Yay, it’s another post! If you read my tagline above, you’ll see that one of the things I love is board games, but before I start talking about that in any great depth, I thought you’d all love to know a bit about my very first experience with this world. See, the board game world that I enjoy so much isn’t the standard fayre of monopolys, clue(do)s, and whatnot. It’s more what I jokingly call “serious board games”, the sort that require a massive amount of capital to support, not to mention whole rooms given over to store them. That’s not to insinuate there’s any sort of snobbery going on – I enjoy a good murder mystery, or race to buy up London, as much as anyone – but rather I just enjoy games that have more immersion involved.
So anyway. The game that got me started in all this was, as it most likely was for a lot of other folks, Carcassonne. It’s a simple and elegantly beautiful game from the German designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, where you place tiles to essentially build the game board, scoring points as you complete features in the landscape that you have claimed using your meeple. When the last tile has been placed, the game ends, and the person with the most points wins. That’s pretty much all there is to it – no snobbery involved here! Rather than go through any complex rule explanations with pictures or whatnot, I thought I’d let Wil Wheaton show you, in his awesome TableTop webshow:
Pretty awesome, I know!
Carcassonne got me insta-hooked on tabletop gaming, and since then I’ve been sinking untold thousands of pounds into the hobby. It’s something I enjoy, so what the hell, right? But why Carcassonne? What was so special about that game that tipped me over the edge? Well, I don’t know. Highly unsatisfactory answer, I know, but still – I don’t! It’s a really elegant game, with perhaps the perfect balance of strategy for me to enjoy it right out of the box. If you watched the whole video (and if you didn’t, shame on you!), you may have picked up on how easy it is to either play confrontationally, messing up other peoples’ plans and muscling in on their farms or cities, or equally you can just have your own little corner that you can make your own, and hope you have more features at the end. I’m sometimes a lazy gamer, and I don’t want to have to sit through half an hour of strife and torment while I try to continually adapt my plans for victory, sometimes I just want to put some tiles down and score some points, y’know?
There are a lot of expansions for Carcassonne, which adds greatly to the depth of the game without really being all that complex (I think). I think we’re currently looking at the ninth “big box” expansion coming out this year, but there are also a whole host of smaller boxes, right down to single-tile expansions. Unfortunately, I don’t have all of them (to my lasting shame!), but I have a damn good selection, let me tell you!
If I had to pick my absolute favourite, I’d probably say it was Inns and Cathedrals. It was the first large expansion for the game, and basically added more tiles, including tiles with inns and with cathedrals on. Genius, right?! To add to the main game shown above, the inns appear on road tiles, and their presence on said road makes it worth two points per tile when completed (though still one point at the end of the game). Cathedrals are full-tile city tiles, and when said city is completed it makes each tile worth three points – however, at game end, if the city was incomplete, it scores you nothing! The potential for adding cathedrals to an opponent’s incomplete city near the endgame is always sooooooooo tempting! Muwahahahaha! (I’m not actually a jerk like that – I like to think I’m a really considerate gamer, anyway!).
The smaller expansions all add something, well, small to the game – my favourite is the Cult, six tiles which work similarly to the monasteries, though if you get a cult piece and a monastery together it becomes a fight to see who completes the feature first! Whoever loses gets no points for their own feature.
A lot of the Carcassonne mini expansions have been made available through Spielbox magazine, which is a German game magazine that does a lot to promote tabletop gaming. Published in German, with an English-language version also available, it’s definitely worth checking out!
As well as expansions, there are ‘re-imaginings’ of the game released, the first being Hunters & Gatherers, a Stone Age version; Discovery; Winter Edition, and most recently, South Seas. All of these use the basic mechanics but with subtle twists. I’ve only played Discovery and Winter Edition, which are both as much fun as the regular game, though without the same level of expansion (all except Discovery have had some form of expansion to them).
Carcassonne Winter Edition
Which leads me on to another point. I’ve played Carcassonne a whole load of times, in large groups and one-on-one. It’s an experience that is always changing, and always fun, and the level of expansion incorporation can make things as easy or as complex as you like. Personally, I enjoy at least a couple of expansions being involved. There are two small expansions of River tiles (River and River II) which have become practically ubiquitous to the main game, but in addition to these I would usually involve at least Inns & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders, the Cult pieces and the King expansion. There’s just enough going on with these that I feel the game is in a constant flux until the end. (I also have the ‘mini expansion’ of twelve tiles published in Games Quarterly magazine mixed in with the base game tiles, and while usually expansion tiles have a watermark telling you which set they came from, this one doesn’t, so I can’t split it off. Just thought you ought to know). Playing with all the expansions can be a bad idea, as there is so much going on – not to mention, so many tiles – that it can slow the game down. I’ve done it once, and covered the dining table with the game.
In case you’re interested, the Guinness World Record for the longest boardgame play was for a game of Carcassonne in Germany in 2006, which lasted nearly 43 hours and used nearly 4200 tiles. The winning score was 4703 points! Sheesh!
Carcassonne was the game that got me into this delightful mess, and it’s always fun to get it out every once in a while.
As always, I’d love to hear what other people think of Carcassonne – including favourite expansions! Drop me a comment!