First let’s focus on the tiles – they show a combination of cities, roads and cloisters. A valid play of a tile must be in a way that makes logical sense – in other words you can’t have a road just appear out of a field – it must be connected to an existing road. Likewise, a castle wall can’t just end in a field – it must be part of a continuous city wall. Below is an image to give you an idea of how a set of tiles might turn out after you’ve been playing for awhile. Notice how roads are continuous until they run off the board, and the same is true for city walls.
Now let’s talk about the meeples – they are how you get points. A meeple can only be put on a tile that you just placed, and can take on one of four roles. A meeple placed on a road segment is a Thief; on a city segment he’s a Knight; on a cloister he’s a Monk; and out in the field (laying down) he’s a Farmer. Each of them will score you points once a particular condition has been met.
Roads give a score to the Thief when that road had an intersection on both ends. That’s either an intersection of roads (like the cross intersection at bottom left in the photo) or when a road terminates at a city or monastery. The Thief then gets one point for each section of road in the road he’s on. Note that roads could form a loop – if you had a Thief on that loop at bottom left, you’d score 4 points.
The Knight gives you 2 points for each city section when a castle wall is completed, forming a city. You can see in the photo above that cities can be as small as 2 segments and as large as you can imagine. Also some city segments have a blue and white shield, which is itself worth an additional 2 points. So the city at middle left in the photo would score 22 points – 2 points for each city section (9 of them) and 2 points for each shield (2 of them).
The cloisters work a bit differently – you score 1 point for each surrounding tile when they are placed, as well as for the cloister itself. So you can see in the middle of the photo that there are four cloisters there that would each score the full 9 points, as they are surrounded by all 8 necessary tiles (we’re counting diagonals here) to form a complete square. The one at middle left would not get the full set of points because it’s missing one tile at left.
Farmers are the trickiest to master, and are often the key to winning the game. A farm will score you 3 points for each completed city that is adjacent to the field your Farmer is working. Fields are bounded by cities and roads. In the photo above, both Farmers are working on one massive field, because it’s not cut off from any of the completed cities except for the one at top right. It sounds a bit complicated, but the game comes with handy scoring instructions which give several illustrations as to how to score farms.
Players score as the game goes along for Thieves, Knights and Monks; Farmers are only scored at the end of the game. That’s one key point to note – after you score a meeple, you get it back and can use it elsewhere. So placing all Farmers is not a good idea! You also get points for any meeples left on the table at the end of the game – Thieves still score the full amount (so 1 point for each road section), Knights earn you only 1 point for each city segment and shield, and Monks earn you the full amount for each tile that is in place (so if a Monk was on the cloister at middle left in the photo, he’d score 1 points x 8 tiles down = 8 points). The game ends after the last tile is placed (and that player has a chance to place her last meeple if she has one.
Sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually relatively simple once you get the hang of it. The strategy in the game involves deciding when to place your meeples, and how to get in on the big points. Because there’s a little wrinkle in placing meeples – you can’t place one where another player has clearly already got control of something (city, road or farm). But there’s a way around that – let’s say that Joey has put a meeple in the city segment at bottom left in the photo above. Mary wants in on that business, so she places a tile to the left of that where the field is connected, but the city segments only touch at the bottom left corner, and then she puts a meeple on her placed city segment. At this point, the 2 cities are not clearly connected, so the play is valid. Should another tile then be placed that makes those 2 cities into 1 big city, then both players would get a full score for that city. Joey doesn’t like that, so then he plays tiles in such a way that eventually he gets 2 meeples into the city versus just 1 for Mary. He now gets the full score, and Mary gets nothing. Nasty! This “majority rules” strategy is valid for cities, roads and farms. Now I hope you get the idea of how player interaction works in the game – you’ve got to pay attention to what everyone is doing all the time!
Overall I’m a definite fan of this game – I like that it plays quickly and scales well for different group sizes. Although there is a significant element of luck (i.e. randomly selecting tiles to play), deciding what to do after you draw a tile is all skill.
Carcassonne is a good game for players at all skill levels. It is designed for 2-5 players and scales well for all those sizes of groups; you’ll just notice that your strategy has to change a bit depending on the number of players. This is a short game, which takes only about 45 minutes (a bit longer for first-timers). Carcassonne is published in the U.S. by Rio Grande Games. If you enjoy the game, you can get a bunch of expansions which offer more tiles and new ways to play. The basic game is now packaged with the River expansion (which you can see in the photo above). Another one that’s very handy to have is the Inns & Cathedrals expansion, which will allow you to have up to 6 players.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s review! Next time I’ll be talking about a very different type of game that involves player cooperation – Pandemic.