March 26, 2015
Our Gotta-Play series is a weekly spotlight on particular games that we think are exceptionally fun and that we believe everybody should try, whether brand new or old classic. On every Saturday afternoon we’ll have a game laid out on one of our front tables, and we’ll be offering free demos and a chance for you to give it a shot. If you try it and find that you simply must have a copy, we’ll be offering a 10% discount on that title through the demo period. So it’s great way to build up your library of the very best games we have in the store – while saving a few bucks along the way! We’ll be demoing Carcassonne this Saturday, March 28th 1-4pm.
The mighty Carcassonne is a delightful game of visual perception, resource management, and puzzle-building that offers a surprising depth of options and tons of replay value. Luck is a constant factor, but ultimately it’s the choices that each player makes – and how those choices interact – which will determine the outcome of the game. Named after the medieval walled city in France, players must use the resources they are given to complete the building of the fortress and its environs. To do this, each player attempts to balance two actions: strategically placing tiles which represent the development of the countryside, and placing tokens (meeples) on those tiles to score the most points by the time the last tile is placed.
The game is centered on the placement of 72 thick cardboard tiles which are adorned with images of cities, fields, roads, and monasteries. When being placed, the side of each tile must connect logically to another similar tile that already exists on the constantly-growing board. Players take turns placing a randomly-chosen tile in this way, with an option of then claiming an architectural element in-progress with an available meeple from their limited pool. Meeples placed in this way may only occupy the tile that was just added by that player. When completed, claimed elements earn points for the occupying player or players. The bigger these elements grow, the more points they’re worth when completed.
The rules state that only one meeple can be on an individual road, field, monastery, or city. But through clever tile- and meeple-placement, players can connect disassociated sections of the board to outnumber their opponents. This allows them to snatch points that might have otherwise been given to another player upon completion. For having such a simple mechanic, Carcassonne has a great deal of intriguing repercussions from player choices, and it requires considerable thought be put into placement of both tiles and meeples. The core strategy of the game is focused on attempting to get the maximum value out of tile placements while being careful to not allow other players to score from your resources.
Once an element is completed or built (walls around cities, roads ending in both directions, farmlands around the monasteries), it is scored. All points go to the player who has the most meeples on that element. In case of a tie, all tied players get the full points. When an element is scored, all meeples on that element go immediately back to their owners for future use. In this manner, using meeples to claim elements can be risky if the elements they occupy stay unfinished for much of the game. Fields are not scored until the very end, and while they have the potential to award many points, occupying meeples stay on the board for the rest of the game. Scoring is easily tracked on a handy scoreboard that comes in the box. The game ends when the last tile is placed. All remaining elements on the board are scored at a devalued rate, all points are added up, and the final winner is revealed.
Carcassonne strikes a great balance between abstract strategy and creative building. It’s one of the most flexible games in the store, appropriate for pretty much anyone aged seven and up, and infinitely replayable. It takes about five minutes for new players to learn, but provides enough depth and variance of play to keep more advanced gamers coming back. The basic box covers 2-5 players, and games are balanced no matter how many people are participating. Also depending on how many are present, a game can last between 20 minutes and an hour.
The components are sturdy and the tiles feature pleasant thematic artwork that lends itself well to the feel of medieval city-building. Carcassonne also has a number of expansions available that make an already super-replayable game even more so, adding in a number of interesting twists to game play from mayors to phantoms to dragons. Overall, Carcassonne is one of the best games in the store, and we’ve met very few people that give it a pass. And if that endorsement’s not strong enough, it’s one of our go-to picks for anyone wanting to see what the world of Eurogaming is all about.