As I was thinking about this review I thought, “What more can be said?” Carcassonne is a modern classic but, this might be exactly why a review is appropriate now. Most reviewers cover new games which is understandable. As more and more new people come into the hobby I think it is a good idea to shine a light on the gems of the past and Carcassonne is most definitely a gem. So, I will be approaching this from the perspective of a person new enough to the hobby that they might not have seriously looked at this game before.

Carcassonne is a tile placement and area majority game. During the game, players will be building the French area of Carcassonne by placing tiles and trying to control different features of the area by placing their followers on the tiles. Each turn players will draw a tile that will have a mix of road, city, farm, or monastery segments on it. They will then decide where to place this tile connected to other tiles already placed. Finally, they will decide where on their placed tile to place a follower, if any. Once a feature is complete (road, city, monastery) the player with the most followers on it scores points for it and get any followers on it back. Once all tiles have been placed, the game ends and players will score for their farmers. The player with the highest score wins.

THEME

The theming in Carcassonne is light and abstracted. It isn’t really clear what you are actually doing or who you are. Are you different factions vying for control? Are you trying to have the most influence in the Carcassonne area? It’s really just about the points you can get by advantageously placing tiles and followers.

If you are looking for a highly thematic game this is not it. But, even though I greatly enjoy narrative and theme in games, I still love Carcassonne. (It is my #1 game) This should tell you something about this game.

COMPONENTS AND ART

By today’s standards of art in games, Carcassonne may seem a bit sparse. There are no sculpted miniatures to be found and the artwork on individual tiles is kind of same-y. However, by the end of the game, the completed map really is a thing of beauty. Each map ends up being different and interesting to look at with all of its twisting roads and crazy-shaped cities.

The components are in the same boat as the art. The tiles are just fine but nothing extraordinary. And then there are the little wooden bits shaped similarly to a people. These are so pedestrian.  Wait! What am I saying?! This is the meeple I am talking about here! And Carcassonne is the game who gave us this wonderful little icon of gaming. For the very fact that this game gave us such an iconic component, it will always be at the top of my list for great components.

MECHANISMS

Tile Placement
The tile placement in Carcassonne is pretty standard. You are simply placing tiles adjacent to other tiles already placed, matching up the features on them. The fun in the system comes when you are trying to block your opponents or locking some of their followers on the board by making a feature incomplete-able.

One of the great things about this mechanism is that it starts off very easy to make decisions in a game (when there are few tiles on the board) and then ramps up as the game goes along. This makes it easy to teach and easy to introduce new players to.

Area Majority
The areas in Carcassonne you are trying to control are actually features on a map that will grow and change as new tiles are placed. If you have the most followers on a feature (road, city, monastery or farm) you will get the points from it when it completes.  This can be as straightforward or as competitive as the players want it to be. I love that flexibility.

The mechanisms in Carcassonne are simple but combine to make a game with a lot of interesting choices and depth.

The mechanisms in Carcassonne are simple but combine to make a game with a lot of interesting choices and depth.

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • Alhambra
  • El Grande
  • Catan
  • Tsuro

FINAL THOUGHTS

I feel like I fall pretty close to the middle of game styles. I can equally enjoy a highly thematic dice-fest like Twilight Imperium or a more elegant Euro like El Grande, but I think the storyteller in me pushes me to play the game with more narrative. So why is Carcassone (most definitely a Euro) my #1 game?

Carcassonne casts a very big tent, perhaps bigger than any other game. It is easy to set up and doesn’t take too long to play. It is easy to teach and learn but each game is different. It starts simple but complexity emerges as the game progresses.  It keeps players engaged through quick turns that impact every player. It offers many expansions that add fun twists to the game, but doesn’t need any of them to be at its best. It can play as casually or as competitively as your group wishes. It can be either the nicest game in your collection or the meanest.

Carcassonne does so many things well, but not everything. As mentioned before, this game lacks narrative. I have no idea who I am in the game. I’m just putting meeples on tiles. The other issue is luck of the tile draw. This is mitigated by the fact that it affects all players equally. Even if that is the case, it sure feels bad at the end of a game if someone gets that single tile you needed to complete your massive city. Fortunately, the game is short enough that this has a very small impact on enjoying the game.

Whether you are introducing a group of people to the hobby or playing with veteran gamers, Carcassonne has something to offer. If it is not in your collection, it should be. If you don’t have a collection, start it with Carcassonne.

NICE OR MEAN. CASUAL OR COMPETITIVE

As I said earlier, this game can be as nice and casual, or mean and competitive as your group wishes. How does this work out? Let me give you a couple scenarios.

Scenario #1
On your turn, you place a follower on a road. The game plays on and you continue extending your road and another player even adds a piece since it contributes to the monastery she is working on. The road eventually closes and you get your points. Everyone is happy. This is the nice and casual side of Carcassonne. No feelings get hurt.

Scenario #2
On your turn, you place a follower in a new city. The next player draws a tile and smiles wickedly at you as she places her city piece in a position where she can steal your points if she can connect it to yours. The city grows as does your rivalry. You commit more and more followers to the city, trying to stay at least one ahead so you can score the points when it closes. Then a third player, who has been idly watching the two of you fight it out draws a tile. He says nothing but places it next to your city – making the massive city you’ve been working on impossible to close. Not only will the two of you who have been fighting over the city score far fewer points, your followers are now stuck there for the rest of the game. You both now turn your attention to destroying the third player’s farm points.

See what I mean? Same game; two totally different ways to play.

PUB THOUGHTS

Sean

Carcassonne is the game that really began my board game collection. The closest thing to I had ever played before it was Risk and that left a lot to be desired, such as depth. It seems funny to say such a simple game has depth but that’s exactly what I like about it: a simple game with varying levels of complexity that do not compromise the simplicity of the game itself.

I remember enjoying it so much that I went online and hunted down all of the expansions available at the time, even the obscure handful of Siege tiles found in a German magazine. Almost a decade later and there’s close to double the expansions that I purchased back then. If anything, that should be a testament to the success of a well-designed game. It’s one thing to sell a lot of games; it’s another to sell a lot of an expansion, but a game that can sell a lot of many expansions rises to another level…as in Magic the Gathering or Catan levels.

What I like about the Carcassonne expansions is twofold: they provide plug and play complexity and modular gaming. By that I mean you can make the game as rule heavy or light as you want depending on the number of expansions you play and that each combination of expansions gives a different gaming experience. This also allows for multiple plays with different gaming groups by tuning which ones you play with to fit their preferences.

Carcassonne is a game that everyone should have in their collection. If anything, it’s a great one to start with and a fantastic gateway for those not familiar with modern board gaming. You’ll easily discover your favorite expansions as you experiment with new strategies and different play styles.

Heck, even if I manage to get tired of it (which I won’t) the nostalgic attribution of the meeple to our brand will always keep Carcassonne on my thoughts.

Bryan

It will be hard to separate nostalgia and come with an objective critique.  So let’s begin by saying I have yet to play Carcassonne with a group that did not take to it right away.  This is also a game that has been around for awhile and continues to garner respect from the gaming community.

But is it any fun?

I have enjoyed this game on so many levels:  the casual background activity accompanying a quiet evening, the heated competition where no one can stay in their seats.  A narrative even came out of a game once that had us all laughing to the point of tears.  While I cannot vouch for some of the later expansions, the game expansions do provide relative depth without high levels of complexity and the modular nature of the add-ons allow for tailoring a game to the tastes of the participants. The game is highly replayable and engaging for veterans and newbies alike.

Carcassonne is probably the most played game out of my collection and definitely worth the shelf space.