In today's Let's Play entry we take a look at one of the board gaming world's most prominent gateway games, Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is a tile laying game, each turn you will be drawing tiles and placing them so as to expand the game board, while manoeuvring your meeples so as to gain the most points for those tile placements. As such the game board grows quite organically, so without further a do lets delve into medieval France.
The core game comes with 72 tiles. These tiles are the game's main components and providing they are not subjected to fire or large volumes of water, they should last you along time. Each tile will depict an area that upon being drawn you will add to the game, generating the map, and each may depict parts of a city, cloisters, roads or perhaps several of these as well as some farmland. These areas will come into play when placing your followers and are the way you will be scoring your points. The other components of the game are the scoreboard and follower pieces.
The phrase meeple, a common term used to refer to people shaped pieces, was first coined in reference to Carcassonne's followers and in most editions of the game, such as the one I am using, they come in wood.
That covers all the game's components, so on to the mechanics.
Setting up and playing the game
Usually I would have a separate section for setting up the game but with Carcassonne you are creating the game board and as such the set up is minimal. That being said we will run through the short steps. First of all you will need to find the starting tile, which is marked by a different colour on the back, and once acquired is placed into the center of your playing surface. The remaining tiles are then shuffled and formed into a stack face down. Each player then selects the colour of their choice and takes the matching meeples of that colour, placing one of their eight pieces on to the scoring table, and taking the remaining seven for future use. That concludes the entire games set up, so lets get building.
Each player's turn will follow a strict order: draw and play one tile! Then if you wish you may play one follower onto that tile before then scoring it if you have completed a feature. That is your entire turn, and it seems remarkably simple right? That's because it is, the game's complexity lies in the way the tiles can be placed on to the board, as well as making you sure you are the one gaining the most from that tiles placement.
So we had better cover the different types of tile, how they are placed, and how the scoring at the end of the game works. Any tiles drawn must be placed adjacent or abutting to at least one previously placed tile and all the features on that tile, such as roads, fields and cities must continue into their respective features. Those are the rules you must remember when placing your tiles.
Once the tile has been placed into the game board, you then have the choice of placing a meeple onto it. Meeples can then be placed in a variety of ways dependent on the features present, with most of the placements enabling the meeple to come back to you, allowing that meeple to take multiple roles during the game.
The four roles/placement types are knights, thieves, farmers and monks. Knights can be placed when a city is present and ordinarily only one knight can be present in a city. When a city is completed, that is when it is surrounded by a wall with no gaps, any meeples present are returned to the owners pool and the city is scored. Each tile that is part of the city earns you two points, with any pennants present in the city tile earning you an additional two. Knights can be big points scorers, however it is worth noting that judging when to just finish a city instead of making it larger is very important, as good positioning of tiles by your opponent and the random nature of the tile drawing means you may not get the piece you need to complete your mighty eight tile city.
The second role type is the thief. When you place a road down you may immediately play a thief onto it, providing that there isn't a thief already present. When the road gets completed, your meeple piece will come back and the road will score one point per tile it covers. Thieves are a quick and easy way to score points due to the many crossroad tiles present in the game.
Monks are the only role in that game that always score the same amount, nine points. When a cloister is present on a tile, a monk may be placed into it. These tiles are extremely easy to place due to only having two variations and are scored when there are completely surrounded by adjacent tiles, this being a maximum of nine tiles. Once this has been achieved you score nine points and take your follower.
The final, and highest, scoring role available to players is the farmer. Unlike other roles they are placed face down on the field segment of a tile and you will not get your farmer back until the game ends. As such you must be certain that when you place a farmer he is going to net you a large score, and they most certainly have the potential to do so. Farmers are scored according to how many completed cities their farm supplies - farms being every field connected to the farmers location regardless of distance in tiles. Roads and cities denoting the farm's borders, each city that has been completed and is supplied by a players farm, will earn that player three points at the end of the game - providing they have the most farmers in the farm. You can see how this could quickly add up to some considerate scores.
The game continues clockwise from the first player until all the tiles have been placed. At this point farms are scored as detailed above and any incomplete roads, cities and cloisters score one point for each tile they spread across. Following this the winner can rejoice in their superior strategy and in the case of a tie, both players share there victory laurels.
Carcassonne is a board game classic, it was the first game outside of regular retail games such as Cluedo and Monopoly that I played and as such it will always have a space in my collection. The question is does it still hold up with age? I would say yes, Carcassonne is a fantastic game for families and still works as the perfect gateway game alongside Catan.
Its rules are clear and simple allowing players to grasp them within a few turns, whilst also having enough depth to hold up after multiple games. The random drawing of tiles means the game has a certain aspect of risk and reward, do you continue to build your city? Or do you try and finish quickly so that you can get your meeple back for that next all important farm or city?
I thoroughly recommend Carcassonne if you haven't yet played it, especially if you can get hold of the new 2015 edition since it does also contain some additional modules, such as an additional tile type and a new role, the Abbot.
Carcassonne 2015 is available from our online store, we also offer a range of expansions such as traders and builders and the inns and cathedral packs, both containing a wealth of new content for the game.