Every review I’ve read of Carcassonne begins with the author excusing it as an exercise for their own peace of mind. Because Carcassonne has been around for 10 years people seem to think that a review of the game is now an exercise in futility because everybody else already knows about the game…
Well, I didn’t… and I’m sure I’m not the only one to have ignored this game for the last ten years. So for those of you like me, this is Carcassonne Unboxed.
The point of Carcassonne is to score more points than the other players. You do this by fortifying cities, robbing travellers on the roads, producing a good harvest and praying really hard in your monasteries. Of course none of that actually happens in the game.
Carcassonne is a tile laying game. The mechanics are simple. You draw a tile and then place it somewhere on the table so that at least one edge connects to a previously laid tile. You may then, if you wish, place a follower on that tile on any unoccupied feature. The four features in the game are Roads, Cities, Cloisters and Farms. When a feature is completed you score points and your follower is returned to you. This continues until all the tiles have been placed. After the last tile has been placed each player works out their final score. The player with the most points wins.
When you open Carcassonne you will find quite a bit of stuff, especially for a game that will set you back less than £15.
72 land tiles The 12 river tiles 40 followers in 5 colours. 1 scoring track, Rule booklet and summary sheet
The rules are simple, nicely set out and the summary sheet does a good job helping to simplify scoring. The tiles and scoring track are thick and brightly coloured, although the river tiles are slightly less green than the basic game tiles. The meeples are great and can easily be transplanted into other games even if you hate this one. All in all the components make this game worth the price tag, irrespective of whether or not the game is any good.
Carcassonne is considered a “Gateway” game, essentially you should play Carcassonne first and then move on to other games. So why then am I moving backwards? To explain that I should probably explain why I was never interested in Carcassonne.
Firstly it has a French name that I wasn’t that convinced I knew how to pronounce. Secondly it sounded dull. Draw a tile, place a tile, why not just play dominoes? Thirdly the theme is abstract at best. Remember in my introduction where I said you were fortifying cities and robbing travellers, well it doesn’t feel like you do. Playing Settlers I feel like I am building a civilisation. In Carcassonne you draw a tile and place a tile in the best position to score optimal points. The theme, in other words is secondary.
So with all this counting against the game why did I buy it? I’ll be honest, it was cheap on Amazon. As you know I’m always on the look out for games that my increasing senile parents can grasp easily and Carcassonne falls into that category. It is simple enough that no rules debates need to be had every game and yet it has enough strategic depth that it doesn’t bore me to death while I’m playing it.
… Do I like Carcassonne now? Yes and No. I don't find it dull and when played competitively it can be quite rewarding, especially if you manage to steal all the farms in the game, that’s always fun. It’s simple to play, almost infinitively expandable, it’s cheap, durable but.. It’s anticlimactic. The game ends by the last tile being placed which is followed a maths puzzle as you try to work out who won.
So yes, I like Carcassonne and I will probably pick up a couple of expansions for the game but I still think it has it’s problems. I still feel that the game is too abstracted from the theme, that the winning strategies are not that obvious without fully analysing the game board on your turn and the end is anticlimactic, it just simply ends. That said it really is ideal for non-gamers and families.
Finally I just want to round out this review by mentioning the expansion that comes with the game, the River. These 12 pieces replace the starting tile and are placed before normal tiles. I like the river and use it in every game. Firstly it adds a lot more options from the start of the game. Secondly it looks nice and helps break up that rather green landscape. I don’t like the fact that the player who places the lake tile will almost definitely not be able to place a follower which is effectively like missing your go. And unlike as mentioned in other reviews of this expansion I don't find that it breaks up the fields as they can extend round the top and bottom of the river.
However, it’s free, it’s fun, it’s a better, more varied set of starting tiles and I like it.
This Review is based on the Rio-Grande Games Edition of the game. The only difference between that and the Z-man edition is the River is no longer included.