Carcassonne

A beautifully quaint game that is the very essence of idyllic serenity in the medieval French countryside. And with zero plague.

Carcassonne Box arrow
File under weird cover backstory – I’m pretty sure that the yellow monk is trying to escape from the tower and the dude in the foreground is trying to alert the guards.

Players:  2 – 5                          Best with:  2 – 5

Age: 7+                                     GN Age: Child

Game Type: Board                 Time: 30 – 45 minutes

Publisher/Year: Z-Man Games / 2000

Game Play: Tile/Worker Placement, Area Majority

Available from: All Retailers

Score:  Score 12  out of 12

Before the message gets muddled by my attempts to be witty and clever, let me say right off that Carcassonne is one of the best games ever made in forever. It is easy. It is gorgeous. It is fun. It is great for players of all ages and all skill levels. It is a terrific gateway game for those just getting into the hobby. And it is still satisfying even after 20 years in a market that can’t remember what came out yesterday. It is the perfect Family Game.

Carcassonne Board
Hours of fun with just some cardboard squares and sticks of wood.

First off, Carcassonne is elegantly simple. There are just two components, tiles and meeples. You lay a tile down, adding it to an expanding game board and then choose to place a meeple to score points. But within this simple premise lies an intricate tableau of strategy and chance. For the brand-new player, a meeple is the colloquial term for a game’s pieces that move around the board, often represented as little men.

Carcassonne Verne
Verne, our vacation meeple seen here at Altun-Ha in Belize, comes from Carcassonne.

Each tile represents a small portion of land of the real-world medieval town of Carcassonne. Each tile will have some combination of landscape, from fields and roads, to cities and monasteries. When laying a new tile, it must match one side of an existing tile. This allows for your roads to grow and cities to expand while preventing situations where a road dead ends into a field or other incongruous action.

Carcassonne Tiles
These two roads leading to nowhere are illegal moves in the game.

After placing the tile, you can choose to place a meeple and claim one of the landscape features of your tile. For example, if you place a tile that has a road, part of a town, and a field on it, you can choose to place one, and only one, meeple on any one of those things. The only caveat is that if one of those features is connected to, or a continuation of a feature that is already claimed by another player then you cannot claim it yourself. However, you can claim a feature that is adjacent to (but not touching) a previously claimed feature, even if those two things become connected later one. In fact, this is one of the key strategies used to steal points from another player.

Carcassonne Meeples
Both Black meeples are illegal moves since Red has already claimed the area. But Blue is a legal move since the city areas are not connected. Yet.

Once placed, a meeple cannot be moved until the geographic feature it claims is completed, either by enclosing a city within a complete wall, surrounding a monastery tile with eight other tiles, or by creating a road with two end points or by making a closed road loop. Once completed, the meeple is removed and placed in the available worker supply and points are scored, 1 point for each road or monastery tiles, 2 points for each city tile and shield icon.

Carcassonne scoring
Scoring – Green scores 4 points for his road, Yellow gets 9 for the monastery, Red & Black share 12 points each, while Blue gains 20 points for his city and 3 shields.

The challenge comes from the limited supply of meeples. You only have seven and you will quickly find that you do not have enough to do everything. So, do you try to score a few quick points along a road or do you tie up a meeple for the entire game trying to enclose a large city? This is compounded further when two players share a feature. This happens when tiles are placed apart but then they get joined up later on. When scoring, if both players have the same number of meeples on the feature then they both share the total points, but if one player has more meeples than the other, the winner takes it all and the loser gets nothing. My youngest, James the Skootch, is the devious master of this technique and is always gleefully stealing points from Mom and Dad.

Carcassonne Steal
Since Green has the most meeples in this city he scores a huge 30 points while Red and Blue get nothing! Thanks, James.

That’s it. That’s the simple beauty of the game. There is an optional rule to place meeples in the fields for another scoring opportunity, and that’s the base game, and it is an absolute joy to play. It is so easy to learn and quick to play that it is perfect for any game night, whether you only have time for one short game, or an all-day extravaganza with dozens of games. This is a game that will always be your friend. It won’t make your brain hurt. It won’t make you upset, even when you lose. It’s just there to have fun, moving your little meeples around, and looking good while doing it.

Carcassonne Real
The real life Carcassonne is stunning and majestic. Some day, I promise to bring Verne home.

Speaking of which, I love the beauty of Carcassonne. I love old-world Renaissance maps and this game allows me to make a new one every time. The design is based upon the medieval city of Carcassonne, hidden away in the rolling foothills of southern France. Now a modern city, there are still remnants of the ancient village to explore and Carcassonne has captured its tranquil yet harsh beauty perfectly. I also love all the little details that go in to each tile. The little flower carts, farming tools, and all the city details evoke a rich Middle Age aesthetic of a simpler time without pollution, traffic, and constant electronic bombardment. Well, at least today we don’t have horrid living conditions, vast social injustice, a government that only serves the rich, or the plague. Wait! Yes, we do! Oh my God, are we still living in the Dark Ages? Quick, play more Carcassonne to help me forget. Take me away, my meeples, take me away.

Carcassonne Montage
Carcassonne, take me away! Or is that Calgon?

But in all seriousness, we love this game. Our only minor quibble is that the available means of scoring points get a little stale over time. To that end, Carcassonne has a plethora of expansions to increase the variety of the game making it a veritable point salad. But the base game will serve you well for many years to come. Maybe even long enough to get us through our own Dark Ages.

Carcassonne scorecard
Also, we usually cheat and use the bonus Abbot meeple for the scoring track, giving us a extra meeple for the game board. 

As always, a meeple in town is worth two on the road, and Game On!

Meme quand le francais est absurd, c’est une langue magnifique.

Carcassonne expansion
BTW, this is the only expansion we own, but it is James’s favorite because in has little piggie meeples.

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