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What is Carcassonne (board game)? – Introduction

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I’ve always been fascinated by maps. As a kid, I would browse the world atlas just for fun, checking out the layouts of cities and the countryside and cursing the authors for not selecting more city maps or enlarge certain parts of the map that I was more interested in.

With the arrival of high-speed internet and the rise of Google, my child wishes finally came true with Google Maps and the option to explore the world freely. Even today, I’ll travel the maps and check aerial views of cities or certain features just for fun.

It is therefore not a surprise, that map based games (let that be computer games or board games) have a special place in my heart.

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What is Carcassonne?

what is carcassonne board gameI was aware of the existence of this game for quite some while, but never really took the time and effort into finding out what is Carcassonne all about and how it’s played. It was a comment about meeples on one of my posts, that really spurred the interest in me. I’ve done some digging, learned about the rules, and played some games online to get a feel for it. (There are plenty of sites to play the game online, but more on that in a future article.)

I really liked what I saw, so the next logical step was to buy the game. The base game these days actually comes with the river expansion, and with a decent price tag , it’s a bargain.

Here’s a link to Carcassonne’s page on BoardGameGeek, the largest board game database on the world.

Unboxing

carcassonne-unboxingThere aren’t really that many different playing pieces in the box: beside instructions you have the tiles, you have your figures (Meeples as they are called) and a scoring board. A lot of quantity though: over 80 tiles and over 40 meeples, so there is plenty of building material available.

Carcassonne – First Impressions

Everything in the box scents of high quality and style. Meeples are made of wood and are very distinctly shaped. The tiles are of course cardboard, but the artistic style on them … I cannot praise it enough. The images on them are absolutely fantastic and not two of them are the same. Attention to detail is huge: a village here, a garden over there, just a couple of random trees by the road, the winding roads, the farms …

The tiles look really impressive on themselves, but when you start putting them together and building a landscape, it all goes a notch or two higher. Combined, the tiles form an amazingly looking picturesque medieval world. I couldn’t help myself and imagine how it would be to walk the roads, see the bustling cities or just lie in the shade of the trees in the nearby garden.

carcassonne-unboxed

Basics of Gameplay

Carcassone does not have very complicated game mechanics, especially true for the base game. Fundamentally it’s a eurogame with it’s main mechanic being tile placement: players draw tile cards and place them next to existing ones, so that the pictures on them make sense and they form a landscape full of features: cities, roads, fields and monasteries.

Tile cards are drawn one by one. As players place tiles, they have the option to put their meeple figure on any of the features on that tile: when that feature is completed (a road, a city or a monastery), they receive victory points and get their meeple back. Meeples on the fields are calculated when the game is finished. Scoring system seems pretty complicated at first, but you soon get a grasp on it and realize it’s actually very straightforward and easy to understand.

In the end, the player with most victory points wins the game.

And that about covers it. With this knowledge you can go play Carcassonne.

There is of course plenty of strategy involved when placing the tiles: trying to build features for yourself and trying to obstruct other players. Managing your meeples is another important aspect: how many will you commit to fields and how many will you keep in reserve?

Luck also plays a part when you draw a new tile. Will you get the one you need? Fortunately each tile can be placed in various ways, so there are usually plenty of options available.

carcassonne-tiles

Carcassonne Expansions

The base game is only the tip of an iceberg. Carcassonne so far received 10 major expansions, 13 smaller expansions and 7 stand-alone mini expansions. Expansions are often available together in compilation boxes. So, if you really get immersed into this game, there is no fear of running out of novelty any time soon.

Below are the all the expansions listed chronologically, just for orientation and to see how many of them there actually are. Instead of buying them one by one, I suggest you look out for Compilation boxes, which inlcude a number (of thematically related) expansions in a nicelly round packages.

Full expansions:

  • Inns and Cathedrals
  • Traders and Builders
  • The Princess and the Dragon
  • The Tower
  • Abbey and Mayor
  • Count, King & Robber
  • The Catapult
  • Bridges, Castles & Bazaars
  • Hills & Sheep
  • Under the Big Top

Mini expansions:

  • The River
  • King and Scout
  • The Cathars
  • The Count of Carcassonne
  • The River II
  • The Mini-Expansion
  • The Cult
  • Tunnel
  • Crop Circles
  • The Plague
  • The School
  • The Festival
  • The Phantom
  • The Watchtower
  • The Markets of Leipzig
  • The Fruit-bearing Trees
  • Carcassonne Minis: The Flying Machines, The Messengers, The Ferries, The Gold Mines, Mage & Witch, The Robbers, Corn Circles II

meeples

Carcassone Universe

Since the game is so succesful, a number of games were published as spin-offs. These share similar game mechanics or theme:

  • Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
  • The Ark of the Covenant
  • Carcassonne: The Castle
  • Carcassonne: The City
  • Carcassonne: The Discovery
  • New World: A Carcassonne Game
  • My First Carcassonne
  • Cardcassonne
  • Carcassonne: The Dice Game
  • Carcassonne: Winter Edition
  • Carcassonne: South Seas
  • Carcassonne: Gold Rush
  • Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale
  • Carcassonne: Star Wars
  • Carcassonne: Amazonas
  • Carcassonne: Safari

If anyone asks you have you ever played Carcassone, there is no simple yes or no, but rather a counter question: which one? Oh, have I mentioned video game versions? 🙂

(All of the above lists were created with a lot of help from Wikipedia.)

Conclusion

You can probably tell I’m pretty excited to start getting deeper into this game. I’ll play the basic board version and I also plan to try out different computer versions. I’ll write more as I experience more.

Check Carcassonne  on Amazon

What are your thoughts on Carcassonne? Which expansions and spin-offs have you played and which are your favorite?

18 thoughts on “What is Carcassonne (board game)? – Introduction

  1. Hello and thank you for posting.

    This looks interesting but can I ask, what is the true purpose of the game? How do you win?

  2. Wow, this is a very good introduction into the Carcassonne board game. Actually, it’s the first time that I am hearing about the game and from your explanation, it sounds like a game that will enjoy playing a lot. One thing that I think is a bit of a problem is that it looks like a game that will require some jigsaw skills to be able to play. I will try to play it sometime. Thanks alot.

    1. The jigsaw thing is not a problem, it’s actually a very fun part of the game trying to fit the pictures on the tiles toghether.

  3. This seems a lot like a game I would like to play. I also have always been exciting about maps and I also were always checking world atlas just for fun as a kid.

    I love board games, I love exploration, conquesting, building civilization games, and as I understood this is the case here for carcassonne.

    What is the minimum age indicated by game to enjoy and understand the game?

    1. The box suggests ages 7+, but it’s not really a complicated game. So if your kids are interested, you could go a year lower than that. 

      That’s for understanding how the game is played. For playing well and understaning winning strategies, i’d say 8+.

  4. Hello Vasilij, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I heard about this game but I decided to check for it on the Net. It looks pretty interesting, I am so intrigued to try it. I found it very helpful when it comes to kids. I have 2 sons of 5 and 6 years and this would be great playing instead of computer games.

    1. They’re actually the perfect age to start playing. And you’re right, it’s definitely better than computer games – time spent together with your family is priceless.

  5. We are always looking for new board games! We have a LOT of family coming up for the holidays this year, so we will need fun (and safe) ways for everyone to be entertained and compete in a healthy manner. I too have always liked map-based games (Risk, Catan, etc.), so I think I could be into this one too. You might have mentioned it in your article but I didn’t find it: how many people can play the base version of Carcassone? 

  6. Thanks for this great article about carcassonne board game because I got to know it from here because I don’t know what its all about and I have never played one, but by reading this article I have got the knowledge and am gonna try some out  as mentioned earlier. Thanks very much in advance. 

  7. A very interesting game concept that uses map building as a mechanic. I would imagine one could get wrapped up in playing this. I like the concept of building your own map as you go.  The fact that you can add other expansions means it can go on over a long time frame. How many people could play this at one time?

    1. Up to five people can play at once. But that would make it a bit too crowded, in my opinion. 2-3 players is the sweet spot for Carcassonne.

  8. The Carcassonne board game sounds like a very good board game that even I should give a try. It is not the first time that I a hearing about the game but I have not learnt anything about it yet. That is something I will very much love to do. Thank you for giving an insight into the game. Cheers!

  9. Carcassone is indeed a game of luck and from its description here it plays to me that anybody can win and is not about having to be a guru in the game which further makes it a general game. Card games are quite fascinating to play but here it seen really straight forward. Is there any tile card that would cause you to lose a point or get penalized like you will have to drop a meeple or something?

    1. Luck does not actually play that big of a role as you would think. Most of the tile cards can be placed in a lot of different ways, so you always have options (that means there is skill involved) and it’s not that straightforward. Not to mention the placement of your meeples, where you really have to have a strategy.

      Answering your question – ther is no such tile card. The most negative thing that can happen during a game is, when one of the opponents “takes over” a feature (a city for exapmle) by placing more meeples on it. Then you do lose a meeple in a way. 

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