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Over(re)view: Carcassonne

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
This is the second of a series of reviews I plan to do that are 70% overview, 10% review, 10% strategy guide, and 10% teaching aid. They will all be (relatively) short, and they’ll all be posted on BGG.

When I am trying to decide if I want to buy a game, I want to read a brief overview of the theme, goals, and rules. I want to know what I’ll be doing in the game; I want to know how the game makes people feel. I want, in other words, a bird’s-eye view of the gaming experience: more detail than the back of the box; less detail than the rules.

The Over(re)view series of reviews (why isn’t there an “overview” category on BGG?) attempts to be this kind of review. I welcome comments and feedback, and I welcome any suggestions you might have for improving the series. Ó¿Ò

the gist

In Carcassonne, players both create and inhabit a world made up of cities, cloisters, roads, and farms. On each turn, players first draw a square tile randomly from the pile and then play it (legally) next to one or more tiles that have already been played. In order for a play to be legal, every side of the tile has to continue the features of any tiles that are adjacent to it: if an adjacent tile has a castle on its closest side, for example, then the tile just played must also have a castle on that side. It’s essentially the same concept used in dominoes.

If this were all there was to it, Carcassonne wouldn’t be the worldwide hit that it is. What makes the game interesting is the ability for players, after playing a tile, to place a little wooden figure called a “meeple” on the tile they just played. With the meeple, they can claim any of the features on the tile so long as no other player has claimed that same feature on another tile. Remember how all features have to be continued from one tile to the next? Well, if one player has claimed a road, then no other player can claim that same road. Simple, right?

Right. But there’s one exception: what happens when two different roads, claimed by two different players, are later connected? Then both players share ownership of the road. And if a third road is later connected to the first two, then any meeples on that road also share the feature.

Meeples stay on a given feature until it is completed. When a feature is completed (when, for example, a road connects two cities), then points are awarded for the feature and the meeples are returned to their respective players. If the feature is shared, then both players receive points for it. If one player has two meeples on the feature, and another player has just one, then the player with two meeples gets all the points and the player with just one meeple doesn’t get any.

Because meeples stay on a feature until it’s completed, and because every player’s supply of meeples is limited, you have to be a little careful how you deploy them. Meeples are in this way like investments: you want to get a lot of points for your meeple, and you also want to get him back quickly (so you can invest him again). The last thing you want is to get one of your meeples stuck in a feature that can’t be completed.

That’s pretty much it. Play continues in this fashion until all the tiles have been played, and then the final scores are calculated. Points are awarded for some (but not all) of the unfinished features, and then the farms are scored (farms are never considered “complete” until the end of the game). The player with the most points wins.

the upshot

Carcassonne is one of my all-time favorite games, and it’s the one that got me back into gaming. What I like most about it is that it, unlike most games, evokes a kind of childlike sense of wonder: you’re building this world, and then you get to live in it. It’s like playing with Legos, only for adults. I honestly don’t care much whether I win or lose when I play Carcassonne, I just like to play.

There are a lot of expansions for Carcassonne, and some of them are quite good. I would recommend, first, Inns and Cathedrals (it extends the game without changing its basic feel). Then maybe King and Scout (it adds a few new tiles and gives a bonus for both longest road and biggest city). And finally, if you’re looking for something that’ll shake the game up a bit, I’d try Traders and Builders (it creates an incentive for completing the cities belonging to other players).

As far as strategy goes, I like to share two bits of wisdom. First, never let yourself run completely out of meeples: often it’s possible to both claim a feature and score it in the same turn, but you can only do this when you have at least one meeple on hand. And second, be forewarned: the player who controls the farms is usually the player who goes home with the victory.

Never stop playing. =^..^=

  1. December 11, 2010 at 3:54 am

    I don’t care if I win or lose most games to be honest. Though I do often win at Carc… I’ve learned how to use my farms pretty well.

    • December 11, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      That’s me exactly — I usually just play to play, and I find it a little odd when someone very clearly wants to “win.”

      That being said, I’m certainly not above trying to muscle in on someone else’s farm or playing in such a way as to try to make it impossible for someone to finish a feature.

      It’s a strange distinction, I guess: I play to win, but I don’t care if I win or lose.

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