Monday, September 19, 2011

Board game review: Carcassonne, The Tower Expansion

What is it?

Carcassonne Tower Expansion is an add-on for the Carcassonne base game.  Carcassonne is a clever tile-laying game where 2-5 players build up a map of cities, roads, fields and rivers.  With strategic placement of followers on these landscape features, points are scored.

Who will enjoy this game?

Being an expansion, The Tower requires the original Carcassonne board to play.  The Carcassonne gaming system is a fun, family-orientated game and the rules are easy to pick up.  It's known as a Euro or German style game where the theme and emphasis is towards economy and area control as opposed to combat and luck.  In a lot of Euro games, players tend not to be eliminated and stay in the game until the end, allowing for a high level of player interaction but more importantly, no family members feeling left out because they've been knocked out of the game early.  Also, in most games of Carcasonne, the true winner is not determined until the final points tally.

What's in the box?

The Tower Expansion, as the name suggests, is an expansion to the original game.  It consists of 18 extra landscape tiles with nicely-drawn tower foundations, 30 wooden tower pieces, a thick-stock cardboard *actual* tower, around 10 inches or so high, that acts as a handy container to pull out tiles for the game and finally, an A5 double-sided rules sheet.  The extra tiles can be used as per normal ones should you wish to eskew these expanded rules (but why would you want to?).  The quality is excellent, as is to be expected of Rio Grande games, and the components stand up well to many repeated plays.  The tower is pre-constructed so no glueing or pushing together pieces of card.

What does the expansion do?

The Tower Expansion introduces a new element of strategy by allowing players to build towers that 'capture' opponent pieces within a pre-described area of influence.  As the tower grows higher, so does the area of influence it exerts.  Tower pieces can only be placed on landscape tiles with one of the new tower icons on them but a tower can be expanded anywhere on the board, icon permitting, and not only on the tile just played.  Players can cap a tower by permanently placing a follower, or meeple as they are known, on top of a tower thus preventing further expansion.  Once an opponents piece is captured, they can be bought out of captivity in exchange for three victory points or a straight swap should each player hold another players piece. 

The *actual* tower as supplied in the expansion doesn't add anything at all to the game except as a place for all the tiles to be stored and drawn out easily. 

Most (if not all) of the expansions within the Carcassonne game system can be combined to make a really really big game.  I suggest renting out an aircraft hangar should you wish to do that.

More strategy please

As Carcassonne is concerned with making the most of limited resources i.e. placing followers onto scoring features such as cities, roads and farms, so to have a follower imprisoned can be a large factor in the final scoreboard.  More care is needed when placing meeple onto the board as another player could easily take over a tower and capture your piece.  Conversely, capping a tower will protect your meeple from capture but it means you have one less resource to utililize for those all important feature scores (capped towers don't score any points).

The rules are fairly clear and concise although we did have a slight discrepancy that we had trouble resolving.  When a tower is capped, does it simply stop same-coloured meeples within its area of influence being taken prisoner or does it also stop other players from placing tiles and resources nearby too?  We played it so we could place resources without being penalized even though it seemed strange to do so. 

For example, there was a long road leading up to a large capped tower and placing a thief on the road seemed strange considering the tower is supposed to be providing protection.  It didn't explicitly say in the rules we couldn't do that so that's how we played it.  Conversely, by not allowing players to place tiles in the blank areas, the map could have quite easily become disjointed and imbalanced.


The Tower Expansion is an interesting, well-made addition to the Carcassonne base game and offers a new strategic element.  The tower pieces themselves pleasingly add height and an extra dimension to a normally flat game map.  The large tower-shaped cardboard piece holder seems a little gimmicky as it doesn't add anything to the game but in practice, it's actually really useful by allowing tiles to be pulled out with ease, keeps the game table clutter free and provides an easy-storage facility when not in play.  All in all, a great buy and an enjoyable addition to the Carcassonne series.

Bought for 19.99 from Travelling Man in York but can be bought in any good games store.  I recently saw Carcassonne being sold in Waterstones - a great coup for Rio Grande and can only result in more people trying out these fabulous games.  Expected playing time as stated on the box is 60 minutes but in practice, account for 90 minutes.  The game is suitable (and fun!) for all ages from 8+.  It has elements of arithmetic, forward-planning and gamesmanship.


If your only experience of board games is with Monopoly, Cluedo and the odd game of Scrabble, I urge you to try out games such as Carcassonne.  There is a whole sub-culture waiting to be explored when it comes to board games and the depth of these games goes way beyond anything produced by Hasbro or Mattel.

No comments:

Post a Comment