The ABCs of Gaming: C is for…

Part III of the ABCs series, as voted on at BGG: C is for…

image by BGG user BigWoo

Carcassonne was first published in 2000 by Hans im Glück, and released in the US by Rio Grande.  It was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, plays in 45 minutes, and is for 2-5 players aged 8 and up.  The theme of the game is completely irrelevant – you’re developing  the lands around the French city of Carcassonne.  This game is considered to be a classic “gateway game”, meaning that it’s a game commonly used to get non-gamers into the hobby.  The game won the Spiel des Jahres in 2001.

Tile Distribution - image by BGG user Aldaron

Carcassonne is famous for having way too many expansions, but I’m going to be focusing on the base game, and will mention the extras later.  The base game comes with 72 land tiles, including one starting tile that has a different back.  Most basic editions these days come packaged with the River expansion with 12 more tiles, but I said I’m not going into that yet.  Also included are a scoreboard and 40 followers, better known throughout the gaming world as meeples.  You’ll never see them referred to as meeples in the rulebook, but you’ll never hear anyone refer to them as anything else.

image by BGG user nnoc

Each player in the game gets eight meeples, and put one on the score track.  The starting tile is placed in the middle of the board (that’s the tile shown to the right).  The starting player draws a new tile, then places it adjacent to the start tile.  You have to line up features on the edges that you attach.  The road running through the middle of the starting tile will have to connect to roads on the left and rights sides.  The city at the top must connect to another city.  The field at the bottom must connect to another field.

After placing your tile, you may place one of your meeples.  Where you place it determines how many points it will get when the feature is completed.  Placing it on a road turns it into a thief, and it will earn one point per tile included in the full road once completed.  Placing it in the city turns it into a knight, which will earn 2 points per city tile when the city is completed (and two more for any pennants present).

Placing it in a cloister turns it into a monk, and you’ll get nine points once the cloister is completely surrounded – one for the cloister tile, and one for each of the eight surrounding tiles.  Placing it in a field turns it into a farmer which will not score until the end of the game.

A big rule of placement is that you cannot place a meeple on a feature that has already been claimed.  If there’s a meeple already in a city, for example, you can’t add another when you add a tile (even if it’s your meeple).  However, if you add a meeple to a separate feature, then connect the two, you’ll end up sharing the points with the other player (unless you manage to have more meeples there).

As soon as a feature (road, city, cloister) is completed (no further tiles can be added), you score and take back your meeple.  The only exception is farmers – they never come off the board.

Once the last tile has been drawn and placed, the game is over.  You’ll do a final scoring: thieves on incomplete roads score one point per tile; knights on incomplete cities score one point per tile and one point per shield; and monks in incomplete cloisters score one point for the cloister tile and one point for additional tiles.  You’ll also score the farmers – each completed city adjacent to your field (uninterrupted by roads, walls, or the edge of the board) scores three points.  At the end of this, the player with the most points wins.

Carcassonne is one of the Big Three classic “gateway games” (games that are relatively simple but strategic enough to guide people away from Monopoly and its ilk).  The rules are very simple, gameplay is engaging, and its accessible to a wide range of people.  I tend to leave out the farmers in a first game with non-gamers – it’s just too much to grasp.  Despite the randomness of the tile draw, there are a lot of strategy opportunities in determining what to play where, and in deciding whether you want to commit a meeple for the time it’s being constructed.  My favorite strategy in the game is trying to connect to other people’s territories so I score with them.  We both end up getting points, but if I do that with all the other players, I end up pulling away.  Also, it’s billed as a 2-5 player game, but I think it’s best with fewer.  I don’t really want to play it with more than 4, and I think 3 is probably the best number.

Carcassonne is far from a perfect game, but I think it’s a good choice for our C entry.  It’s not what I voted for – I went with Cosmic Encounter.  However, I cannot argue with Carcassonne’s victory.  It’s quick, simple, and a classic, and definitely deserves a place among the most essential games.  And if the base game isn’t enough for you, you could add one or more of the many expansions – Inns & Cathedrals (adding a sixth player and special tiles that either give you more points for completed features or zero if you fail to complete them), Traders & Builders (adding goods), The River and The River II (adding a river), The Princess & The Dragon (adding volcanos, a dragon, magic portals, and a fairy), The Count (adding a section of Carcassonne that can be used to block certain sections from scoring), The Tower (which allows you to capture opposing meeples), Abbey & Mayor (adding abbeys and a mayor for other scoring opportunities), The Catapult (adding a catapult), and so on.  So, lots of ways to change the game up.

But what about the other participants in the poll?  This poll had more votes than any other, with a lot of people lamenting the fact that there were too many great games to choose from.  Carcassonne ran away with it in the end with 31.1% of the vote.  In second place was Caylus at 14.6%, the 2005 game by William Attia that is most often credited with starting the worker placement craze (though one might say that Carcassonne was an even earlier example of a worker placement game).  Caylus is also the highest rated C game on BGG, at #10.  In third came my choice, Cosmic Encounter.  This 1977 sci-fi classic remains extremely popular, largely thanks to the 2008 reprint by Fantasy Flight Games.  #4 was 1980’s Civilization, a game designed by Francis Tresham and Mick Uhl that has been influenicng just about every Civ game since, including Sid Meier’s famous computer game (and subsequent analog versions).  At #5 was Chaos in the Old World, a 2009 game set in the Warhammer universe where four gods are competing for domination.  #6 was Crokinole, the classic dexterity game where you’re flicking little discs to score points.  #7 was Commands & Colors: Ancients, the 2006 GMT implementation of Richard Borg’s combat system also used in BattleLore and Memoir ’44.  Combat Commander: Europe took #8 – that one was another 2006 GMT game, this one set in the European theater during WWII.  #9 was Other, and included nominees like Can’t Stop, Carabande, Carson City, A Castle for All Seasons, Catacombs, Chess, China, Chitin: I, Circus Imperium, Citadels, Cleopatra & The Society of Architects, Clue: The Great Museum Caper, Cobra, Colossal Arena, Colosseum, Confusion, Container, Cribbage (yay!), and Cyclades.  #10 went to 2009’s Claustrophobia, and rounding out the poll was 2008’s Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! Russia 1941-1942.

So far, we’ve got A is for Agricola, B is for Battlestar Galactica, and C is for Carcassonne.  What’s D?  Find out in a couple of weeks!  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. Just like you, I would not argue with Carcassonne, but I also would have chosen Cosmic Encounter personally. But Carcassonne is still quite unique after a full decade on the market. It really is a great game. But Cosmic Encounter has such an amazing level of player interaction that its hard to beat.

    And if we are thinking classically, there is also Chess to think about.

    • If you’re thinking about longevity, Chess indeed is hard to beat. I’d also throw out Cribbage as a great option, and that has been around since the 17th century. And don’t forget that Cosmic Encounter was first published in 1977. The Cs definitely have some great representatives.

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