Klawchat at 1 pm EDT today. Tentatively scheduled to be on the FAN 590 in Toronto at 6:05 pm.
I’ve been promising this writeup for months but there always seems to be a book or a trip in the way, which is a shame, since Carcassonne is definitely one of my favorite boardgames now and clearly top-ten material.
Carcassonne’s concept is very simple, generally a hallmark of good boardgames. All players build the board as you go, using a collection of square tiles that depict various pieces of roads, cities, and pastures. You keep no hand tiles, drawing one piece per turn and placing it immediately next to one or more pieces already on the table. You must make sure that the edges match – if a tile has a city on one edge, that edge can’t be placed next to a road or a pasture – which limits your options. Along the way, you place your followers, known as “meeples” to hardcore Carcassonne players, on cities, roads, or farms that you build to try to earn points, with bonus points awarded for completing cities, using city tiles with pennants, and for certain tiles available in the many expansions to the core game.
It’s an easy game to pick up but the changing board and the fact that your opponents are simultaneously building, often nearby, make gameplay different every time. You can play a solitary game, especially if you’re just playing one other person, but you can also play in a way that tries to steal points from your opponents by merging one of your cities with one of theirs, since the points for a completed (“closed”) city go to the player with the most meeples occupying tiles in that city.
The trickiest part of the game is the use of farms, which can be more valuable than cities if played properly. When you play a meeple on a city or road, you get the meeple back to redeploy once that city is closed or that road is completed. When you play a meeple on a farm, however, he’s there for the rest of the game. When the game ends, a player gets points for each closed city that his farm abuts, but a player often doesn’t have much control over how his farm grows, and a player can end up with nothing for one of his meeples if farms merge as the board develops and he’s outnumber on that farm when the game ends. As a result, when and where to place meeples is the main strategic decision for Carcassonne players, since you have no control over what tiles you draw but have complete control over meeple placement.
We’ve played with two to four players; four players can take a while, but two player games run under a half hour for us, especially since my wife and I tend to play apart from each other on the board. I’ve played online a few times, including two games against players who spent all of their time trying to glom on to my cities (by creating a new nearby city and attempting to merge the two), and not only was the strategy annoying, it didn’t seem to work – you can keep the game close that way, but you can’t get ahead without building some cities and farms of your own, so I never pursue this strategy myself.
We’ve used two Carcassonne expansions. The game currently comes with the first River expansion, twelve tiles that you use to start the game; it provides some structure and helps break up farms, but it doesn’t substantially change gameplay. The second, Traders and Builders, adds a number of new tiles, as well as two new pieces: the Builder, which allows a player to draw an extra tile when adding to the city/road the builder occupies; and the Pig, which increases the final value of the farm on which he’s placed. Both the Builder piece and the new tile configurations added quite a bit to the game, changing strategies but also providing more flexibility and, depending on how you use the Builder, allowing you to avoid wasted turns.
I’ll do one more game post in the next few weeks, updating the top ten and reposting the comments lost from the original thread last fall.