Carcassonne – A Board Game Journey Step 9

April 2016

Nine steps along on my journey into the world of hobby board games and I’ve already learnt a few things.

Board games are far more diverse than I ever thought possible. They can inspire your imagination like stories in a good book. They can be a social activity or they can be very much an individual one.

However, if there is one thing made abundantly clear already it’s this. A game, any game, no matter how well designed or how gorgeous it looks, is only as good as the people who play it.

Or to put it another way, buy a game that fits your gaming group or there’s a very good chance that you’ll have a disappointing experience regardless of the quality of the game.

I learnt this the hard way with Tsuro of the Seas. A well designed game that looks great sat on the shelf. At least it did until the dust started to collect on its sumptuously illustrated cover.  I narrowly avoided the same problem with Dreamwell. A game that got off to a very rocky start in my house before slowly gaining favour.

Sylvion and Friday, were bought for a specific purpose, to pass the time in hotels . Good games and I have more than had my money’s worth from both. However, they are solo games. Similarly, Castle Panic and Flash Point: fun, enjoyable family games that I regularly play solo yet rarely play with my family because they just don’t fit.

So it was that I began to look for something that would be all things to all people. Something that my entire family could get enjoyment from, that we could play with friends and relatives and yet one that also worked well when it was just my wife and I. 

I failed miserably. Every game I looked at seemed o.k. for two or three of us, not all four. They were too complex for the kids or too simple for the grown-ups. Too adult themed or too child orientated to be a true success. I wound up with a shoppers’ version of writers’ block. In the end I did something I hadn’t done up to now and picked a game purely because it was popular and routinely featured in ‘best of..’ lists.

The game was Carcassonne. It turns out that there is a reason for it’s popularity: it is quite possibly a perfect family game.

Landscaping one tile at a time

In Carcassonne, you pick and place a tile each turn to create a map, scoring points for the features you complete along the way. This map becomes the board and there is a curious satisfaction provided by seeing the board expand turn by turn. In seeing the landscape you are creating develop.

While there are strategic elements to the game, the basics are very simple. Most of the rules relate to how the tiles and counters are placed. The features must join: roads meet roads, cities join to cities and fields to fields. Option to place or remove a meeple (wooden person). One meeple per feature except in certain circumstances.

The remaining rules relate to how the feature score points. This is not difficult: roads are one point per tile, cities two with an extra point for any shield symbols. Fields score three for each completed city at the end of the game and an abbey scores one point for tiles adjacent to it.

Carcassonne meeples
The iconic meeples

Carcassonne makes sense intuitively, requiring very little explanation, and as such the game works for all ages. I have played this game with children as young as 5 and adults well into their retirement years. At the same time, with all parties appearing to enjoy the game equally. At this early stage in my board game journey games that can do this appear to be very rare.

‘The internet’ appears to suggest the games appeal wanes after a while for more experienced players. There is no sign of this happening for us yet. If you want to be picky, the random selection of tiles is a little luck heavy for those that like truly strategic games. Also the roads are probably undervalued for points compared to the other features but apart from that…

Carcassonne map
Landscaping nearly finished

Carcassonne is a great, great game. The wooden people used as counters have become iconic throughout hobby games. I have even seen the tiles glued together and used as a wall picture. It thoroughly deserves it’s success and if you haven’t already I recommend you stop reading now and buy a copy.