Carcassonne is a popular game that spawned the term “meeple” used to describe wooden, humanoid game-pieces. It is also a prime example of a tile-laying game.
How To Play
Each player takes their 8 meeples. One is placed on the scoring track and the rest will be used throughout the game.
Place the starting tile in the middle of the table. The starting tile has a distinct back, and on its front, it has a castle, road, and field segment.
Mix up the rest of the tiles face down and put them into easily reachable stacks.
On your turn you draw a tile, place the tile, and optionally place one of your meeples on that tile.
When placing a tile, you must put it orthogonally (not diagonally) adjacent to 1 or more placed tiles. Every side touching another tile must match like segments to like segments: road segments to road segments, castle segments to castle segments, and field segment to field segments.
Once you have placed the tile, you may place one of your meeples onto that specific tile. You can either place it on a city, cloister, field, or road, but you can not place it directly onto a segment that already has a meeple. For example, since the red player already has a meeple on the road, the blue player cannot extend that road and put one of their meeples on it.
However, you can place meeples in such a way that they will eventually be on the same segment. In the case above, if the blue player places the tile one to the right as its own road, they could place a meeple on it. Then, if the blue player later draws a tile that would connect the two roads, it is legal to connect them creating a situation where both players have a meeple on the same road.
If multiple players have an equal number of meeples in a segment, all of those players score full points. If one player has more than anyone else in that segment, only that player scores points.
Trying to sideways take over other people’s segments is the most interesting part of this game.
After a tile has been placed and the player has a chance to put a meeple on it, if the placement completes a segment, that segment scores. The player(s) with the most meeples on that segment score points based on the system below, and all players on that segment get those meeples back to reuse. Cities, cloisters, and roads can be completed throughout the course of the game. Farms only score points at the end of the game. (So, once you place a meeple on a farm, you will never get that meeple back.)
Cities: A completed city is worth 2 points per tile in the city. Each pennant in that city is worth a bonus 2 points. If a city is only two tiles, that city is only worth 1 point per tile. At the end of the game, if you have the most meeples in an uncompleted city, you score 1 point per tile and 1 point per pennant for that city.
The first 4-tile city with 1 pennant is worth 4 x 2 + 2 x 1 = 10 points.
The second 2-tile city is worth 2 points.
The third 3-tile uncompleted city with 1 pennant is worth 3 x 1 + 1 x 1 = 4 points.
Cloisters: A cloister is worth 1 point for every tile around the cloister including itself. So, a completed cloister is worth 9 points. Uncompleted cloisters at the end of the game still reward 1 point for every tile around the cloister.
Roads: A road is worth 1 point per tile in the road. At the end of the game, uncompleted roads are still worth 1 point per tile in the road.
Farms: Farms score 4 points at the end of the game for each completed castle they touch. The size of the castle is irrelevant. Since the field segments that connect castles can sprawl all over the place, farms can score a lot of points at the end of the game.
The game ends when the last tile is placed. All remaining points are scored. The winner is the player with the most points.
The fun in Carcassonne comes from the tile drawing. Whether you are trying to complete your segments or take over another player’s, it all rides on drawing certain tiles. And, since you generally won’t draw the tile(s) you need immediately, the anticipation continues to grow throughout as you hope to draw the tiles you need and hope your opponent(s) don’t draw the ones they need. In addition, most of the time the tiles you draw will have some value, even if it isn’t the one you are desperately waiting for. You need a double sided castle, but you draw an always appreciated cloister instead. On your next turn, instead of that double sided castle, you draw a tile to help solidify your control over the mega farm. Once the game gets going, each tile draw is exciting and suspenseful.
With that in mind, Carcassonne is not one of my personal favorite games. People I play it with really enjoy it, and it is a very popular game, but it doesn’t do much for me. While it feels great when you get that tile you’ve been wanting for for the last 10 turns, it is incredibly frustrating if you never draw it. Getting your segments snatched from beneath you is also frustrating if you can’t prevent them from doing it. This aspect of the game is also the most enjoyable part when you are on the snatching side, so it is attempted a decent amount in games. (I am usually the one attempting it.)
The game also does not offer a lot of strategy, and I like a lot of strategy options in my games, usually. As a power gamer, I feel like most of the time there is a “correct” place to put a tile, and the game-contrarian in me really rebels from that idea.
Unlike Camel Up, that also relies a lot on luck, this game’s luck can be lopsided and this can be unpleasant. If someone gets all of the cloisters, or they constantly get the tiles they need, the luck element can really pile up.
With all of that said, I am still willing to play it occasionally. The rules are fairly simple and aren’t too bad to teach. Most people seem to enjoy it, especially the first time they play it. In addition, this is an excellent gateway into other current board games. For the people that enjoy this game, there are also plenty of expansions and re-themed versions, some significantly better than others from what I’ve heard.
I definitely think this game is worth playing. If you really enjoy it, grab a copy. If not, it’s a good game to know something about.