Carcassonne Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide

The beautiful medieval walled city of Carcassonne is steeped in culture and history. What better way to commemorate it than in a board game?

It’s stood tall upon its hilltop in France since the Romans manned the city’s walls but does the boardgame do the city justice? 

Let’s step through the gatehouse and find out. 

Carcassonne
  • Completely redesigned rulebook to make learning the game easier
  • Introduces the Abbot mini-expansion and a new version of the...
  • Game and expansions have sold over 10 million copies worldwide

Brief Overview of Carcassonne

Carcassonne Board Game

Carcassonne is a tile-laying board game in which players take turns placing a tile onto a larger playing field. They then have the option to place one of their meeples onto a feature of the tile that they just put down like a road, field, or city. 

When a feature containing a meeple is completed (i.e. the road doesn’t just run off the tile) the meeple is returned to the owner and points are scored based on how many tiles the feature connects. 

For whatever reason, this game always seems way more complicated and intimidating than it is. It’s very easy to learn and is considered one of the better gateway games for newer players. 

Versions & Expansions

Carcassonne Expansion 1: Inns & Cathedrals

There are heaps and heaps of expansions for Carcassonne. Each one adds new ways to score but there’s a lot that drastically changes up the gameplay. It’s even available to play on Steam.

Some have a wandering dragon complete with a damsel in distress. There’s one where the circus comes into town and acrobatic meeples stack up into human pyramids. They even add ways where you can directly attack other players, going against the original roots of a Euro-style game if your players are a bit more competitive. 

There are also some really weird ones like the Catapult Expansion that comes with a makeshift catapult to fling things across the room.

Expansions get a little weird from there. 

If you’re looking for some guidance on the world of expansions and my top picks you can check out our Carcassonne Expansion guide here

Unboxing Carcassonne

Carcassonne Board Game

What’s in the box?

  • 12 river tiles
  • 72 regular tiles
  • 40 meeples (8 of each color)
  • 5 abbot meeples (1 of each color)
  • 1 scoreboard
  • 1 rulebook

The newer edition is basically identical to the older versions of the game. The other difference is the publisher, Z-Man Games. They did upgrade the components a bit so they do feel sturdier. Other than that, they’re completely the same and compatible with every other version.

So if you manage to find a really cheap used version that comes in a different box somewhere know that it’s basically the same game. It probably won’t come with the River or the Abbot expansions because the older versions are pretty hard to find. Most of the time when you see the base game it’ll be the newer version that’s bundled.

How to Play Carcassonne

Carcassonne Board Game

The rulebook for Carcassonne is very well written. It makes it very easy to learn and reference when you’re looking for the different scoring methods. That being said, I’ll only touch on a bit of the basics to give you an idea of how the game works. 

The Basics

There’s one starting tile mixed into the bunch that has a darker-colored backing. This is the starting tile. The first thing you need to do is set the starter tile in the middle of the playing area. This is the beginning of your Carcassonne map. 

The first player draws a tile and places it somewhere connected to the starter and it must match up with the different features. You can’t have a road suddenly stop in the middle of the field. Each tile feature is designed so that they fit with the others somehow. If you ever get to the point where a tile doesn’t fit anywhere, then you remove it from the game and draw another. 

After the tile has been placed, the player may then choose to place a meeple on a feature of the tile he/she just placed. This is how you score points. Features can include monasteries, roads, fields, and cities. You can’t place a meeple on a feature that another player already occupies. 

Lastly, you see if the tile placed finished any adjoining features. They get scored and the owners get their meeples back.

Not too hard right?

  1. Draw a tile
  2. Place a tile
  3. Place a meeple on that tile (optional)
  4. Score

Boom! 4 easy steps. 

Scoring

There’s quite a few ways to score in Carcassonne. It can seem a little intimidating at first but I guarantee you it makes sense. 

The rulebook even breaks up the different scoring methods by basic and supplementary. I highly suggest for your first game to just use the basic rules to get the lay of the land. It’ll make it much easier to follow.

You can score points in Carcassonne by placing meeples on different parts of the tiles. Once that particular part has been completed by surrounding tiles the meeple is removed from the board, its points are tallied up, and the meeple returns to the owner. 

The different tile features or spots that a meeple can be placed are:

  • Cities
  • Roads 
  • Monasteries

This is for the basic setup of the game. With the base game there’s actually a few more ways to score and places to set down your meeples. 

Cities score based on the final size of the completed city. You could start out with a tiny little crescent piece on a tile and end up building it out into a giant metropolis of points. 

Roads are scored based once they have a complete start and endpoint. They are worth more points the longer they are. 

Monasteries are scored based on the number of tiles that surround them. If there’s a full 8 tile surrounding a monastery it’s considered complete and can be scored. 

Keep in mind, they’re only worth full points if the features are completed. They’re worth significantly less if they’re left hanging in the wind. 

Winning & End Game

The end game is triggered when the last tile is placed. Don’t flip the table just yet. There’s a round of scoring still left to do. 

Anything left unfinished is still paid out in points but it’s going to be fewer points. In the supplementary rules and other expansions, there are other bonuses here that can score a significant amount of points but only at the end of the game. 

Everyone will need to tally up their final score and a winner is determined.

Yay!

Your First Game of Carcassonne

Carcassonne Board Game

Don’t let this happy little game of tiles and meeples fool you. There’s a very… opportunistic approach to the game that can be a little rage-inducing or have you end up sleeping on the couch. 

Beginner mistakes

One of the major aspects of the game is “betting” on whether or not you’ll be able to finish the features on a tile. An easy way to score points is to steal halfway completed features away from your opponents. If someone is building out a big city, put your own piece of city nearby and try to connect them.

You can’t place your scoring meeples on a feature someone else has claimed but there’s nothing saying you can’t build near them and connect them later. It’s actually encouraged. 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Zero player elimination
  • Great gateway game

Cons:

  • Quiet (not a ton of social interaction)

Being a quiet game isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I look at board games as social experiences and Carcassonne ends up being a rather quiet affair. Most players end up spending a lot of time looking over the board and players tend to spend most of their time looking at the different opportunities on the tiles.

TL;DR

Carcassonne is a simple tile-laying game that you’ll find yourself playing round after round. It’s one of those games that is never brought out for just one game.

It’s easy to learn and a fun diversion. 

Conclusion: Verdict?

My intro is a bit misleading. The actual walled city of Carcassonne and the game don’t really have a whole lot in common other than the inspiration for the artwork. 

The real question is, “Is it worthy of holding a spot on your game shelf?”

That’s a resounding yes. Carcassonne will definitely hit the game table more often than not. It’s a perfect game to pull out and start playing when you have 15 or 20 minutes to wait for a pizza or it’s a great appetizer to something bigger. 

Another fantastic aspect is the portability of the game itself. If you’re crafty you can make a cloth bag that fits everything into a neat little on-the-go tote and it does double duty as a draw bag. Some of the later expansions come with an official Carcassonne cloth bag that works just as well.

We’ve taken our copy on with us while travelling and flying and it’s perfect to find a quiet spot in the airport to play a game. 

There’s quite a variety in the base sets and a rather large number of expansions. Carcassonne will keep you entertained for years to come. 

Carcassonne
  • Completely redesigned rulebook to make learning the game easier
  • Introduces the Abbot mini-expansion and a new version of the...
  • Game and expansions have sold over 10 million copies worldwide

What’s your thoughts on Carcassonne? We’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

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Stats at a glance

Players: 2-5

Ages: 7 +

Easy

30-45 Mins

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Published: 2000