At a Glance: Carcassonne is the Godfather of tile-laying games and the funny term “meeple”. It is still going very strong for many good reasons.
Carcassonne is a tile-laying game for 2-5 players where the goal is to complete features of a landscape and score points for them by placing your “meeples” around the countryside. The tiles have some combination of field, city, or road, plus there are cloisters scattered around. On your turn, you draw one tile and place it adjacent to existing tiles so that the features connect properly (ex. road to road, field touching field). Then, you may place one of your meeples on a feature on the tile you just placed. Features are scored once they’re completed. If it is on a road, that meeple is a robber, and it scores 1 point for every tile for the total length of the road once it’s finished. A meeple placed in a city is a knight, and it scores 2 points for each city tile. A meeple placed in a cloister is a monk, and it scores 1 point for every tile placed around it, for a maximum of 9 points. If a meeple is placed on a field, they are a farmer and they are laid down flat. Farmers score a bit differently and only at the end of the game, scoring 3 points for each completed city that touches their field. Fields have the potential to be very large, but all farmers stay there until the end of the game. Otherwise, when other features are completed, they are scored and the meeple is returned to its owner. Once all tiles have been placed, the incomplete features are scored (only 1 point for each incomplete city tile), the farms are scored, and whoever has the most points is the winner.
Carcassonne was released in 2000, and is designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It is still going as strong as ever, and has had many expansions and versions released for it over the years. All this for good reason. Carcassonne has a satisfying simplicity, but has an ever-expanding set of strategic options as the game goes on and the landscape grows. It is great to see the countryside spread out across the table. The meeples are finite, so you are often faced with tough decisions like whether you should place your last meeple on something. It is risky to do so, unless you know you will get at least one back soon. The farmers, which are the toughest thing to get used to, can make or break a game. A field can become a huge interconnected web, and it can score really big. You can never place a meeple on a feature where there is already another meeple, but sometimes it happens that features merge together, deliberately or not. In this case, the points go to the majority or are shared in the case of a tie. Tile-laying is already one of my favorite mechanics in games, so this one gets a (probably) biased boost to begin with. I enjoy the extreme variability that it brings, as the landscape looks different every single time. And depending on your draws, you may focus on monks this time around, or focus on big cities next time. It scales very well, playing as well with 2 as it does with 5 (or 6 with expansion). And boy, is it accessible and easy to learn. At the top level you have a casual fun experience, then deeper in, you have some nice strategic nuance.
The components are nice. It’s hard not to like the wooden meeples. In fact, this is the first game to use that particular shape, and it is pretty much confirmed that the term “meeple” was inspired from this game back in 2000. If you like Carcassonne at all, I highly recommend getting at least one of the expansions. The best one for me is the Traders & Builders expansion, which adds a bonus turn opportunity, and resources to cities which adds some incentive to actually complete someone else’s city. The Inns & Cathedrals expansion is also very good, which adds a much-needed risk/reward mechanic. Sometimes we play an epic game of Carcassonne with all expansions we have included, which I love. This is a magnificent game—well-structured scoring, relaxing, and a good balance of strategy and luck.
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SkA0iG