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Game Design Essentials: 20 Real-World Games

August 12, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 12 of 21 Next

11. Carcassonne 

Published by Hans im Glück, Rio Grande Games and 999 Games

Type: Two to four player tile-placing, territory-claiming game.

Depth: Moderate

Designed by: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Luck factor: Moderate

Description: The players jointly construct a land; before their eyes and through their efforts, a small kingdom sprawls forth across the table. Each tile contains portions of various terrain features that players try to connect with the tiles already laid down, in order to expand or complete regions.

When placing a tile, players may claim part of a region for themselves. Increasing the size of these regions, making sure they get completed before the end of the game, and minimizing the size of other players' regions, these are the primary objectives of a game of Carcassonne.

Play Summary

Carcassonne is another of those German-style games that prohibits direct attacks between players, but in which indirect battling is a strong aspect of the game.

The game begins with a single tile. Each turn a player picks a tile at random and then must place it somewhere touching a tile already placed. Tiles much match terrain with all edges touching it. Players may also choose to place one of their limited number of followers, or "meeple," on part of the tile placed. Since tile sides must match, terrain features tend to spread out into large, contiguous shapes. Placed meeple score depending on the size, type and adjacency of features "claimed" by placement.

Completed -- that is, bordered on all sides -- terrain usually results in immediate scoring, a score bonus, and return of the follower for use elsewhere. Incomplete features still score at the end of the game. Followers cannot be directly placed in a region already claimed, but strategic placement can still result in regions with multiple meeple. In these cases the player with the most meeple gets the points for the area and the others get nothing. Follower ties score for all tied players.

In basic Carcassonne, there are four types of terrain that score.

  • Cities are spacious areas that score for every tile in the city, as well as for having special city features called pennants inside them, and score double if completed. Completing a city means finishing the wall around it, so they can be fairly tricky to complete since they can spread out in four directions.
  • Roads only spread in two directions, and many things terminate roads, making them a good source for quick points without high meeple overhead. They score for tiles in the road but do not double when finished. When a road is finished, any meeple on the road are also returned to their players.
  • Chapels are one-tile features that score solely for adjacent tiles placed. Since the chapel itself is only a single tile, they cannot be stolen by intruding players, but neither do they provide as large a point income as for cities. If all the adjacent spaces are filled, a chapel's meeple is returned to the player, but it doesn't score double. Chapels can only be claimed by the placing player, so they require some luck to use.
  • Fields score nothing for field size, but score three points for every complete city touching the field. Completing a field doesn't score anything special and does not result in the return of a meeple; field meeples remain the rest of the game. Since fields often end up becoming huge and touching many cities this can provide a huge end-of-game bonus, making fields a prime target for thievery. Figuring out how to join fields is an important skill.

Tiles drawn from the pool must be placed if possible, even if it would be against the player's interests. It is possible to be forced to complete an opponent's city or road, scoring him points.

New meeple can only be placed on new face-down tiles, and only on the placing player's turn. And a meeple cannot be placed on a tile so that he would claim an already-occupied feature. This sometimes results in a run of bad luck for a player not getting the tile he needs to complete an area, or to claim a feature he wants.

Although meeple can't be placed in already-owned features, players can place tiles so that they connect two owned regions. Ties for the most meeple in a region score in full for all the tied players; if one player has more meeple than the others, then only he scores. The game's strategy revolves around figuring out how to sneak followers into features, so as to lessen or even nullify an opponent's scoring advantage.

An especially devious strategy is to place tiles around the spots needed to complete an opponent's region so as to make it difficult or impossible to complete. Incomplete cities, roads and chapels lock up claiming followers until they are finished, and cities also score much less. Each player only has seven meeple in the standard game, and meeple must be placed to score points, so this can easily be a decisive strategy, although it requires some tile-drawing luck.

Memorizing the number of tile types that have all of city, road and field edges and keeping track of which ones have been played, with an aim of knowing how easily an important region may be completed, is a good play technique. This is especially so in conjunction with placing tiles around a spot that must be filled to complete a region, for the more tiles adjacent to an empty spot, the more edges that must match if a tile is to be placed there.

The dynamics of most games change drastically with the switch from two to three players, and as a consequence most German-style games support three players at a minimum. Carcassonne is one of the relatively few games of this style that not only allows for two player games, but may actually be better that way.

Tying your opponent for feature occupancy is a much more potent tactic with only two players, since if both players score for an area the net gain is nil, while in a game with more players both will still receive a score advantage relative to their other opponents.

What can we draw from this game?

Oh, lots. In addition to the instructive change in the nature of the game from two players to three, Carcassonne is a territory-acquisition game with no combat mechanism at all. Tactical combat is arguably overused in computer gaming, so much so that a multiplayer game that doesn't feature it seems almost like a different kind of creature.

Note: Players who are already familiar with Carcassonne would do well to consult the Wikipedia page on the game, which notes significant scoring rules that have changed between editions.

Article Start Previous Page 12 of 21 Next

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