Every person I’ve ever talked to about board games has always said, “Have you ever played Carcassonne?” When I used to tell them no, they would respond with, “You’ve played Catan but not Carcassonne? How?”
Okay, okay, so I’ll rectify that. I bought the digital version of the game to play online. The tutorial wasn’t very informative as to the rules, so I ended up looking up a few videos on how to play the game. After watching those videos, I was finally able to grasp the concept of the game. I immediately jumped in and started playing against the computer. Needless to say, I got stomped in those first few games.
I started to understand things a little better, eventually learning the strategy behind playing a certain way. I improved exponentially, only to find myself still losing every single game. Eventually, I moved to playing online against other players, and as no surprise, I still haven’t won a single game. Then we picked the game up to play in person. After three games of it thus far, I still haven’t won a single game.
I’m not about to give up, though.
Carcassonne is for 2-5 players, takes approximately 35 minutes to play, and is for ages 7 and older.
Setup for Carcassonne is very easy. First, find the starting tile (it has a dark gray tile back). Place it face up somewhere in the middle of the play area. Have every player pick a color. There should be 8 total meeples for each color. Put 7 of them in front of you and place the other on the scoring board at the zero mark. Put the remaining tiles for the game in 2-3 face down piles where everybody can reach them. It’s now time to start the game!
Carcassonne follows the same tile-building principle of Betrayal at House on the Hill, but instead of the tile placements being mostly irrelevant, every single tile holds great importance. The playstyle of Carcassonne is overly simple. Place a tile, place a meeple, score points. You and the other players will be building an entire countryside near the legendary French city of Carcassonne.
When it is your turn, you turn over one of the tiles and place it against another tile on the table, much like dominoes. A few simple rules about building the tiles exist.
First, a road must be connected to another road. Grassland must be connected to another grassland. Cities must be connected to another city. Other than those simple guidelines, let’s discuss how the game is actually played.
Carcassonne, [sic] the world-famous French city, known for its imposing fortifications erected during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This fortress, surrounded by magnificent walls, still stands today as one of the most unique French cities. In this game, players must develop the area around Carcassonne. They will place their followers onto roads and into cities, monasteries, and fields. Only those who make the most judicious placements will gain the points required to win the game.Carcassonne Rulebook
The only way to score points in Carcassonne is to play your tiles and then place meeples on those tiles as certain persons. You may only play a meeple on a tile that you just played. You also cannot play a meeple on a feature that already has another meeple. Once you play a meeple, you cannot take that meeple back to be played again until a certain criteria is met.
If you decide to play your meeple as a highwayman, a protector of a road, this is how you score points. When you play a tile that has a road on it, the road must connect to another road. As long as all of the connected roads do not have a meeple on them, you can place a meeple on the road of the tile you just played. At any point during the tile-building process, if the road becomes connected on both ends, basically meaning the road has become closed off, you score points for that highwayman. You will score 1 point for every tile your road is on. Take back your meeple and move your scoreboard meeple forward the number of points you scored.
You can also play your meeple as a knight in a city. When you play a tile that has a city on it, you have to play that city connected to another tile with a city on it. If no other meeples are currently in that city, you now have a knight protecting that city. Once the entire city is walled off so that there are no more openings, you get to score that meeple. You will score 2 points for every single tile your city is on and an extra 2 points for any tiles in your city that have a shield on it. Take back your meeple and move your scoreboard meeple forward the number of points you scored.
Another option is to play a monk on a monastery. A tile with a monastery on it will look like a church in the middle of a field. When you play this tile, you can place a meeple in the middle of the monastery. In order to score the monk, your monastery tile must be completely surrounded by other tiles. You will score 1 point for every tile surrounding your monastery and 1 point for the monastery itself. A completed monastery will always score 9 points. Take back your meeple and move your scoreboard meeple forward the number of points you scored.
One of the final options is to play a farmer. Farmers are the most difficult aspect of the game in terms of scoring and strategy. When you play a tile that has grassland on it, you can choose to play your meeple on any grassland part of your tile. You lay the meeple sideways to signify that it’s a farmer. You’ll never get that meeple back, as it will stay there until the very end of the game. Farmers score 3 points for every single city your connected farmland touches. This can be extremely difficult to score if you’ve never played the game. Pay close attention to the roads that section off grasslands as they can severely limit how many points your farmer will score.
You continue to play the game following those steps. Place a tile, place a meeple, score points. Once every single tile has been played, the game ends. It’s time to do the final scoring.
The first thing you’ll want to do is look at all remaining meeples you may have on the board. If you have any meeples on incomplete roads, you’ll score 1 point for each tile that road is on. If you have any meeples in incomplete cities, you’ll score 1 point for each tile that city is on. If you have any incomplete monasteries, you’ll score 1 point for each tile surrounding the monastery plus 1 point for the monastery itself.
Now it’s time to score the farmers. Look at your farmer and figure out how many city walls the grassland your farmer is on is connected to. Any uninterrupted connecting grassland (meaning a road doesn’t block or interrupt the grassland) that is connected to a city will net you 3 points. You can’t be connected to the same city more than once. Each city will only give you points one time.
After all of that counting, the person with the most points wins the game.
Here are a few often overlooked or misinterpreted rules:
A tile that is played diagonally to another tile with city walls, where basically the walls are not connected directly to the previous set city walls, can technically have a knight put on it as they are connected diagonally and not directly.
If two players somehow end up on the same feature (meaning a meeple was played on one end of a road and another player’s meeple was played on the other end) and that feature becomes finished, both players will score the points for that feature. However, if somebody has two meeples on a feature and the other player only has one, the player with the most meeples will score the points.
The farmers will only score points if the cities have been completed. Incomplete city walls net zero farmer points.
You must play a tile, then place a meeple, and then score any points from playing that tile. You can’t finish a road, take back the meeple, and then place that same meeple on a grassland or city on the tile that completed the road.
As a final note, please remember that monks, knights, and highwaymen will eventually come back if you complete those features. Farmers, on the other hand, will always remain on the board until the very end of the game.
Carcassonne is a fascinating take on tile-building games because the strategy is deep and overwhelming at times. I have yet to really nail any specific strategy as I’m still learning the finer aspects of the game. Finding an efficient way to manage my meeples, place my tiles in the correct place, try my best to not help my opponents’ meeples, and score enough points to win is an overwhelming process.
I’m sure I’ll get better as I play the game more, but for now, it’s a crap shoot as I continue to build and fortify the area around the French city of Carcassonne.