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Subject: Carcassonne as heavy as Tigris and Caylus?! rss

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T. Rosen
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Carcassonne as heavy as Tigris and Caylus?!

Carcassonne is a tile-laying eurogame, which was designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede in 2001 and was awarded both the Spiel Des Jahres and the Deutscher SpielePreis that year. Carcassonne is often touted as one of the best “gateway” games (along with Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride) for introducing non-gamers to the hobby of strategy board games, and it’s true that the game can definitely be used as a “gateway” game. However, this review is meant to explain how Carcassonne can be played as a deep and heavy game along the lines of Tigris & Euphrates and Caylus. If played under the following conditions, Carcassonne can become a highly strategic and extremely replayable game with no more luck than a game of Tigris.

First things first, what do you get in the box? For a retail price of $24.95, you get the following components: 72 land tiles, 40 wooden followers (a.k.a. “meeples”), 1 scoring track, and 1 instruction booklet. The components are not spectacular, but they get the job done very well and don’t leave anything to be desired. Although the scoring track is not necessarily the best way to keep score because it can get bumped during play and is not as reliable as paper and pencil. I’m going to reference two expansions for Carcassonne below, so I will mention their price and components here as well. First, Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals (a.k.a. I&C) retails for $14.95. I&C comes with 18 land tiles, 6 scoring tiles, 8 gray followers, and 6 large followers (a.k.a. “gianteeples”). The new land tiles match the originals nicely, the scoring tiles and gray followers are essentially useless, but the gianteeples are crucial to the game as discussed below. Second, Carcassonne: Traders & Builders (a.k.a. T&B) retails for $14.95 as well. T&B comes with 24 land tiles, 20 trade goods, 6 builders, 6 pigs, 1 cloth bag. All of these components are up to par with the original and are necessary additions to the game. Both of these expansions are a bit pricey, but can be found at discount online retailers for $9.72, which is more reasonable, and are both integral to fully enjoying the game as I think it should be played.



How do you basically play this game? Carcassonne is a tile-laying eurogame, meaning that on each turn your basic action is to draw a random tile from the pool and add it to the board, which starts off with only one tile, but will be composed of 114 tiles by the end of the game. When adding your tile to the board you will have many choices as to where you want to place the tile and how you want to rotate it, but there are some restrictions. In puzzle-like fashion, you have to make sure that like sides match like sides. There are three land features to consider when matching up the sides of the tiles, which are farms, cities, and roads. This is an extremely intuitive system that must people can pick up and understand very quickly because it just feels natural to make sure that the green farms, brown cities, and white roads match up consistently across tiles. After adding your one tile to the board, you can either end your turn right there, or you have the option of placing one of your “meeples” on that tile. If you place a “meeple” on that tile then you have to decide where on the tile he will go. You can turn your “meeple” into farmers on the farms, knights on the cities, thieves on the roads, or monks on the cloisters. Cloisters are the fourth possibility for scoring points in addition to the first three, but are not a feature to consider in making tiles match because they don’t touch the edge of a tile. Play will continue in clockwise order with everyone placing a one tile on their turn and having the option of placing one “meeple” on that tile, until all 114 tiles have been placed, at which point the game ends and final scores are tallied.



How do you score and win this game? You can score points throughout the game as features are completed and you can score additional points at the end of the game for uncompleted features as well as farms. First, roads are the simplest because they give you 1 point per tile and are completed when they have two end points. Roads also give you 1 point per tile at the end of the game even if they are not completed. Second, cities give you 2 points per tile and are completed when they are completely enclosed. However, cities only give you 1 point per tile at the end of the game if they are not completed. Third, cloisters give you 9 points and are completed when they are entirely surrounded by other tiles on all sides (including diagonally). Cloisters give you 1 point per adjacent tile (including diagonally) plus 1 point for the cloister itself at the end of the game if they are not completed. Finally, farms are the most complicated, but also often the most important scoring feature. Farms give you 4 points per completed city that they touch at the end of the game, but do not give you any points during the game. There is also an alternate farm scoring rule that has been designed since Carcassonne was originally released, which involves giving 3 points per completed city, but I will not get into that here because I don’t think it’s as good as the original rules personally.



What does I&C add that’s so important? First, the 18 new land tiles add more possibilities, options, and variety to the base game with new configurations of farms, cities, and roads on them. In addition, these new land tiles add two new features, which are the inns for roads and the cathedrals for cities. Inns make roads worth double, and cathedrals make cities worth three points per tile. However, roads with inns and cities with cathedrals are worth zero at the end of the game if they are not completed. So there is some additional reward but obviously some risk as well. Knowing whether to place the tile with the inn or cathedral on one of your own scoring features to increase your score or whether it's late enough in the game to place the inn or cathedral on an opponent's scoring feature to make it worth nothing in the end is obviously very important, and takes practice to fully appreciate and understand. Second, the large followers (a.k.a. “gianteeples”) are crucial for making the game more strategic. They function like normal meeples except that they count as two meeples for purposes of controlling a scoring feature. While the rules do not permit you to place a meeple on a city, road, or farm that is already claimed, the rules do allow you to place a meeple on a separate city, road, or farm and later join that feature to another feature for purposes of sharing one larger feature. However, if you manage to either join up two meeples then you will take all of the points because you have more meeples on the scoring feature than anyone else. The “gianteeple” is extremely important because it allows you to join up a single nearby city, road, or farm to take control of a valuable scoring feature from your opponent.



What does T&B add that’s so important? First, the 24 new land tiles add even more variety to the base game with even more configurations of farms, cities, and roads on them. Second, the builders are as crucial as the gianteeples for making the game more strategic. The builders are units that you can add to an existing city or road that you are working on, which allow you to immediately take a bonus turn on any future turn that you add to that city or road. These bonus turns really add up, and make clever placement and use of your builder crucial for success in this game. Finally, the trade goods are an important addition to the game because they give you an incentive to complete an opponent’s city sometimes. There are three trade goods (i.e., wine, grain, and cloth), which appear on various city tiles. When you complete a city with tiles that show these goods then you get a marker representing the goods on the tiles. However, you don’t need to actually control and score the city, you just have to lay the last tile that completes the city. At the end of the game, the person with the most markers in each type of trade good receives 10 points. These 30 points awarded at the end of the game can often be decisive, and so you need to constantly monitor the tally of trade goods that you and your opponent have throughout the game.



Finally, these are my tips for making this game as strategic and deep as possible:

1) Three’s a Crowd
Always play with just two players. The game claims to work with anywhere from two to six players (when you add in the I&C expansion), but the game really shines with just two players. With more players there is too much going on between each of your turns, and your level of control diminishes greatly. With only two players, the game becomes zero-sum so that hurting your opponent is just as good as helping yourself, whereas with more players it’s not worthwhile to hurt an opponent’s position because this will simply result in the third player gaining an advantage. The luck of the tile draw is reduced significantly if you can use tiles that don’t help you to simply block and opponent, but doing so is not as good a play when you have multiple opponents. Moreover, with only 2 players you will be able to place 57 tiles during the game, whereas with 3 players you will only be able to place 38 tiles per game. This increased number of tiles placed per game is significant not only because it increases the importance of managing your supply of meeples so that you never have too few in your supply but you never have too few on the board, but also because it reduces the luck of the tile draw by increasing the number of tiles drawn. I’m not statistics expert, but I’m pretty sure that the larger the sample size, the more likely that your distribution is not skewed, so in a two-player game you are less likely to draw all of one type of tile for example.

2) Vanilla is just too Plain
Always play with both the I&C and T&B expansions. Not only are the additional 42 tiles crucial for adding variety to the tile mix, but also the two new unites (i.e., gianteeples and builders) add a significant layer of strategy to the game. Using your gianteeple and builder effectively is crucial to success. First, the gianteeple is critical because it facilitates stealing cities, roads, and farms from your opponent, so the game becomes much more about clever placement to take over an opponent’s scoring feature or to block an opponent from stealing your valuable scoring features. Moreover, if you can lock-up your opponent’s gianteeple early in the game in a position that is unlikely to allow your opponent to reclaim the gianteeple then you will often win, so it is very important to prevent your gianteeple from getting trapped on the board. Second, the builder is also critical because maximizing your number of bonus turns is extremely important to winning. It’s pretty clear that someone who takes twice as many turns as their opponent will almost always win, so if you are constantly adding to the scoring feature with your builder then you will do very well, and if you can trap your opponent’s builder on the board where he cannot add to the builder’s scoring feature then you will also do very well. Deciding whether to place your builder on a road or a city is very important, and deciding whether to complete the feature with your builder on it to reclaim the unit and replace it elsewhere is also a very interesting decision.

3) There’s no such thing as too Aggressive
The most important thing for making Carcassonne as deep and highly strategic game is to play as aggressively as possible. This means that you need to realize that stealing an opponent’s city, road, or farm is often much better than simply starting your own. This means that you need to always be conscious of how your opponent may try to steal your own cities, roads, and farms, and you need to try to build these scoring features so as to minimize his opportunities for sneaking onto your features. You should constantly be thinking about how to get meeples into your opponent’s cities, roads, and farms, especially once the cities are a couple tiles big, the roads are a few tiles long, and the farms are worth more than 12 or so points. In addition, if you draw a tile that isn’t much use to you because you can’t add it to anything you’re working on and you’re not in a position to start something new, then you should absolutely find the best place to play it to block your opponent. You should even think about block your opponent even if the tile could be used to help yourself because in a two-player game hurting your opponent is often as good or better than helping yourself. This means that you should minimize the number of tiles that would work for your opponent in a specific situation. If he needs one tile to complete a city then trying to place tiles adjacent to the space where he needs to place that final city tile. You should dictate whether the edges of that final city tile must have roads or farms on them so as to minimize his chances of completing the city. This is even more important if the city has either his gianteeple or builder in it. If you simply work on your own scoring features, ignoring what your opponent is doing, not only will the game not be very interesting or interactive, but you will lose consistently.

meeple Enjoy Carcassonne! meeple
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Richard Diosi
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Nice review about Carcassonne's meatiness. Carcassonne is one of my favourite games. If pressed for a single "desert island game" I think this would be the one.

I do however disagree with the assessment about the 2-player game being optimum. I don't mind a 2-player but I think it really shines in the multi-player environment. It is precisely the fact that there is a lot going on at once that makes it so intriguing at the multi-player level.

I realize that gaming styles and preferences are very subjective so our difference of opinion is understandable. Perhaps the best compliment to the game is that it can be so appealling to us both despite differing opinions.

Again, great review and great game.
 
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Zach Toups
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I would agree...2 players is great, but I see multiple players as being an excellent game as well. The whole building into other features and sharing points works especially well in a game with multiple players, and encourages using multiple meeples to ensure control of an area.

I also disagree about the scoring track...I think it's a great way to keep score and in the 20+ games we've had, no one's bumped the table...I just can't imagine messing around with a pad and pencil...yuck.

If only they'd release a 100 or 200 point scoring track instead of those 50/100 point tiles.
-Zach
 
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Zach Toups
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Also...the builder's presence means that it's questionable exactly how many tiles each player will play in the game.
-Zach
 
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T. Rosen
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DocStryder wrote:
Nice review about Carcassonne's meatiness. Carcassonne is one of my favourite games. If pressed for a single "desert island game" I think this would be the one.

I do however disagree with the assessment about the 2-player game being optimum. I don't mind a 2-player but I think it really shines in the multi-player environment. It is precisely the fact that there is a lot going on at once that makes it so intriguing at the multi-player level.

I realize that gaming styles and preferences are very subjective so our difference of opinion is understandable. Perhaps the best compliment to the game is that it can be so appealling to us both despite differing opinions.

Again, great review and great game.


Thanks Richard, I'm glad you liked my review. This may be my "desert island game" as well, although I'm really too indecisive to pick just one. I think I could narrow it down to 20 or so, heh.

That's interesting that you find that the game plays better with more players. I suppose it could add an interesting dynamic of negotiation to the game, but it seems like it would have to reduce the level of control exercised by each player, since more would happen between each turn. And everyone would probably feel like they were being unfairly targeted at times. Perhaps I should give it a try again with more people though, but it's definitely not just Carcassonne where I could play with more but prefer playing with just 2. The same applies in my opinion to Through the Desert, Samurai. And then there are games that play with 3 to 5 players, but I think are best with just 3, like China and also Ra. Anyway, could just be me not having enough people around and trying to make myself think that's for the best, heh. Thanks again for your comments!

toupsz wrote:
I would agree...2 players is great, but I see multiple players as being an excellent game as well. The whole building into other features and sharing points works especially well in a game with multiple players, and encourages using multiple meeples to ensure control of an area.

I also disagree about the scoring track...I think it's a great way to keep score and in the 20+ games we've had, no one's bumped the table...I just can't imagine messing around with a pad and pencil...yuck.

If only they'd release a 100 or 200 point scoring track instead of those 50/100 point tiles.

Also...the builder's presence means that it's questionable exactly how many tiles each player will play in the game.


Thanks for your comments Zach. I know what you mean about using multiple meeples to ensure control of a valuable city for example, but I've seen that arise in two-player games as well, although maybe you're right that it's more necessary in a multiplayer game. It's always intereting trying to sneak a backup guy into your own scoring feature.

A longer scoring track would be nice, but my table is just too small to hold all the tiles AND the scoring track, so it's not really my ideal way to keep track of the score.

You're right that the builder unit means that you won't necessarily place 57 tiles in a 2-player game and 38 tiles in a 3-player game, so I should edit that to explain those are approximate. I suppose I just mean that in general you will most likely place significantly more tiles in a 2-player game than in a 3-player game, which I think reduces the luck in the game, and gives you more of a chance for clever/strategic play. Then again, it could just be that I'm too impatient to wait very long for my next turn to come around, heh.
 
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Sander Vernyns
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Very nice review on one of my favorite games (althoug I think that the Carcassonne Hunters&Gatherers is better balanced)

If you want to minimize the luck in Carcassonne I would suggest to use the Belgian competition rules for Carcassonne:
Each player takes 2 tiles and puts them face up in front of him, on your turn you take a third tile and you choose one of your 3 tiles.

In this way you have more tiles to choose from but more important you have the possibility to plan things ... it's a lot more easy to get your second meeple in the farm if you know that you have the right tile to do it although the other people will try to block you (and that makes the game more interesting with more players)

You really should try this variant, once you used it you will never want to ga back to the basic game
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Richard Hutnik
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Carcassonne, with all its expansions, is as complicated as Star Fleet Battles now!

 
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Colonel Mustard
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Well said. Good overall explanation of the game and assessment of its’ depth. I totally agree that to play with the level of strategy that you are suggesting is possible, you must have those expansions and only two players. More players water down the strategic possibilities. You can have great fun playing the game with others, but to really squeeze the meat out of this game you have to limit it to two. Great review.
 
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T. Rosen
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Verbal wrote:
Very nice review on one of my favorite games (althoug I think that the Carcassonne Hunters&Gatherers is better balanced)
If you want to minimize the luck in Carcassonne I would suggest to use the Belgian competition rules for Carcassonne:
Each player takes 2 tiles and puts them face up in front of him, on your turn you take a third tile and you choose one of your 3 tiles.
In this way you have more tiles to choose from but more important you have the possibility to plan things ... it's a lot more easy to get your second meeple in the farm if you know that you have the right tile to do it although the other people will try to block you (and that makes the game more interesting with more players)
You really should try this variant, once you used it you will never want to ga back to the basic game


Thanks Sander, I'm glad you liked my review. Belgian competition rules?! Wow, I think I need to get back over to Europe sometime if you guys actually have Carcassonne competitions, that sounds really interesting! The rules variant does sound like it would decrease luck further by increasing each player's options, although at the expense of probably lengthening the time of the game considerably. I'll have to give it a try sometime, and see whether it really slows it down too much for my tastes or not. It would be neat if BSW had that variant as an option.

docreason wrote:
Carcassonne, with all its expansions, is as complicated as Star Fleet Battles now!


I'm not familiar with Star Fleet Battles Richard, but it sure has gotten pretty complicated if you put all the expansions in at once. However, I don't think the designer ever really intended anyone to put all of the expansions in at once, but rather to try out different combinations of 1, 2, or 3 expansions at once. It's interesting to try different mixes of expansions, using King & Scout and The Count one game, and then Princess & Dragon and River the next, and then I&C and Die Katharer, etc. etc.

ColMustard wrote:
Well said. Good overall explanation of the game and assessment of its’ depth. I totally agree that to play with the level of strategy that you are suggesting is possible, you must have those expansions and only two players. More players water down the strategic possibilities. You can have great fun playing the game with others, but to really squeeze the meat out of this game you have to limit it to two. Great review.


Thanks G, glad to hear you liked my explanation and assessment. I originally thought about only writing the latter half with just my assessment since there are already so many explanations of the game out there, but I gather most people think a review should be able to stand on its own, so I went ahead and explained the game here too. It was harder than I expected since I've played it so much I was worried I'd take something for granted and forget something important.
 
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James Fehr
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Great article! I agree that Carcassonne is a much deeper game than most people seem to think. If the game weight metric used here was soley based on strategic depth, I think it should be at least a medium. I find it odd that it would have a current weight of 1.88 - how could 334 people say this is a "light" game?
 
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T. Rosen
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fehrmeister wrote:
Great article! I agree that Carcassonne is a much deeper game than most people seem to think. If the game weight metric used here was soley based on strategic depth, I think it should be at least a medium. I find it odd that it would have a current weight of 1.88 - how could 334 people say this is a "light" game?


Thanks James, I'm glad to hear you liked my article - and agree with my opinions laugh

Also thanks for the reminder about the "weight" rating; I just went to the game listing to increase my weight rating of the game. You're right that it deserves to be higher, although I suppose the 1.88 could simply apply to the base vanilla game without any expansion tiles/units, which is probably more accurate then.
 
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Karl
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I couldn't agree with your review more: having played Carcassonne many, many times, two player with (at least) I&C and T&B is the best. I agree that multi-player Carc waters down the offensive side, because you will not reap the benefits of your action, the next one or two players will. Not that multi-player is bad, it's just not quite as good.

My wife and I play a little differently from you, though. We almost always have I&C, T&B, but throw in the two rivers and the Cathers. We've always liked the rivers, because it gives such a good, broad starting area with a lot more choices. We throw in the Cathers to make the game truly evil: nothing is more satisfying than crushing that behemoth down by half the points. Also, a Cathers city is worth eight points on your farm instead of 4. Throw in the pig, and it's worth 10 points. Throw in the pig herd tile (from the River II), and that one city is worth 12 points. I love it.

You failed (as a lot of people do) to mention the pigs. Although they are not a crucial element, my wife and I are so closely matched that it can often come down to a 10-point difference in a 150-point-each game. The pig can often be that cherished maker of a few much-needed points.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Good review.
 
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Karl
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theconcerned wrote:
Also, a Cathers city is worth eight points on your farm instead of 4. Throw in the pig, and it's worth 10 points. Throw in the pig herd tile (from the River II), and that one city is worth 12 points.


Unless you use the new riles, it's 6, 8 and 10. And I still love it.
 
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Alan Schmitt
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I'm a fan of Carcassonne, and I've often played with the rules you mention, but I've recently learned that these rules are in fact older rules as concern farms. It seems that recent rules warrant 3 points for every city a farm controlled by a player touches (4 if there is a pig). Older rules were 3 points per farm adjacent to any number of completed cities (2nd edition), and 4 points per farm adjacent to any number of cities (1st edition, which is the one published by Rio Grande and the one I bought here in France a couple years ago).

I find that the newer rules with the pigs are in fact more fun and strategic to play, and I'd really recommend giving it a go.
 
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Branko K.
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Nice review, and some good points there about I&C and T&B. I also find them to be almost obligatory expansions (especially I&C).

But I cannot agree with 2-player optimum you mention. A 3-player game can become an even harder strategic exercise, since point sharing comes into play, and a player can find himself facing much more difficult decisions then the usual 2-player shlick "should I help myself or hurt the oponnent". Also, social interaction becomes much more important - will you be too agressive and risk the remaining players team up against you, or should you keep the low profile and let them fight between each other while you unnoticably pile up the points?

So for me, the optimum is 3 players, but 2 and even 4 can be a "personal best player count", depending of what type of the game you want to play and the skill level of other players. However, I agree that playing with 5 or 6 players is really pushing it, and should be avoided if possible.
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g c
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Great Review, I'm with you on the two player for extra depth but more than two players is still lots fun

Only one thing that I would add. She/He who controls the fields is almost always in a better position to win.

 
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DAVID MERCER
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theconcerned wrote:
You failed (as a lot of people do) to mention the pigs. Although they are not a crucial element, my wife and I are so closely matched that it can often come down to a 10-point difference in a 150-point-each game. The pig can often be that cherished maker of a few much-needed points.


Same here. The big meeple and the pig really come into their own in the end-game. Usually, our play at the is geared toward protecting our farms or weaseling into the other's. Sometimes we start this phase too early and kind of come up short on the city building, but you don't want to wait too late and have your opponent, who took a couple of farms early, run away with it.

Big meeple best used as a farmer. It can be painful to place him on a farm early, but a big meeple on a wealthy farm will not only deter your opponent from making a play for your farm, but also allow you to join your farm at the very end with an enemy one-meeple farm to take it over. Unlike my wife, however, I usually can't stomach committing my big meeple so early, though, so I hold him to the end as a farm weasel.
 
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