Fan of the Renaissance in France? A very specific question, one many of you probably haven’t thought about much, but you’re going to get a taste of it as you build your own little piece of French scenery. The Carcassonne board game is one many you know of, a game which highlights the strategy genre.
A tile placement game involved with area control, Carcassonne was designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede and released in 2000. It has been nominated for, as well as won, a number of awards, including the Spiel des Jahres winner in 2001, has been accepted as a gateway game for many non-board game fans, and is included in many households’ collections.
If it hadn’t been so popular, I wouldn’t have thought this was a board game when first looking at it, I’d have guessed it was a jigsaw puzzle or a play set. Also, when you hear French Renaissance paired with board game, it doesn’t initially jump out in your mind as entertaining. Looking at how it’d done over the years, oh how little I knew!
Getting past the initial reaction and looking at the style the game is going for, you want to see what makes this game tick and has held the place it has. Area building board games are not really my thing, they never appealed to me much, but I was open-minded. Tile placement games have their place so I was interested in what this one provided to try and grip me. Let’s build some castles!
What Do You Get?
- Rule booklet
- Summary sheet
- 1 scoring track
- 40 followers in 5 colors – Purple, green, yellow, red and black
- 72 land tiles – The tiles picture city, road and field segments and cloisters. One of the tiles is a starting tile with a different back.
How Do You Set It Up?
- Place the starting tile face up in the middle of the table. Shuffle the remaining land tiles face down and stack them in several face-down stacks so all players have easy access to them.
- Place the scoring track near one edge of the table so that there is room for players to place land tiles in the middle of the table.
- Each player takes 8 followers in their colour and places one of them as their scoring marker in the large space at the lower left of the scoring track.
- Each player places their remaining 7 followers before them on the table as their supply.
- The players decide amongst themselves who will be the starting player, using any method of their choice.
How Do You Play?
Players place land tiles turn by turn. As they do, roads, cities, fields and cloisters appear and grow. On these, players can deploy their followers to earn points. Players score points both during the game and at the end. The player with the most points after the final scoring is the winner.
Players take turns in clockwise order, beginner with the starting player. On a players turn, they execute the following actions in order:
- The player must draw and place a new land tile.
- The player may deploy one of their followers from their supply to the land tile they just placed.
- If by placing the land tile, cloisters, roads, and/or cities are completed, they are now scored.
- The player’s turn is over and the next player, in clockwise order, takes their turn in the same manner.
Placing land tiles:
First a player must draw a land tile from one of the face-down stacks, they look at it and show their fellow players, and places it on the table using the following rules:
- The new tile must be placed with at least one edge adjacent and abutting one previously placed tile. It cannot be placed corner to corner with a previous tile.
- The new tile must be placed so that all field, city and road segments on the new tile continue to field, city and road segments, respectively, on all abutting tiles. Cloisters are always complete within single tiles.
- In the rare situation where a drawn tile has no legal placement, and all players agree, the player discards the tile from the game and draws another tile to place.
After the player has placed a tile, they may deploy one of their followers under the following rules:
- The player may only play 1 follower on a turn.
- The player must take it from their supply.
- The player may only deploy it to the tile they just placed.
- The player must choose whether to deploy the follower as either a:
- Farmer – In a city segment
- Knight – On a road segment
- Monk – In a field segment
- Thief – In a cloister
- The player may not deploy a follower on a field, city or road segment that connects to a segment on another tile that already has a follower, from any player include themselves, on it.
- If through the placement of a tile, cities, roads and/or cloisters are completed, these are scored before moving on to the next player.
- When a player has deployed all of their followers, they continue to place tiles each turn. Although a follower can’t be recalled, they are returned to players when cloisters, roads and cities are scored.
- The player’s turn is over and the next player in clockwise order takes their turn, and so on.
A completed road:
- A road is complete when the road segments on both ends connect to a crossing, a city segment, or a cloister, or when the road forms a loop. Segments may be between roads.
- The player who has a thief on a completed road score one point for each tile in the completed road.
- The player moves their scoring marker forward on the scoring track by the number of points earned. If you pass 50 on the track, lay your marker down to indicate a score greater than 50 and continue along the track.
A completed city:
- A city is complete when the city is surrounded by a city wall with no gaps in the wall nor holes in the city. A city may have many segments.
- The player who has a knight in a completed city score two points for each tile in the city. Each pennant on segments in the city earns the player 2 points.
If there is more than one follower in a road or city, the player with the most followers on it earns all the points. If the number of followers is a tie, they each earn the total points for the road/city.
A completed cloister:
A cloister is complete when the tile it is on is completely surrounded by land tiles. The player with a monk in the cloister earns 9 points, 1 for the cloister tile and 1 for each of the other tiles.
Returning scored followers:
After a road, city or cloister is scored, the followers involved are returned to the appropriate players supplies. The returned followers may be used by the players as any of the possible followers (farmer, knight, monk or thief) in later turns.
- Connected field segments are called farms. Farms are not scored when completed during the game.
- Players may deploy farmers on field segments, but they only score at the end of the game.
- A farmer remains in the field segment where it is deployed for the entire game and is never returned to the players supply.
When the last tile has been placed at the end of a players turn, the game ends. Then follows the final scoring.
- For each incomplete road and city, the player who has a thief or knight on it earns one point for each segment it has. Pennants are worth one point each.
- The same rules apply if more than one player has a thief or knight on a road or city.
- For an incomplete cloister, the player with the monk on the cloister earns 1 point for the cloister and 1 point for each land tile surrounding it.
- Only completed cities are reserved for scoring farmers.
- The farmer must be in a farm that borders a city to supply it.
- For each city a farm supplies, the player who deployed the most farmer(s) in the farm earns 3 points. If players tie with the most farms, each scores 3 points.
- A farm can supply (score) several cities if they border the farm.
- Several farms can supply a single city. In such a case, each farm is scored separately.
When all completed cities are scored, the scoring ends and the game is over. The player with the most points is the winner. If players tie with the most, they can enjoy victory together!
Pros Of The Game
- Simple and easy to learn, good gateway game
- Fast-paced with good strategy
- Components and layouts look great
- Intensity raises as the game goes on, inspiring competition
- Lots of expansions to grow the game with, great replay value
Cons Of The Game
- Not very challenging
- Not deep or intricate, you make one move per turn
- Novice players can feel put off by aggressive knowledgeable players
- Can get confusing if you don’t play the original game first, best start there
- Tile-placement games are not for everyone, more laid back
Should You Get Carcassonne?
The simple games can sometimes be the ones that catch you off guard the most. At first, I thought this was a jigsaw puzzle! Build the French countryside tile by tile, as you watch the roads, cities and cloisters of southern France take shape. You decide where in the built-out landscape to place your followers, and if you choose strategically, you can score some heavy points. Manoeuvres and tactics are what make this game tick.
The game is based on an actual town in southern France, within the Languedoc-Roussillon region, lying on both side of the river Aude. The town is most famous for its citadel known as Cité de Carcassonne, a fortress in medieval times. The walls of the city are huge at 1.9 miles long, was the first fortress to use hoardings in time of siege, has 52 huge towers, and is one of the most visited monuments in France.
Also, it is associated with the famous French poet Gustave Nadaud and has seen much action during the Hundred Years War. This plus many other features of both the city and the countryside inspired the game’s creation. I find this really adds to its depth and gives a greater connection, making you think of what the real thing has whilst playing.
Although easy in what you need to do during your moves, how you implement those moves is another realm. You’ll be making some tricky decisions here and will be questioning if you did the right things to get the highest number of points possible. You can earn some points in the short-term within the move you are performing, or you can consider what’s best for earning points in the long-term by the end of the game.
This aspect is what makes the game so intriguing, you think it’s just a basic game placing one tile after another, but what you do with that tile in that turn is important as you have plenty of options to consider as the game progresses.
It says ages 6+, where in terms of gameplay I reckon can go a tad younger, but considering the size of the follower pieces, it sounds about right where no one will be eating any components.
This game is part of quite a few childhoods now as it gets older and has made its mark in the gaming world as a memorable piece of smooth, yet tricky, enjoyable gameplay. Despite the several pages of rules in the instructions, this is really easy to understand. Choose a stack, pick up the tile, place it down, choose whether to place a follower down, that’s it!
This makes turns very quick so the game feels fast-paced, even with 30-90 minutes run time, because the number of tiles keeps the number of moves high. Combine this with the swiftness of turns passing, and you got some time-fly-by satisfaction right there!
The tiles always come out differently together, producing unique landscapes every game, so each time you’re done you can behold the new map you’ve all created. The mosaic-like concept compliments the game really well. Tiles on their own look good with a high quality of detail, but together you can appreciate the artwork of the pieces even more and see how cool your finished board looks.
Since the features and appearance of the tiles are a crucial element to the game, you can tell the designers worked hard to make sure these did the job and brought the game to life. They’re of good value and can be long lasting.
Be careful not to damage them though, if you can’t see parts of the map you’re going to have more trouble with the game since the tiles are the source here. A cool feature is having the flip side of the start tile having a different colour layout, so you know where the starting piece is from where the game began.
The follower pieces, called meeples, have become some of the most easily recognizable game pieces out there, though there’s not much design to them. Take part in history as you lead them to build a southern French landscape and hold the privilege to obtain points for your accomplished feats.
The more meeples you place, the more difficult it gets deciding where to put them, as just chucking them out there can cost you valuable opportunities. In addition, you want to plan your layout carefully, as not all tiles are going to fit together and if you don’t make some good formations, you’re wasting your turns and your meeple’s placements.
When it comes to ease of play, this game has it down, anyone can learn the basics, even non-board gamers. Plus, the gameplay is consistent and solid, the rulebook is detailed and has everything covered when you stumble across unique scenarios, so you can get into it quick and simple, which is an element plenty of people look for in board games. In fact, rather than read the book, you could have someone who already knows the game to explain it briefly and you’re set!
On the flip side, if you’re looking for a deeper kind of game, this won’t be your cup of tea. Any intricacies or development in gameplay are not here, and though a key part of this game is strategy, there’s not a huge amount of it to the point where you need to make a handful decisions per turn. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t difficulty in the decisions the game does offer you.
Novice players might feel put off when facing an experienced, aggressive player. When someone who just wants to build stuff comes across someone else who wants to steal from them, it can feel off-putting for them.
Farmers are the biggest source of rivalry, because these cannot be removed from the game once placed. Do you decide whether it’s worth placing a follower down as a thief or a knight for some easy points? Or do you hold onto them for the long haul until you get the right tile and earn bigger points by the end? Take a city or a cloister? Maybe you’re hoping your thief will return to you in time to use it again, or you feel tense that you placed your follower as a farmer too soon and you cannot use them again.
These are the types of thoughts you will be having as you play, and its strategy at its finest. Timing, correct choices, long-term planning, the gears in your head churning, it brings out productive moves, and this is where the legs of the game truly show!
Played with 2-5 players, many people have been wanting to play again and again, mastering their moves more each time and attempting to rule the countryside with an impressive display of calculated decision-making.
Might I add how tense each move gets as you progress? You pick a tile from any stack and everyone will hold their breath waiting to see what your reaction and move will be. A great part of this game is the competition, every move you make can affect another players game, all moves are intricate with each other. Each tile drawn can either be the one you need or the one your opponents are seeking, leaving opportunities throughout.
No side quests or missions, what you see is what you get and depending on what a fellow players move is, you’ll have to switch up your game and try to either set them back or take advantage of their victory points. This really brings out the interaction between players as everyone enjoys the game in a social setting.
Many expansions have been released adding new tiles and rules. These improve game replay even further with more features you can work with and expand your game. If you bought all of the expansions, you would get over 300 more tiles and new ways of getting into the game, keeping it renewed as it continues to retain interest with variety.
It can be easy to get lost with all of these releases, my head was certainly spinning when I first saw them. This post would be way too long if I went through them all, but you can see a full list of them here. It can get a bit confusing if you don’t play the original game first, the best starting point. Many people who enjoy the base game get hooked with or without the expansions.
There’s not much depth in this game, but if you can grasp and advance with what you got, there’s a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction to be had. The effortlessness of play and speed of the game gets you into things easy and might be just what you need rather than a huge setup one weekend day.
We need games that open that gateway for new game fans, this is one of them. Spiel Der Jahres winners are big games that are worth at least checking out, and this has been a crowd pleaser for many, occupying a nice space in their gaming cupboards.
Just because it’s not leaking with intricacy though, don’t relax and take it lightly either, there is challenge here, it’s just a question of whether it’s enough for you. Keep expectations levelled with this game. It’s not the most exciting but is fun and addicting. Sometimes moves can be inconsequential, but you’re always working out your next moves.
I think it’s safe to say, the tile-placement genre truly belongs to the Carcassonne board game. If you want a chilled time, enjoy strategy, like being immersed by design, and having a bit of competition, this can be in your lane. But seeking anymore, expecting a large layout with many components and a varying challenge level, or tile-placement games isn’t your thing, you might give this one a pass.
For others, you may get that played to death feel after so long, it doesn’t reach everyone, at the very least it is something kids can get into. Its light and knows how to bring the best with what its got, no more, no less. I would recommend at least a go considering how many people its won over. There’s nothing quite like a trip round a large castle, it’s easy to get lost.
Thank you for having a read through this review! How do you find Carcassonne? Are you satisfied or were you expecting more? How many times have you played? Do you like the layout of the tiles? Have you played any of the expansions? What kind of strategies do you like to implement? Share a comment and let know!