny houses crammed in together. Roads and other more solitary features again stand in stark contrast to the bright, constant green that surrounds them, helping the features to stand out.
The River Expansion
As part of a new inclusion with the base game of Carcassonne, you also get the River Expansion. This is a mini-expansion that adds 12 new tiles to the standard game of Carcassonne. Basically, at the start of a game of Carcassonne, before you place regular tiles, you must place the 12 river tiles. These tiles feature cities and other features just like regular tiles, but other than that, they do not change the way the game is scored.
The river isn’t a bad mini-expansion as it does help to vary the landscape a fair bit. The only issue is that it also does mean that you can be pretty limited on where you play your tiles, making it very easy to get trapped, especially if you pull a riverfront-city tile just after the river has made a sharp turn.
The Abbot Expansion
The final mini-expansion covered in this version of Carcassonne is The Abbot. This adds a new type of meeple to your resources, which can only be placed in monasteries or garden features. The main new factor with The Abbot is that he can be removed from the board to immediately score points rather than waiting for the feature he’s placed on to be completed.
This expansion doesn’t add too much to the game, but it’s always a nice idea to throw it in once you’ve got a fair few games under your belt just to spice things up a little bit.
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artist: Doris Matthäus, Anne Pätzke, Chris Quilliams, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Publisher: Hans im Glück