The gentle birdsong is abruptly dispersed by the sound of breaking branches and crunching rocks as the giant humanoid shape lumbers into view on the horizon, his sheer size dominating the picturesque landscape. Meanwhile more of these giants have been spotted drinking in Inns on the quiet country roads, causing mayhem and disruption with their drunken rabble rousing, or quietly constructing massive cathedrals to the gods in the city centres of Carcassonne.
Inns and Cathedrals adds 3 main new concepts along with components for a sixth player.
The Large Follower or Mega Meeple is a new type of piece that is given to each player at the start of the game. The large follower counts as two followers of the corresponding type when deployed to a tile. You can use the large follower to stake a bigger claim to a territory and thus deter other players from trying to slip in and steal your points, or you can use it to overpower and steal from other players.
Inns appear on a lot of the road tiles in this set. Inns add a push your luck element to the game. Any road with an inn scores 2 points per tile, doubling your score from roads. However a road with an inn that remains incomplete at the end of the game scores nothing.
Like Inns, Cathedrals provide additional scoring for cities, with each tile and pennant in a city with a Cathedral scoring 3 rather than 2 points. However, like an Inn, cities with Cathedrals earn no points at the end of the game if they are incomplete. There are two Cathedral tiles in the set, both of which feature city on all four sides of the tile making them somewhat more difficult to finish than the Inns.
I’ve often seen it bandied about that Inns and Cathedrals “completes” the Carcassonne experience and should have been part of the original base game. I would argue differently. Each part of this expansion makes the game more cutthroat and adds more “push your luck” elements than the original base game had.
For example, the large meeple is rarely deployed in a friendly manner. It’s weight and heft as it is slammed down on the tabletop is clearly designed as a power move. Sure, sometimes you play it because you’ve run out of other followers but mostly you play it to make a point or to steal someone else's hard work right at a crucial moment.
Both the Inns and Cathedrals can be played for points or as a big middle finger to another player. Playing a Cathedral late game into a large city a player has invested a ton of turns into, when they likely don’t have the time to finish can completely tank their game. While the same is true of a road, the point swings are less however, and a road can almost always be finished by playing a single tile.
Despite all this Inns and Cathedrals probably changes the base game less than any other expansion. The new piece doesn’t work differently than the ones you’re already familiar with and the new tiles only affect scoring features that already existed and as such Inns and Cathedrals is the easiest expansion to integrate into the base game.
For me, I keep the tiles for all the expansions separately and mix and match depending on both the mood I’m in and the number of extra rules I want to explain. I enjoy the simplicity of Inns and Cathedrals a lot but for me my default expansion is usually #CarcassonneTradersandBuilders which I feel offers a crunchier experience.
It’s hard not to recommend Inns and Cathedrals to anyone who enjoys the base game of Carcassonne. It’s not going to change your opinion of the base game, unless you really didn’t think base Carcassonne wasn’t mean enough. It adds a little more length but also new tactics and scoring strategies and of course a 6th player if you want to play with more people.