So here it is, finally, after all the wait - my favourite game at the moment. I've played this one literally hundreds of times over the last four years or so - and I still love it, truly the sign of an excellent game. I'm sure you've all guessed it by now, judged purely on my session reports, but I'll spell it out for you anyway.
Carcassonne is a light and quick tile-laying and area control game by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It's spawned a host of expansions and a spin-off game, and was the game that brought us meeples.
The good: This is an excellent filler game, once you know what you're doing it can be very quick to play; the tiles are attractive; the meeples are fantastic; meeple stacking gives you something to do while waiting for your turn and it makes a good 'gateway' game to introduce new players to the hobby. The bad: the box design (at least in my version) features an awful illustration and the farmers scoring rules are... complicated.
In Carcassonne, players compete to develop the area around the French city of Carcassonne by building roads, cities and cloisters. The game is based around a set of seventy-two square tiles featuring a combination of roads, city segments and cloisters surrounded by farms. Players take it in turn to pick a random tile from the face-down (or hidden) supply and then play it next to one or more existing tiles such that all the adjacent edges correspond ( i.e. you must place a road edge next to a road edge, a city edge next to a city edge, etc.). Once the tile has been placed the player has the option of placing one of their limited supply of meeples onto one of the elements of the tile they have just placed:
- On a road: When the road is terminated at each end the meeple is returned to the player and they score one point for each tile the road passes through. If the road is unfinished at the end of the game the road scores the same number of points.
- On a city segment: When the city is complete (it is completely surrounded by walls) the meeple is returned to the player and they score two points for each tile the city (partially) covers. Any pennants (small blue and white shields in the corner of a city tile) score an extra two points. If the city is unfinished at the end of the game it only scores half ( i.e. one point per tile & pennant).
- On a cloister: When the cloister is completely surrounded by other tiles return the meeple to the player and they earn nine points. At the end of the game an unfinished cloister earns it's player a point for every adjacent tile plus one.
- On a farm: Farms only score at the end of the game. A farm scores four points for every completed city to which it is connected.
You cannot place a meeple on an element that already has a meeple on it (whether the existing meeple is your own or another player's). However, and this is where the fun begins, you can place a meeple on an unclaimed element nearby and connect the two. When two or more players have meeples on an element the player with the most meeples gets the points - the others get nothing. If it's a tie then all the tied players get the points.
You can play Carcassonne as a friendly game, each player creating their own elements and completing them blissfully in a world of their own, or you can play it aggressively, actively trying to muscle in on other player's elements, or placing tiles in such a way to make your opponent's elements difficult (or even impossible) to score - keeping their meeples tied up on the board. Since each player only has seven meeples and a meeple remains on the board until the element it's claiming is completed, the meeples become a limited resource later in the game as you try to estimate whether or not placing a meeple on the tile you have just drawn is an optimal scoring strategy. There's nothing as frustrating as getting a cloister, with an ideal location to place it in and having no meeples left to claim it.
Because the scoring is done throughout the game and as well as at the end, you're not entirely sure who is going to win, it's fairly common for someone who was lagging behind when the last tile was laid to win once the unfinished elements and farms are tallied. This keeps everyone's interest levels up as they might still be in with a chance.
The edition I bought also came with a free expansion 'The River' which replaces the starting tile with a series of twelve tiles that form a river from spring to lake. This adds an interesting new layout to the game - I probably play with it as much as I do without.
In summary, Carcassonne is a wonderful, elegant game. It's quick, simple and easy to explain. It's a great introductory game for non-gamers and a good filler while you're waiting for others to finish a longer game. On BGG I've given it a 9, but after four years of playing it I still play it remarkably often, so perhaps a 10 might be in order. I'll split the difference and call it 9.5.