Wednesday, July 06, 2011


For my next venture into my game collection, the random selection gives me one of the better games of the last 10 years, Carcassonne.  Carcassonne is a "euro" game originally published in Germany.  I don't own a lot of these games, owning primarily wargames, but Carcassonne is a bit hit in my family.  A couple years ago for Christmas my father even got the "big box" which includes the base game and the first five or six expansions, so that you never have to play the same game twice.  While the game does have over a dozen expansions available for it, this write-up will focus on just the base game as available in the United States.

At its core, Carcassonne is a 'tile laying' game.  On your turn you pick one of the available tiles randomly from a bag or from face down piles and then play it to the playing surface.  The tiles will have on them a combination of parts of fortified towns, roads, and abbeys.  You then have a choice of whether you want to place one of your seven followers (the Carcassonne community refers to the follower pieces as "meeples" for reasons I can't fathom) inside a town (giving you control of that town), on a road (giving you control of that road), in an abbey (giving you control of that abbey), or in the open field (giving you control of all contiguously placed fields).  Followers placed in towns, roads, and abbeys score you points when such places are completed (or, in the case of the abbey, when all surrounding spaces are filled with tiles), and you get your follower back so that you can play them elsewhere.  Followers placed on fields never come off the board until the end of the game during the final scoring phase.  Thus, you have to be thoughtful in how and when you place your followers, as placing too many too early can leave you unable to take advantage of a favorable tile later in the game.

The above rules summary omits one important thing:  If another player already has a follower in a town or road and you place a tile that builds that thing out, you can't place your own follower in there as well, as the other player controls it.  However, if you place a follower on a tile that isn't part of a town or road already controlled by another player, but the two things end up getting combined through the play of future tiles, then control (and victory points) are determined by who has the most followers.  In the case of a tie, all tied players score equal points when the thing is completed.  Fields work this way, as well.  Thus, a good way to earn victory (and upset the other players) is to play your tiles and your followers in such a way that you "worm your way" into their towns, roads, and fields and score points when they score points.  Other players will try to head you off by putting up their own additions a little bit off the main section and put a follower on there, so that when everything gets combined they will have more followers, but that ties up their followers, so sometimes you can win by just making another player think you are moving in on their turf so that they put too much emphasis on playing defense.  It is a really good design mechanic that keeps the game interesting and means that, barring some ridiculous early luck with tiles, a player is rarely hopelessly out of the game until the last tile is played and final scoring begins.

I have played this game dozens of times since my younger brother first picked up his copy oh so many years ago, and it is always a good time.  Well, except for that time when Mark and I combined didn't equal as many points as my Father had, but that hardly ever happens.

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