Best Carcassonne Expansions – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)
Carcassonne has a silly amount of expansions, including a PC version on Steam. With 10 official expansions and shelves and shelves of original games and smaller expansions, it’s going to be difficult to go through all of them. My favorite ones tend to be ones that add slight rule changes or add additional scoring systems that alter how I would normally play.
I really enjoy Carcassonne. It’s a simple game that I can get a lot of non-gamer friends into and with the added expansions, there’s always a new way to play, making it one of the most-often-played games during a meetup. It’s also one of my favorites for on-the-go and as a warm-up for bigger games. With so many playthroughs, the expansions help keep an amazing game fresh and exciting every time it’s pulled off the shelf.
We’re going to go through the expansions in the chronological order they were released since that affects their current availability, but also can give you some idea of the history of the game. We haven’t ranked them based on our preference, but we have given each a star rating. (Just a note: Z-Man Games is currently rereleasing some of these expansions and not others, so availability may be limited on certain titles.)
The first place to start when delving into the expansions is most likely going to be with the first and second large expansions. They are the most faithful to the original game without adding too many extras and are generally the most well-received and easiest to get into out of all of the expansions.
This is the first actual expansion released for Carcassonne. This expansion fixes elements that some people disliked in the original game.
Inns & Cathedrals, as you might guess, adds new scoring options for roads. By adding a road tile to the Inn, the road will basically double in points. The Cathedrals that are added are a full tile that needs to be completely surrounded by city tiles.
The last addition is more meeples. With more meeples, the player count jumps up to six, and there’s an additional BIG MEEPLE. The big meeple is placed like any other meeple, but for scoring purposes, it counts as two meeples instead of one. For example, if someone’s trying to snatch control of one of your cities from you, then you can drop your Big Meeple in the city that will count as two meeples that will help you to keep control long enough to score it.
The added rule change doesn’t throw any serious monkey wrenches into the core rules and it’s often viewed as a rule-fix expansion. There are some mechanics that the base game doesn’t do well, so by adding in the new tiles, there’s added risk and incentive to finish roads and cities.
If you enjoy the base game, and just want more of the same, but a more polished experience, this is where you want to start. The changes are subtle and give players more options to score while keeping the original feel of Carcassonne that so many of us have fallen in love with.
I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys the base game or just wants some more players at their table.
Carcassonne Expansion 2: Traders & Builders
The second expansion, Traders & Builders, is highly regarded as the best expansion along with the first expansion.
Traders & Builders adds an adorable piggy meeple and a new builder meeple.
The Builder meeple can be placed in a city and if you build a new city tile near your Builder, you can immediately build another connected city tile. This effectively gives a player two turns and dramatically speeds up the flow of the game.
The adorable Piggy meeples add to the point value of fields/pastures. They have to be placed with a Farmer meeple. At the end of the game, if you have the most farmers in that field with a Piggy meeple, the point value for that field goes up to four points per tile instead of three.
In addition to completing tiles like normal, there are new tiles with new symbols on them. When the symbol tile is completed, you’ll receive a token that matches the symbol. These can be used to gain some bonus points at the end of the game (if you have the most), giving players another option to pursue throughout the game.
If you like extras, the game also comes with a nice quality cloth bag that you can store all of the tiles, making it much more portable than before. (I always like games I can take with me.) It can also be used as a draw bag to pull tiles from. It’s absolutely not necessary to have, but it’s a very nice addition to the game as aesthetics are an important part of board games. It’s just much more fun to pull tiles out of a bag instead of a pile or a coffee mug.
Traders & Builders does add several new scoring mechanics and abilities. It still feels like Carcassonne and doesn’t alter anything too drastically. The gameplay is going to feel very similar, but you get some more advanced options for scoring that allows veteran players and newer players several new strategies to explore. It’s an excellent expansion and is an excellent starting point if you want to give it a try.
Carcassonne Expansion 3: The Princess & the Dragon
Princesses, dragons, and fairies, oh my!
Things start to get fantastical with Princess & The Dragon.
For such a cutesy theme, the Princess & The Dragon is a little bit cutthroat. This expansion adds much more conflict between players, and players can start manipulating and attacking each other.
The Dragon Meeple
The Dragon meeple (which looks slightly phallic) bursts onto the board when the volcano token is placed. When it gets activated players will begin to direct it around the board, destroying and eating meeples in its wake. When it’s activated players will be able to choose where it goes, but the dragon cannot return to tiles it’s already been on, which stops players from having it bounce back and forth in the corner of the board.
Princess tiles are a new type of city tile. When a Princess city tile is placed on a city, one meeple is forced to leave. If two players are working on a city, and a Princess is placed, it gives players the opportunity to force out the competition and keep the city for themselves.
If players are lucky, they’ll find the portal tile which allows them to put their meeple anywhere on the board, which can be worth some serious points.
I really enjoy fantasy and all things related, but Princess & Dragon seemed like a flimsy excuse to appeal to a wider audience. In my eyes, Carcassonne isn’t really a combative or high conflict game. I enjoy conflict, but it just feels wrong in Carcassonne. Giving players the options to remove opponents meeples, drastically changes gameplay and how you approach the game. However, if you thought the base game didn’t have enough strategy or you wanted an option for a more competitive experience, Princess & Dragon may be a good choice for you.
Carcassonne Expansion 4: The Tower
My favorite part of this expansion is… THE TOWER. This expansion comes with a very cool tower-shaped tile holder that players can draw from. It’s a nice little extra but has absolutely no bearing on the game.
The actual game-changing mechanics are slight but completely change the feel of the game, especially in the 2-3 player range. The new Tower tiles allow players to build up little wooden towers, and are pretty neat looking. The Towers have a groove so that meeples can stand on them and not fall off which is a nice way to keep everything sturdy.
“What do the Towers do?”, you might ask. They kidnap other meeples and hold them for ransom, of course. Players who control a tower will be able to kidnap another player’s meeple on the board that is nearest the Tower. Players won’t be able to get it back unless they pay a ransom using the only form of currency recognized in Carcassonne: victory points.
For such a small addition, it’s a brutal mechanic that turns the nice little city-builder into a very angry game. It’s an interesting idea, but not my favorite. When doing research for this one and asking other players, I’ve found that it’s definitely one that is argued over the most. A lot of players really enjoy the new element added to the game, especially players who have played the base game to death.
Carcassonne Expansion 5: Abbey & Mayor
Abbey adds a ton of new materials and options in such a small box. You can add all of the new elements or you can pick and choose which ones you like to add your game.
First, we’ll take a look at the Abbey tiles. Each player will start with an Abbey tile. Think of them as your wildcards. They are extremely powerful. When placed, an Abbey tile completes everything around it that it is touching. Anything touching an abbey can use it to complete its section. Meeples can also be placed on the Abbey to score as a Monastery.
The Mayor meeples, identified by the big poofy pantaloon meeples, are used to help capture cities. The Mayors have strength in a city equal to the number of shield icons in that city. If a big city has three shields then the mayor would be the equivalent of three meeples when determining who gets to score the city. It doesn’t add additional points, but it’s much easier to gain control of a city with a mayor.
Wagons are a new type of worker in the game that rove around the board. They score and are placed like any other meeple (except they cannot be farmers). When the Wagon scores, it can then move to any adjacent tile on any uncompleted scoring feature (except farms). This allows them to rapidly score and redeploy as they move across the board and helps players pick up some easy points.
Another new element are Barns. Barns are placed on the corners of four tiles that meet and the corners are all green fields. When a Barn is placed, the farmers on fields connected to the barn can be scored immediately and returned to the supply pile to be used elsewhere. At the end of the game, Barns are worth four points for each completed adjacent field.
Tunnel and Bridge Tiles
As an extra bonus, if you look at some of the new tiles added to the expansion you’ll notice some Tunnels and Bridges. These are used to continue roads and cities. In the base game, when you place a road going to a city it stops the road completely. The Tunnels on the new tiles will sometimes continue on the other side allowing some really cool roads to be built and to continue on for more points. The same thing happens for a few Bridge tiles. Some cities will have a Bridge that will jump a space, expanding the city out even further.
A True Expansion
I really like this expansion. Unlike some of the other ones, I think it’s one of the purest examples of an expansion. It brings a lot of fun elements that can be used with the game and if you don’t like using all of them, they’re designed to be quickly removed or added to future games. I like the fact that you can pick and choose which elements you like and most importantly, it still feels like an awesome game of Carcassonne that captures the feel of the original.
Carcassonne Expansion 6: Count, King & Robber
Choose to rule the city or patrol the roads and gain bonus points with the new king and robber tiles. Only a king can rule a large city. Grow your city and claim the king tile for bonus points. Explore the roads instead and claim the bonus points for the longest road with the robber tile. The city belongs to the king, but the roads are the robber’s domain.
The most complicated portion of this expansion is the Count: a big purple meeple that reminds me of a mashup between the Hamburglar and a vampire. Along with the Count is a set of tiles that will make up a premade city of Carcassonne. This premade city is used as an alternative starting point.
The Count starts in the castle space in Carcassonne and will move throughout the city during the course of the game. The mechanics are a little complicated to explain, but once you get them down it’s not so bad. It’s just a little difficult to explain without showing somebody in-person on the board.
Every time a player places a tile and completes an opponent’s feature, the player can move a meeple into Carcassonne. If a player completes an unowned feature and they have a meeple in Carcassonne, they’ll be able to immediately move the meeple into the completed feature. There’s a bit more to the rules, but those are the basics. It allows players another way to place meeples on the board to pick up extra points, and it forces players to be aware of what everyone is doing, instead of just focusing on their own buildings.
The King and Robber are both easy to grasp. If you’ve ever played Catan the mechanics will be familiar for the king and robber.
The roads are the Robber’s domain. That’s where he makes his fortune and that’s where you’ll get your bonus points. The first player to build a road will get the Robber token. Then as players complete more roads, whoever builds the longest road will take control of the Robber token. At the end of the game, each completed road is worth one victory point (if you control the Robber token).
The King works in much the same way, but with cities. The player who completes the first city will gain the King token. As players make bigger and bigger cities, control of the token will pass between the largest landowner. Whoever has the King token at the end will receive bonus points for their city tiles.
The expansion adds some flavor into the mix with the Robber and King. It’s always nice having a set goal to look forward to when playing a game, but some players may find themselves so focused on the bonus points that the entire game becomes the pursuit of the Robber and King. It’s an easy setup, and can easily be added to any other expansion, which is a plus.
The Count, on the other hand, is a little trickier to grasp and add to other expansions, but it adds a lot of new strategy with its ability to move meeples around the board. I enjoyed the expansion, but maybe choose this one after you’ve had a chance to dabble in some of the other expansions first.
Carcassonne Expansion 7: The Catapult
Who doesn’t want to add a Catapult to their Carcassonne game?
Pretty much everyone.
The Catapult expansion (if you can still find it) is generally considered the worst expansion for Carcassonne ever made.
New Tiles, New Actions
In the Catapult expansion, there are several new tiles that will force a Catapult round. In the Catapult rounds, players will have one of four actions. They can try to hit other meeples to swap them, knock meeples down, hit a particular target, or they can try to catch the Catapult for points. Each Catapult round has a different goal so other players won’t always be trying to catch the missiles as you shoot at their meeples.
The Catapult itself is very simple, made of unadorned pieces of wood put together that does exactly what it’s designed to do: fling things across your room.
Why is it so widely reviled?
Expectations, I think.
Carcassonne, at its core, is a sleeper strategy game where the subtleties of placing a few tiles and workers have turned it into a classic strategy game that most gamers have on their shelves. Many expansions work off the base game’s strength to improve that feeling. The Catapult expansion is an example of an expansion changing the dynamic of a game to appeal to a broader audience.
Players going into it expecting an experience similar to the original are going to be sorely disappointed. Players who are looking for a more exciting or hectic version are going to have fun playing around with the Catapult. It’s an especially big hit with younger kids who don’t have the patience for traditional Carcassonne.
If you do manage to find a copy of the Catapult, you should go into it expecting a wacky experience. If you go in without serious expectations and just want to get silly by flinging things around the room, you’re going to have fun with it. If, however, you want a serious board game, do not get this expansion.
If all else fails, it does make for an incredible drinking game.
Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune expansion isn’t necessarily an expansion, but more of an alternative starting point for your first game of Carcassonne. It’s actually a standalone game that has everything included in the base game and the Wheel of Fortune tile which will act as the new starting tile.
Gameplay will continue as normal, but whenever a Fortune tile is placed, the Vanna White meeple (it’s actually a pig meeple) will move around the Wheel of Fortune and players will receive various bonuses (or penalties), depending upon where it lands. During their turns, players will also have the opportunity to place meeples on the Wheel of Fortune for bonus points.
That’s pretty much it. The game is fun and if you enjoy Carcassonne but don’t own a copy, this would be a good choice. If you already own a copy I would only recommend getting it if you have the spare cash, are a completionist, and simply want to own all of the versions.
Carcassonne Expansion 8: Bridges, Castles & Bazaars
This expansion adds three new options for the players to choose from while playing the game. Some say that although it adds a lot of new depth for strategy, it also really slows down the game. Let’s take a look.
Let’s talk about Bridges first. Normally when placing a tile that has a road you’ll need to place a tile that matches the road tile. With a Bridge, you can place any grass tile, even if it doesn’t have a road. When this happens, a Bridge is placed on top of that tile, indicating that the road continues up and over that tile and extends the road to the next connecting tile. This is another way to boost the length of the road. Players can get some serious points when combined with some of the other expansions that focus on road building, like the Count, King & Robber expansion.
Sometimes in a game of Carcassonne, you’ll have to build a dinky two-tile city. That’s worth a measly four points. With a Castle, players can instead build a Castle and place a meeple on a two-tile city to create a fief. The fief will extend two tiles on either side of the Castle. If you build a Castle you don’t get any points from the city, but can get bonus points for things completed in the fief.
Once a castle is built and a fief has been established, the first feature completed in the fief is scored like normal but the meeple in the Castle is also scored for the same amount of points. This effectively doubles the first completed feature in the fief. If nothing is completed in the fief, then you get no points so you’ll have to balance risk and reward, depending on where you are at in the game.
Bazaars add an auction round into the game. Whenever a Bazaar tile is placed the game stops and an auction round occurs. Tiles are drawn equal to the number of players and the first player chooses which tile he wants and places a bid for it. Every player will then either pass or bid higher until one person receives the tile. The players without a tile will then continue to bid until everyone receives one. The last person will get their tile for free because nobody is bidding against them.
You may notice that there’s still no coin or currency in the game. Players will be bidding with the only recognized form of currency in Carcassonne: victory points.
I really like this expansion. It adds enough depth to make the game interesting, especially if you’ve played the original to death. The extra rules also do it in a way that is faithful to the base game and doesn’t change the overall feeling of the game.
Carcassonne Expansion 9: Hills & Sheep
This expansion allows players to become shepherds on the hills in addition to the usual thieves, knights, monks, and farmers.
The new Hill tiles, when placed are placed on top of a random facedown tile to elevate them, effectively make a hill on the board. A Hill acts as a tiebreaker for features. If two players have meeples for a completed feature, but one player has theirs on a Hill, the player with the hill will receive the points, and the other player gets nothing. Being taller always has its advantages.
Shepherds & Sheep
The Shepherd meeple and Sheep tiles add a push-your-luck mechanic to the game. Whenever you build a field you can place your Shephard meeple on a field. After a Shepherd is placed, you get to draw a token out of the very cute Sheep bag. The token is placed next to the Shepherd on the board, and any time you add to that field you can continue to draw tokens or score your Sheep and take back your Shepherd. The number of Sheep on the tokens is the number of points you’ll receive when scoring the Sheep. This is a big bonus over the course of the game, but if you don’t score your Sheep by the end of the game you won’t receive any points for Sheep leftover on the board. You’ll have to score them before the game ends.
The push-your-luck aspect comes in when drawing new Sheep tokens. Hidden in the Sheep bag are two hungry Wolf tokens. If you draw a Wolf token, you lose all of your Sheep, score zero points, and the Shepherd returns to the supply.
Vineyards tiles are new to Expansion 9 as well. It’s not all sheep on hills. The Vineyard tiles are worth three bonus points if they are scored as part of a Monastery. It’s a small change but it makes the Monasteries much stronger.
The Vineyards and the Hills are a little weak in my opinion. The Hill situation does come up, but it’s not going to break the game if you don’t go after them. The Sheep, however, are super fun and are a nice way to make a comeback.
I love the added components. The cloth Sheep bag is nice and is another nice little extra that comes with the expansion. On top of that, the expansion fits easily into the others, making it one of my favorites. I also just think the sheep are cute so I may be a little biased.
Carcassonne Expansion 10: Under the Big Top
The circus comes to Carcassonne with new meeple types and tiles. Who will put on the best show and draw the biggest crowd?
When the new Circus tiles are placed a random animal token is taken and placed face down underneath the Circus tent piece. Players are free to place meeples on any feature in the tile and don’t need to place anything on the Circus. When the next Circus tile is placed, a new animal token is drawn and placed on the newly placed tile and the Circus piece moves to the new tile. This happens when the previous animal token is scored.
The animal is revealed and it will have a number token on it. Any meeple surrounding the Circus tile will be able to score points equal to the animal token’s value. Multiple meeples mean multiple scores. After they are scored, the meeples stay where they are and are removed as normal whenever the feature they are sitting on is completed.
Acrobat tiles look like they have a blank rectangle in the center of them. Once placed, whenever a surrounding tile is built, players will be able to put a meeple on the Acrobat tile. The first two meeples will go on the rectangular spots, and the third meeple is placed on top of the two, creating a meeple cheerleader pyramid. Any player that places a tile adjacent to the Acrobat tile can add a meeple to the pyramid. It can be all one player, or a mix of three players’ meeples to complete the pyramid.
Once there are three meeples on an Acrobat tile, the tile is complete and ready to be scored. On the following turn, instead of placing a meeple, a player can instead choose to score the pyramid. Once it’s time to score, each meeple is worth five points. If you built the pyramid yourself, that’s a bonus of 15 points. When it’s scored, everyone who contributed to building the meeple will receive the five points for their meeple.
Ringmaster meeples work exactly like every other meeple. They can be placed anywhere another meeple could except for the acrobat square. The difference is when it comes to scoring. When a Ringmaster is scored, they will gain two bonus points for every Circus tile or Acrobat tile that is adjacent to them.
Under the Big Top is a solid expansion. It adds depth and strategy without throwing too many monkey wrenches into the rules. The Circus mechanics are interesting without breaking the scoring system and is overall just a solid addition to the Carcassonne world.
Carcassonne: Big Box 6
If you’re looking into getting a set of Carcassonne and don’t already have a copy, the Big Box edition is by far the best way to get started.
The Big Box comes with the first two large expansions: Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders. It also comes with 9 other smaller expansions that add smaller changes to the core rules of the game.
Included in the Big Box:
Inns & Cathedrals
Traders & Builders
The River I
The Flying Machines
The Gold Mines
Mage & Witch
The Crop Circles
As you can see, there’s a ton of value jammed into one box and it should keep you busy for a long time to come. By having the Big Box, you get to start with Inns & Cathedrals and you also have the extra meeples to extend the game to six players right out of the box.
We couldn’t end this list without including the original Carcassonne. If you’ve read this far and haven’t played the base game, you need to start there (or with the Big Box).
As of writing, this game is almost 20 years old and still going strong. You can’t go wrong with this simple, yet strategic, multi-award-winning, tile-placement, city-builder.
My favorite expansions are 1, 2, and 10. What first attracted me to Carcassonne was the simplicity of placing a tile and looking for scoring options. It’s never that easy, of course, but it’s an example of how a simple mechanic that’s done well creates a classic game. Each expansion adds something that I like and one of the best parts of the Carcassonne expansions is that for the most part, you can pick and choose which aspects you want to add to your game.
Z-Man Games is currently updating and re-releasing a lot of the Carcassonne expansions, so if your favorite isn’t currently available, chances are it’s in the process of getting a makeover and will be updated soon. Until then, most of the expansions can still be found, even though they’re currently out-of-print.
On the crazy off-chance that all of these still have you thirsting for more, there are dozens and dozens of smaller expansions that I didn’t even have a chance to mention. I would be writing until next year if I was to write about each one.
I hope you enjoyed the article. If you have a favorite Carcassonne expansion that I didn’t mention, or just want to talk board games, we’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.