Game Night Blog Carnival: Carcassonne

This post represents the Athenaeum’s participation in Game Night Blog Carnival, through which RPG Bloggers post a review of a non-RPG game once each month.

Carcassonne: flagship of the ‘Eurogames’ genre

The terms “Eurogame” or “German Board Game” are often applied to a genre of games that aren’t restricted to the traditional model of moving a player’s token along a path of spaces in a racetrack pattern. These games focus on providing players with multiple paths to victory, on keeping all players involved until the end of the game, and on making each play experience as unique as possible.

A prime example of this sort of game is Carcassonne, a tile-based game of German design marketed in the U.S. by Rio Grande Games. Although the basic game was first published 10 years ago, Rio Grande has launched nine mini-expansions and eight full expansions to keep play fresh for even veteran players.

The game was named for the French city of Carcassonne, which is famous for its intact Roman and Medieval fortifications. As different cultures occupied the city in turn, each left an architectural stamp on the city, creating what some have called a randomized look, a randomization portrayed in the game of Carcassonne by cardboard tiles which are randomly placed during the game to form an image of a city that differs with each playing.

The game is played with two to six players. Each player is furnished with eight tiny figures, seven of which are used during play to identify each player’s growing influence in the developing city (the eighth is used for scorekeeping purposes). The other primary game feature is the set of tiles, each of which pictures some representation of city walls, roads, religious cloisters, fields, or a combination of more than one of these elements. A “starting tile” – depicting a portion of city wall, a road and a field, which could easily connect with a cloister – is placed in the center of the table before play begins.

Each player draws a tile on his or her turn and places it orthogonally to create a continuous picture with those tiles already on the table. After a tile is placed, the player usually has an option to place one of his or her figures, called followers in the game rules, on that same tile.

Thus, if a player places a road tile and places a follower on that road, the road becomes that player’s “property” for scoring purposes. The longer that road becomes, the more points the player scores for the road, and no other player can place followers on that road. It therefore is in a player’s best interest to expand roads, cities, fields and cloisters of his own, while trying to place tiles in such a way to limit other players from expanding theirs.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that the style of play tends to change when more players are involved. In a two- or three-player game, it is possible for individual players to create and complete their own roads, cities, etcetera by virtues of the tiles they draw; in games with more players, there aren’t enough tiles for each player to complete these game features, so players tend to negotiate with each other about tile placement, even when it isn’t their turn. Handshake deals with terms like, “I’ll help you finish that city if you’ll help me complete my cloister” are commonly made, and just as commonly broken.

While the basic game is versatile enough to provide for hours of unique game play, Rio Grande has regularly released expansion sets that add more variables to the rules. For example, with The Princess and the Dragon expansion, the placement of certain tiles can bring a dragon into play, which moves when other tiles are placed at key points; if the dragon moves into a tile where a follower has been placed, the follower is eaten, along with a player’s influence on the board. The Tower expansion allows players to take other players’ followers hostage, and prisoner exchanges are required to get one’s followers back.

Even though a game of Carcassonne is different each time by virtue of never having the same tile layout twice, adding the tiles provided by the expansion sets provide thousands of hours of additional gaming, making the game a worthwhile investment.

Next Blog in the Carnival: Roving Band of Misfits

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