Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Board game review: Carcassonne

What is it?
Carcassonne is an award winning table-top board game published by Rio Grande Games where 2 to 5 players lay down square tiles to build up a large map made up of roads, rivers, walled cities and fields.  By strategic placement of pieces, or meeples as they are known, points are scored for every city, road and farm that is completed.

Carcassonne is classed as a European or German-style board game.  This type of game tends to favour themes of economy over combat and there is more emphasis on skill and strategy than luck.  Also, all the players tend to remain in the game until the very end which for a family board game, is an excellent idea. 

What's in the box?

The game consists of 72 landscape tiles each measuring 1.5 inch square, 40 meeples in various colours, a score track board and a colourful, easy-to-read instruction guide.  The rules stretch to four A4 pages of large text with lots of pictures explaining various scenarios encountered within the game.  The tiles and score track are thick-stock card that will stand up to many hours of gameplay.  The pieces, or meeples, are wooden and are of a cute style, as employed by many games of this nature.

In play

Carcassonne is a very gentle game and the rules are relatively easy.  Expect to play three or four games before the rules become second nature and strategies and tactics become apparent.  When placing tiles, the features on the tile must match up against what is already on the board.  For example, a tile with part of a walled city must match up to an existing wall, roads must attach to an existing road etc.  Meeples are placed onto the various features but not where a meeple already exists.

A city is completed when the outer wall circles the city without a break.  2 points are scored for every tile making up a town so it pays to make the largest town you can.  While a meeple can't be placed in a feature that is already occupied by another player, through judicious placing of tiles, it is possible to sneak into an existing feature and to share the points.  When a town or castle is completed, the meeple is then returned to the player and that feature can't be used again.

Roads are completed when a blocking tile such as a city wall or road junction is placed at both ends.  1 point is scored for each road tile.  When the road is completed, the meeple is returned to the player and the road can't be occupied by any player for the remainder of the game.

Cloisters are completed when they are completely surrounded by tiles.  With a point per tile, a completed cloister is worth a total of 9 points.  Again, the meeple is returned to the player.

Farms are scored differently.  By placing a meeple on a field, any *completed* cities bordering the fields are worth 3 points.  These points are only scored at the end of the game so the meeple has to remain in the field for the whole duration and they aren't returned to the player.

At the end of the game, points are scored for meeples occupying incomplete features as well.  In the case of cities, this is reduced to 1 point per tile but the other features remain the same.  The game is finished when all the landscape tiles have been used up.

The stated game time is 45 minutes but in our experience, games can last up to an hour and a half.  Maybe that's our inexperience and it will improve in time?

  • Easy rules to understand.
  • Every game is different and a completed game board looks great with very colourful and detailed artwork.
  • With a limited amount of meeples, there is a decent element of strategic thinking involved.  While turning over each tile is random, placing them to best effect in conjunction with your limited resources is the skill and strategy needed.
  • With all players remaining in the game until the end, it's very family friendly.
  • The scoring system allows games to be close and it's hard to pick out a winner until the very end.
  • Encourages simple arithmetic in younger players.
  • Quality components

  • The farms are quite complicated to score, especially for younger players.
  • It's easy to knock the tiles therefore dislodging the whole game board.  Keep your elbows together.
  • Needs a large table or plenty of floor space once the map starts to grow.
  • The link to Carcassonne, the REAL walled town in France is tenuous at best.  For those expecting a little history lesson in with their gaming will be short-changed in that regard.
  • Takes longer than the anticipated 45 minutes.


Carcassonne is a fun game for all the family to play and easy to understand.  The artwork is well done, of a high-quality and is a lovely-looking game to boot.  I would say it appeals to all age groups and anyone from the age of 7 upwards would enjoy playing.  It obviously takes a few games to understand fully the game mechanics, develop strategies and know the best options for your followers but it's all good fun.  Carcassonne is highly recommended and a good introduction to alternative board games if you've only ever experienced Scrabble or Monopoly before.

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