Carcassonne Board Game Review (Z-Man Games)

7

Though I've never played Carcassonne before, I've watched it played at least a dozen times. Not having played Carcassonne is a lot like never having played Catan; it can happen, but it's not normal. Carcassonne is a simple tile-based strategy game, in which players are attempting to complete map features to score points. First published in 2000, Carcassonne has won multiple awards for its simplicity and elegance. Though it's not a very detailed game, some interesting things happened while playing it.

Carcassonne Game Details

Players: 2 to 5

Time: 45 Minutes

Age: 8+

Genre: Strategy / Tile-Based

How is Carcassonne Played?

On your turn, you draw a tile and you place it. You can place it anywhere as long as it lines up with existing tiles. Roads must match roads, cities must match cities, and so forth. Tiles often have the outline of a feature, such as a city. You need to complete that feature to score it. If you complete a road, for instance, you get 1 point for each tile that road consists of. If you complete a city, you get 2 points for each tile the city consists of. 

Features like roads can only be owned by one player, but cities go to the player with the greatest influence (most meeples). If there's a tie, both score. When you place a tile, you place your meeple as well, to gain influence.

The Interesting Thing About Carcassonne

First: I always hear "Carcass Zone" and think that we're getting into very dark territory.

About halfway through the game I placed a final tile in a town that had one meeple, finishing the city and placing my own meeple at the same time.

"You can't do that," said another player.

"Why not?" I asked.

"You can't put down a tile and then claim it, because it already finishes once the tile is put down."

"But you put down a tile, place a meeple, then score finished areas."

"Yeah but that wouldn't be fair."

"What do you mean?"

"Well it isn't fair that you can put down a meeple and finish it without anyone else being able to stop you."

"..."

I was perplexed -- and it wasn't because I didn't know I was right. When I looked up the rules, I found similar threads asking the same thing: could you really place a tile down, finish, and score at the same time?

Later in the game, another player remarked: "Well, it's competitive. But it's not really competitive."

Carcassonne has the potential to be just about the most competitive a game you can find, since you can directly disrupt each other's actions, take territory from each other, and generally be a dick. So, what was going on?

It's that Carcassonne can also be a remarkably polite game. If you're only focusing on building your own territories, you're not even interacting with the other players. You should be, but you don't have to be. You don't have to block them off from initiatives; you can, in fact, play Carcassonne completely ignoring the other players.

This fosters a feeling of cooperation, because everyone is building the same map. And it makes people feel as though, well, competing is cheating.

The Lasting Appeal of Carcassonne

Ultimately, this type of indirect competition is probably why Carcassonne has had such tremendous staying power. It's fast, easy to play, and non-aggressive (unless you really want it to be).

But that's also why it's a game that's uninteresting to me. The player interaction in Carcassonne can be essentially nil, and if you try to play it aggressively with a group that isn't aggressive, you're essentially breaking an unspoken social pact. 

By the time Carcassonne was done (just about 45 minutes later), everyone immediately began to pack up the game. One player objected: wait! We haven't even scored the end game! But no one cared. It wasn't that they had a bad time playing the game, it was that they were entirely uninvested in the outcome. 

Carcassonne is a neat and tidy strategy game with multiple expansions, and is often considered to be one of the major gateway games. Nevertheless, I'd almost recommed a game more like the North Sea series for those who are interested in learning basic game mechanics.

Carcassonne Board Game Review
  • PRO: A common "gateway" game that introduces multiple core board game mechanics.
  • CON: Lends itself to extremely indirect gameplay, which can lack social interaction.