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Carcassonne: Board Game Review

There are some games that truly define their times and Carcassonne is one of them. Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and published in 2000 by Hans im Glück, it made a huge impact on the board gaming industry and brought many people who had lost contact with board games back on track. Now in 2012, after more than a decade, and with dozens of expansions being available, Carcassonne still shines and proves what good games are made of. Let’s take a plunge into its wonderful world.

Game Overview

Carcassonne is a small town in South France, renowned for its formidable fortifications that still stand and is part of Unesco’s list World Heritage Sites. It is encircled by a huge double row of fortified walls that run almost 2 miles long, accentuated by 56 watchtowers.

That was probably the inspiration for this game which evolves around building castles, roads, farms and cloisters in the area of the famous town. LEGO Lights Carcassonne is a tile laying game for the whole family. There are 72 land tiles that depict farmland, roads, cities and cloisters. Each player starts out with 7 followers (meeples) which are his supply and can be used as farmers, thiefs, knights or monks during the game by placing them on a newly placed tile.

At the start of the game, each player places one of his followers on the score board to be used as a score marker.

The game begins by placing the start tile (the one with darker back) in the middle of the table. The rest of the tiles are shuffled and placed in several face-down stacks. Each player, in his turn takes a tile from a stack, reveals it and places it on the table, so that it has one common edge with an already played tile. Then he can decide if he wants to deploy a follower on that tile. Followers can be placed on road segments as thiefs, on farmland as farmers, on cities as knights or at cloisters as monks. Whenever a city, road or cloister is completed, the player with most meeples on it scores victory points and takes all meeples placed on the construction back to his supply. That doesn’t apply to farms. Farmers are dedicated to their land until the end of the game, when each farm serving a completed city is scored. In the case that more than one players have meeples on the same road or city, then the player with most meeples gets all the points. When two or more players tie with the most thieves or knights they each earn the total points for the road or city.

The tricky part of the game is that another player can try and take control of your city, road or farm by placing there more meeples than you. Because no one can place a meeple on a city, road or farm with an existing meeple, that can be done only indirectly. That is by placing e.g. a knight on a tile near the city you want to take over, in hope that the two city parts will eventually merge.

The game ends when all tiles are placed on the table. Players score for their incomplete cities, roads, cloisters and last but not least farms are scored. Whoever has the most followers on a farm, takes all the points from that farm and other players that also have followers on that farm gain nothing. If the number of followers from each player is the same, all these players get the same points.

First Impressions

Opening the box of Carcassonne, reveals a nice bundle of beautifully illustrated cardboard tiles, some wooden meeples, the scoring track and a 6-page rulebook. The rules of the game are pretty straight forward and the illustrated examples help clarify any questions. Within a few minutes you can start playing the game, which lasts about 45 minutes. Playing the first few games was much fun for all players and I should note that most of us felt quite addicted and were eagerly inclined to play again (in order to pay revenge or refine our techniques). First impression, thumbs up! Since then I played the game several more times and here is my judgement on our usual scoring categories:

Components

All components of the game are quite fabulous and leave nothing to be desired. The tiles have elaborate designs and as they are placed adjacent to each other and begin to form a greater picture, it really feels great looking at your creation. They are made of hard cardboard, very difficult to suffer from use no matter how often the game is played. The meeples, oh that meeples!! I simply love them. They are your wooden little followers, always ready to devote themselves to whatever task is decided for them. The scoring track is nice but could be a little bigger as for the counting. Score on the track is till 50 points but more often than not, the score exceeds 100 points, something that may be a little confusing. The first time the meeple marker crosses the end of the track, it can be placed on its back so as to know we have reached 50 points. But what about the second time around? 9/10

Gameplay

The heart of each game! Although Carcassonne is a simple game with simple rules, there is a lot of strategy involved in it. At the start of the game, choices are limited and available positions to place your tiles are restricted. But as the game progresses and the map expands, you are presented with ever increasing options and challenges. You will have to think carefully and decide: Is it better to attack an opponent’s city or start building your own? Should you place a farmer or a knight? Maybe you should be more conservative and not place a follower this turn. A big advantage of all tile-placement games is that you get a different map in each game and that eliminates the possibility of boredom due to repetition. The truth is that the game is very addictive. Once you play a few games and get the hang of it, you don’t want to stop. You want to try different strategies, different approaches, explore the multitude of options. And with all those expansions out there, fun is practically guaranteed. Another plus is that the game appeals to gamers and non-gamers alike. The rules are simple and anyone can learn to play within a few minutes but gamers will also find enough strategic elements here to attract them and keep them satisfied. Let’s not forget that a World Championship of Carcassonne is held every year at Essen. That proves how competitive it can be. 8/10

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