Carcassonne can become an absolute beast. The original game has had 10 big box expansions, though only 9 are available to purchase. They all add something a little bit new to the core experience. In my opinion, there are no bad expansions to Carcassonne, (with the exception being that one you can’t buy anymore). I can pretty much see an instance where somebody could tell me that X was their favourite expansion to Carcassonne and I would be like, “yeah, that makes sense. I can see that”.
With that said though, for me some are better than others as they appeal to the type of gamer I am. With the new Big Box edition just hitting the store I’ve been given the go ahead to wax lyrical and talk about how I would rank the main Carcassonne expansions plus a little bit about the smaller expansions that I have picked up on my travels. Without further ado, grab your meeples and let’s get to the list!
Now, for me Traders and Builders is an essential expansion. This expansion adds a new builder player piece as well as some goods tokens. The builder can be placed instead of one of your meeples and then if you ever expand the feature you’ve placed your builder on, you get another turn. Brilliant stuff. You also have these trade goods which are found within the city spaces. The player who completes that city gets to take all of the goods found within that city. Then at the end of the game if you own the most of any particular good you get some bonus points.
In my experience this alleviates the issue of players never wanting to finish a feature that will give another player points. By adding these goods tokens in you are almost encouraged to finish off other people’s features to bag these goods for their end game windfall. There is also a pig meeple that allows you to boost the points from one of your farms. Great expansion, love it.
Do you sometimes wish Carcassonne was a little nastier? Well for you awful people, myself included, we have The Tower. This expansion adds towers. Shocker, I know. With this expansion in play once you have a tower base tile somewhere on the map you have the choice of placing a meeple or a tower piece. Placing these tower pieces allows you to capture a meeple within range of that tower. With the range being how tall the tower is.
If somebody captures one of your meeples you can pay 3 points to get it back, or alternatively, try and capture one of that players meeples to set up a prisoner transfer. This can really make the game get a lot more cutthroat, but it gives a bit more player interaction and gives you an interesting way to remove meeples from the board. As an added bonus there is also a tower shaped tile holder that makes playing the game a lot easier.
More conflict! This time rather than having your meeples captured by watchtowers they’ll get eaten by a dragon. In The Princess and the Dragon expansion there are various tiles that allow you to move the dragon around the world and it’ll eat anybody it happens to come across. The titular princess allows you to remove meeples from the feature her tiles are placed in. These can be your meeples or your opponents.
Lastly there is also a fairy that just gives you a point if you’ve got it on a tile with one of your meeples at the beginning of your turn. I find this happens more at lower player counts than higher player counts though as there is more chance the fairy will move if there are more players in the round. The fairy also scares the dragon away, meaning the meeple you place the fairy with is safe from any dragon rampages. Which is nice. This is a good expansion and honestly I’ll take this or the tower if I’m feeling in more of a direct conflict mood.
Of all of the expansions, this is the one that is probably adds the most bangs for the rules buck. Inns and Cathedrals adds very few rules added but you get a whole new push your luck element added. You see, Inns and Cathedrals are found on roads and castles respectively.
They make that road or city worth double points upon completion, but you get nothing if you don’t manage to complete the feature by the end of the game. This can lead to some funny “hate-building” where players will deliberately make their opponents features harder to score by adding nasty tiles to it. Because of this aspect this expansion may not be up everybody’s street. You also get a new big meeple to use. This meeple is worth 2 meeples when it comes to totting up who has the most control in any feature when it is scored.
From simple to this beast. Abbey and Mayor adds 3 new types of wooden piece as well as a new tile type. These 3 new pieces are pretty interesting. The Mayor can only go in cities and has the strength equal to the number of pennants in the city. This can be a real gamble as you may end up in a situation where you slap down your mayor and never manage to get a pennant in the city before it’s completed so it has no power and you score nothing. That said it can also become an unstoppable powerhouse that beats everything you throw at it.
Next up are the barns which allow you to score farmers earlier in the game and take your meeples back. Not bad at all. Last up are the carts, which are basically mobile meeples that can move around the map when they are scored. These are very cool.
The last thing in the box are the abbey tiles. These are basically a fix-all to allow you to fill in a gap in the map where you may not be able to draw a tile to do the job. You only get one of these so use it wisely! This is a really good expansion but there are a lot of new rules to pick up to use it. If that doesn’t bother you then pop this up the list a few places in your head.
This box is comprised of a few smaller expansions that can be played alone or together, (mostly). The Count Robber and King is another expansion that encourages you to complete each other’s features. This time, if you ever complete a feature where an opponent scores but you don’t, you get to place a meeple into a big new starting city. In the future you can remove these meeples and pile them into a feature that has just been completed. This is a great way of bolstering up your meeples or even stealing a feature. It can be stopped though. The titular count is also in this big starting city, if he is in the same area as your meeples, you can’t move them back out. So, managing the count is crucial.
You’ve also got a few mini expansions in here, the king and robber each reward the player who has completed the largest city and road respectively. This mini expansion was actually the reason I picked this box up. I love this module. There is also another alternative start mode called the river. In this mode you get to build a river before placing out any of the normal tiles. This gives you a more spread out start with a lot more opportunities to build from. Lastly there are the shrines, which work the same way as monasteries. Except if you build a shrine next to a monastery, only the one completed first scores. This is a great way to try and deny somebody scoring a monastery, but it is a bit mean. Lots in this box, but there are lots of rules to go with it.
This adds a little push your luck to the game. With Hills and Sheep you can now place shepherds into fields and those shepherds can gather up flocks of sheep. Each time you extend a field with your shepherd in it, you get to draw a token from the bag. If you get a sheep you add it to your flock, but if it is a wolf, the herd get eaten and the shepherd is removed from the board. Of course, if you want you can forgo drawing a token from the bag and score whatever sheep are in your flock instead. This one is relatively low stress but also doesn’t add too much to the core game.
This is the newest expansion to be released and I’ve played with this less than any other expansion with one exception, (we’ll get there). I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve played with this so I would actually expect this to rise up the list if I was asked to redo this list in the future, but for now it’s at number 8.
Under the Big Top adds a whole heap of circus related shenanigans to Carcassonne. There is a travelling big top circus that grants points to anybody with a meeple on one of the 8 surrounding tiles when the circus moves on. You’ve also got acrobats that stand on each other’s shoulders and earn bonus points when you’ve finished stacking them into a pyramid. Lastly there is a ringmaster who can be placed like a normal meeple, but earns extra points when the feature they’re on is scored if it is near other circus related tiles.
It's quite a fun expansion but there are a few things to remember with regards to when you can place acrobats and there is a big swing from the minimum to maximum value of points you can earn per meeple on the big top. This does make it feel a little unfair if one player manages to get a lot of meeples next to a high scoring circus.
Bridges, Castles and Bazaars is another modular expansion. The bridges add bridges. Not much of a shock there. Basically these can be an excellent way out if somebody has placed a tile that means you need a road and a city in a certain alignment and you don’t think the tile exists. Now you can just find the right city and place a bridge over it to keep the road going. It’s an interesting module and it does help you out a little.
Next are the castles. With these you get to place a castle rather than scoring points for a 2-tile city. Instead of scoring points you now get to score points for whatever adjacent feature is scored next. This can have you making bank. But a clever opponent will finish some low scoring feature first to keep you out of their juicy, high scoring city. It’s fun and can be quite tactical.
The last bit is the Bazaars. And this is probably the first absolute dud for me. I don’t care for it at all. Basically, whenever you place out a bazaar token you will start an auction for tiles. Players will pay with their points and they get to place down the tile if they win it. I normally like bidding in games but this just leaves me flat. There is an alternative mode where you just draft tiles and recently I’ve been playing with that instead. There are so many fiddly rules that just sap the enjoyment for me. Some people love this one, but for me it’s a no.
10. The Catapult
This is the only large expansion for Carcassonne I don’t own. Part of that may be down to the fact that this is the only large expansion not in print and that 2nd hand copies go for several hundred pounds each on eBay. The other issue is that I have played this one once, and only once, and it was awful.
A lot of the previous expansions add new mechanics, be they set collection or push your luck. Do you want to know what mechanism Carcassonne doesn’t need adding to it? Dexterity. Basically, there are now fair tiles to be added to the city. Whenever you get one of these you each get a go with the catapult trying to flick tokens onto the board to knock over meeples or land on specific features. It’s difficult, frustrating and it really adds nothing of value. There is a reason that this was the only expansion not to be reprinted. It is just bad and don’t mourn its absence in your collection.
The Smaller Stuff
There is also a whole heap of smaller expansions that add various other things. Some are promos and some came in these little cube things. They are really neat little modules to add in to a game of Carcassonne but they are quite hard to get hold of. That’s why the new Carcassonne big box is quite exciting. It contains all 6 of these mini expansions plus the 7th that they all fit together to make. This is one of the easiest ways to pick these up and add a huge amount of variety into the base game. If you’ve been looking for a good point to get into Carcassonne, this new big box is a great way to get in with some of the best expansions, (my numbers 1 & 4), as well as a few hard to find goodies. There is also a My First Carcassonne game, which is intended for children 4+, so you can get the little ones just as interested as you!
And there we have it! That is my ranking of the Large packs of the Carcassonne Expansions. Did you know that there are over 900 expansions for the Carcassonne Core Box? That is why this game is so popular, because of the varieties enabling all types of people to have something to enjoy.