Thoughts on the Carcassonne expansions
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Carcassonne.

Since I bought it I've repeatedly said it was the best $20 I have ever spent on a game, and I still feel that way, though my Crokinole board may be my best gaming value.

There is always a lot of discussion as to which expansion(s) people prefer when playing Carcassonne and new players are always asking for advice as to which one they should buy first. So, I decided to make a Geek List which might help people decide which expansions they want an which I could refer people to when then the question comes up in the forums.

I prefer playing the base game with just one expansion at any time and will often lobby to reduce the expansions used down to just one. Adding more than that can cause the game to last far too long. I also believe it works best as a three- or four-player game and playing with more can also cause the game to drag on way too long for what it is.
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1. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:179] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne
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The game which started it all.

It was initially released by Rio Grande in a new box size and for $20 MSRP the same time as Corsairs. I was only going to buy one of them at that time and was leaning towards Corsairs, but the comments I read about it being about "vegetable pirates" made me believe it would be easier to get people to play Carcassonne. It was a wise choice.

I played a two-player game of it with a friend right after I bought it and was immediately hooked! Since then there have been four large expansions, five small expansions, and five other Carcassonne games produced.

I'm going to assume that everyone reading this is familiar with the basic play of Carcassonne, so I won't go into details of how it plays like I will with the expansions.

It's an terrific tile-laying game which plays in 30 to 45 minutes and is easy to explain to new players. The farm rules can be difficult for players to grasp, but really aren't that difficult. The real issue with the farms seems to be the amount of points they score. This never bothered me and I always considered the farms a major tactical issue which constantly had to be addressed during the game.
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2. Board Game: Carcassonne: The River [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: The River
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The first expansion was a giveaway which was later, and is still, included in the Rio Grande editions of the game. I was initially a big fan of it, but after several plays decided I'd rather not use it because the play felt the same game after game while not really adding much to it.

I've heard that one of the thoughts behind The River was it was intended to break up, or prevent large farms. I haven't seen that result in my playing using it and recall as many large farms when using it as there are when it isn't used.

If the other players want to use it, I will acquiesce because I don't dislike using it and don't feel it hurts the game.
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3. Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals
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It was originally called Carcassonne: The Expansion, but the name was later changed. I guess the expansions were even more successful than anyone had hoped?

A lot of people like this the best of all the expansions. Not me.

I like having the gray meeples, especially since I know a couple of red/green colorblind people and they make a better color choice when playing with them. Playing with six players is just too many and can make the game drag on too long.

The real weakness of this expansion is it makes getting in on the farms even more important because the two Cathedral tiles can be used to poison cities by making them harder to complete and worth nothing at the end of the game. If a city is harder to complete, then your meeple is stuck in the city and not scoring points for you for a longer period of time. For those not familiar with the expansion, the Cathedral tiles are four-sided city tiles with a large church in the center:

Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals


When a Cathedral is part of a city it makes the tiles and pennants in the city worth one more point each when the city completes. However, if the city doesn't complete then the city is worthless instead of being worth one point per tile and pennant at the end of the game.

The other new map feature in the game is the Inns. These are next to some of the road tiles:

Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals


They operate much like Cathedrals, but for roads. Instead of being worth one point per tile, completed roads with Inns score two points per tile, but are worthless at the end of the game if they are incomplete. I'm neutral when it comes to using them. Not scoring roads at the end of the game is not as big an issue as it is with cities and the Cathedrals because closing off a road is usually much easier than closing off a big city. Players also tend not to put Inns on other player's roads as often as the Cathedrals are put on cities, probably because the road is more likely to complete and the player who scores it will get double the points.

This expansion also adds the large meeple, which counts as two regular meeples when figuring out if a player controls a feature or has to share it. I like it.

I also believe the 10 non-Inn/Cathedral tiles in the game are really nice. I like what they add to the mix and probably should just pull them out and toss them into the Carcassonne box.

It sounds like I am very down on the expansion. I'm not. I just feel it is the weakest of the bunch and it will probably not see much play for me because I would rather use one of the other expansions when I have the chance. When playing with it, I know to do my best to keep my cities as small as possible and concentrate more on getting in on the big farm(s).
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4. Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 2 – Traders & Builders [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 2 – Traders & Builders
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This is my favorite of the expansions.

The first noticeable addition is the bag for the tiles. Some love using it, some prefer stacking the tiles, and some just draw out of the box top. I'm in the pro-bag group.

The real strength in the expansion is it encourages players to close cities which they won't get immediate points for. It's a concept which was introduced by the bonus tiles in Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers and is handled here by the trade goods. When a player places a tile which completes a city they claim the tokens which represent the Trade Goods which are available in that city as marked on the tiles. At the end of the game, the player with the most of each type of good scores 10 points for having the most of a particular good and players tied for the most each will all score the ten points. There are nine wine (barrels), six grain, and five cloth goods in the game.

The biggest addition feels to me like a reaction to adding the Cathedral tiles in the previous expansion. The Builder is a new meeple that you place on a city or road on which you already have a normal (or big) meeple. In later turns, if you add a tile to the feature which the Builder is on, you get to draw another tile and play it immediately. You only get one extra tile each turn, so you can't keep drawing tile after tile while the other players sit by and watch.

The Builder makes completing cities and roads a little easier because you can get those extra tile draws, which also makes completing a city with a Cathedral tile in it easier because of the extra chances you could get to draw tiles.

The Pig meeple is like the Builder in that it is places on a feature which a player already has a meeple. In this case, it is placed on a farm which a player already has a farmer meeple. At the end of the game, each city the field the Pig is in is bordering scores an additional point for it's owner. This makes farms a little more powerful, but doesn't tip the scales too much into the direction of the farms. I don't mind the Pig and could live without it but use it since it is part of the expansion.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen in this expansion is a different tile mix. There are 24 tiles and 22 of them have city sections, which is to be expected because 20 of them have to have Trade Good icons on them. I would have liked to have seen a few more non-city tiles even though several of the city tiles have roads exiting the city which is good for using to break up farms.

It is my favorite way to play Carcassonne and will usually be my first choice when the game is suggested.
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5. Board Game: Carcassonne: King & Scout [Average Rating:6.60 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.60 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: King & Scout
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The fist of the small expansions commercially available in the U.S. (The River was initially a limited promotional item). It is actually two expansions in one. The "Scout" expansion is five tiles for Carcassonne: Hunter and Gatherers and the "King" is seven tiles for Carcassonne.

I dislike this expansion. The five tiles which are meant to be added to the regular tile mix are nice but not necessary. My real dislike comes from the other two tiles which are used to represent the King and the Robber Baron. These work the same way in the game, but on different features.

The player who completes the largest city takes the King tile and puts it in front of him. It stays there until someone completes a bigger city, then they get the King tile. The Robber Baron works the same way, but with roads. At the end of the game, the player with the King tile scores one point for each completed city and the player with the Robber Baron scores one point for each finished road. This can mean a lot of points for the player controlling each of these personalities, which always feels like the rich get richer scoring.

The real pain in the butt is the extra bookkeeping required by adding the two tiles. The size of the largest city and road needs to be recorded/remembered throughout the game and it always seemed like we'd have to go back and do recounts to see if one of the tiles should have changed hands.

To sum it up, the Carcassonne part is not necessary to own and really just seems to bog things down during the game and the bonus scorings may be unbalancing at the end of the game.
 
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6. Board Game: Carcassonne: The Count of Carcassonne [Average Rating:5.96 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.96 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: The Count of Carcassonne
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Another small expansion. This one has twelve tiles and a wooden Count meeple.

The twelve tiles are used to replace the start tile but can still be used in conjunction with The River. The tiles represent the city of Carcassonne and has four town quarters: the Castle, the Market, the Cathedral, and the Blacksmith. The Count starts in the Castle.

If a player places a tile which causes other players to score points, and they player placing the tile doesn't score anything, then the placing player may take one of their meeples from the supply and place it in one of the four quarters of Carcassonne. They may then choose to move the Count to any section of Carcassonne.

When a feature completes during the game, a player may move one of their meeples from the corresponding quarter of Carcassonne onto that feature before the majority is determined. The meeples in the city may be moved from the city to the feature being scored.

1. Meeples in the Castle quarter may move to a city being scored.
2. Meeples in the Blacksmith quarter may be moved onto a road.
3. Meeples in Cathedral quarter may be moved onto a cloister.
4. Meeples in the Market quarter can be moved onto a farm.

Meeples may not be moved from the section of town which the Count currently occupies.

I didn't like this expansion that much. The ability to jump into a feature which is owned by another player is against the basic game play of Carcassonne and really changes how the game is played, and not for the better.
 
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7. Board Game: Carcassonne: Die Katharer [Average Rating:6.93 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.93 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Die Katharer
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The smallest expansion, even smaller than the "King" part of Carcassonne: King & Scout, it is four tiles which were initially given away with an issue of Spielbox magazine in Germany, and later included in Der Carcassonne Almanach, which was published by Spielbox.

Each of the four tiles shows a city under siege and has what appears to be a monk icon on it:

Board Game: Carcassonne: Die Katharer


Any city with one of these tiles now only scores half points when completed and an incomplete city is worthless. However, completed cities which include one or more Katherer tiles are worth double points to the farmer(s) which supply them.

Meeples in the city may be removed if there is a monastery directly adjacent to the Katherer tile. The player may remove one meeple from the city at the end of their turn and return it to their supply.

It doesn't add a whole lot to the game, but it doesn't break anything, either. I got mine for a great price (free) and wouldn't recommend paying much for it unless you are a completist.
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8. Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 3 – The Princess & The Dragon [Average Rating:6.76 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.76 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 3 – The Princess & The Dragon
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The third boxed expansion is my second favorite of the bunch. It adds four new elements to the Carcassonne.

The Magic Portals are slightly reminiscent of The Count of Carcassonne. When one of the six tiles with a Magic Portal is drawn the player may either place a meeple on that tile or on any other incomplete feature which isn't already occupied. This is really useful because of the nature of the Princess and Dragon parts of the expansion. It is also does not feel as unfair as the rules in The Count of Carcassonne because a player cannot occupy a feature which already is occupied.

Next are the six city tiles which have a Princess icon on them. When placed on a city which has one or more meeples on it, the player placing the tile must remove one of the meeples already in the city and may not place on the tile. If no meeples are removed, then the placing player may place their meeple normally. These tiles encourage players to try closing their cities off before they get too big and draw the attention of the other players who will be looking to boot them out of the city if possible.

Third, there is the Dragon which is represented by a large wooden Dragon meeple. The Dragon is brought onto the board any time one of the six tiles with a Volcano is drawn. If the Dragon is already in play, it is then moved to the Volcano tile. The player placing the Volcano tile may not place a meeple. There are also 12 tiles which have a Dragon icon on them. When they are drawn and placed, the Dragon moves. Beginning with the player who placed the tile, each player moves the Dragon one space orthogonally until the Dragon has moved six spaces. It may not move onto a tile which it had already occupied this turn. If it moves onto a tile occupied by a meeple, that meeple is removed from the board and put back into the player's supply.

This Dragon can be very useful in keeping the farm wars even, but might also turn the tide in the favor of one player or another. Again, it is something that encourages people to complete their scoring chances as soon as possible and makes it a bit of a gamble to let the roads and cities get too big. There is protection from the Dragon, however.

The Fairy is the final element introduced in this expansion. It is represented by a small white meeple with a pointy head. A player may place the Fairy on a tile with one of their meeples if they do not place a meeple after placing a tile. If the Fairy is still on the tile with their meeple at the beginning of their next turn, the player will score one point. If the Fairy is on the tile with the meeple when the feature scores, that player gets a bonus of three points.

The biggest advantage to the Fairy is the Dragon cannot move onto the same tile as the Fairy. This protects the meeple on the tile from it. Sometimes you have to decide on whether or not to place a meeple or to move the Fairy to protect another meeple.

Overall, I like the changes in game play The Princess & The Dragon creates. When mixed with other expansions, the Dragon is far less effective since there are so many other tiles on the board that it is harder to place it in such a way that it will be able to remove many, if any meeples.

I played it once using The River, Inns & Cathedrals, and Traders & Builders and I believe the Dragon only managed to eat one meeple the entire game and the Fairy seemed to be the most useful part of the expansion at the time.

This is being played the most right now because it is Padawan's favorite expansion and I usually play Carcassonne when she is around.
 
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9. Board Game: Carcassonne: The River II [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: The River II
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This is another River expansion which can be used by itself or combined with The River. It includes an Inn from Inns & Cathedrals, a tile with a Pig Herd that works like the Pig from Traders & Builders, and a Volcano on the River-ending lake tile which gets the Dragon in play immediately. There is also a fork, so the river can split into two branches.

There are two rules additions. First, the tile with the Pig Herd scores an additional point per city to the player(s) which owns the farm which it is part of. This point is in addition to the point a player might score with the Pig.

The player who places the lake tile with the Volcano gets to draw an additional tile to start the game to make up for them not being able to place a meeple on the lake tile.

I haven't played a game which we've used The River II but it seems like it would add some variety to the same old set-up that bored me with The River. I also like that it brings the Dragon into play immediately. I really need to try this out sometime in the near future.
 
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10. Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 4 – The Tower [Average Rating:6.57 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.57 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 4 – The Tower
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At the beginning of the list I stated that I prefer to play with just one of the expansions at a time. Playing with The Tower like that may have been a mistake. I decided to trade or sell my copy of it half way through the first playing. I did double-check to make sure that we were playing it correctly and that we didn't miss anything. First, a description of the game.

Not only is it an expansion to the game which modifies the play of the game, it also comes with a large cardboard Tower which is meat to be used as a distribution point for the tiles during the game. There are two columns in the Tower which is meant for the tiles to be stacked up them and then the players can draw tiles from either stack. We didn't use it the time I played this, but I have seen comments that you can see the edges of the tops of the tiles and may be able to get an idea of which tile would be best for you to draw.

There are 18 tiles which have Tower bases pictured on them and 30 wooden Tower pieces. Each player starts the game with the same number of Tower pieces which is dependant on the number of players.

When a player draws a tile with the Tower base they may place a meeple as normal, or add a wooden Tower piece to that Tower.

On any player's turn, they may choose to add a level to any Tower on the board instead of placing a meeple as they normally would. They may also choose to put one of their meeples on top of any Tower, thus preventing anyone from adding to the height of the Tower but also keeping that meeple out of the game.

Why would someone want to add a level to the Tower? After placing a piece on the Tower, the player who placed the piece may now capture the meeple of another player, taking it off the board and putting it in front of them. The player may capture a meeple which is within a number of orthogonal spaces equal to the height of the Tower. So, if the Tower were two blocks high, the player who placed the second block may capture any one meeple belonging to another player that was within two spaces either horizontally or vertically from the Tower.

If a player captures a meeple of another player who had previously captured one of their meeples, they then do a prisoner exchange and each gets their meeple back from the other player. A player may, on their turn, choose to pay three victory points to another player who is holding one of their meeples prisoner. The meeple is given back to the owning player in exchange for the victory points.

Why did this expansion fall so flat when we played it? The number of Towers on the board was excessive when played with only the base set and no other expansion. It was almost impossible to score anything, unless you drew the tile which closed out a feature and were able to place a meeple on it then score. We played at least a third of the available tiles and none of the three of us had scored even 10 points. It sucked the fun right out of the game.

It seems as if the mix of tiles and number of Tower blocks might have been play tested using more than just it and the base set. The effect of the Towers might be reduced if there are a bunch more tiles added to the game and there might even be a spaces which are free from the reach of the Towers. Even saying that, I can't believe that I would ever want to play using this expansion again. I'm happy I was able to trade it away.
 
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11. Board Game: Carcassonne: Promo Tiles [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Promo Tiles
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A free 12-tile expansion which came in issue 11 of Games Quarterly magazine (Winter 2006).

They are mostly tiles in a configuration which hasn't been seen before. You only need the base game to use 10 of them, and the other two are for use with The River.

The most notable tile is the all-field tile with what looks to have a pig herd on it like one of the tiles from The River II. According to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games, it isn't a pig herd and is just a field tile.

The tile I like the best is the new spring for The River, which has a road leading off it which should make having a super-large farm encompassing both sides of the river less of an issue.

This expansion really doesn't add a tremendous amount to the game, but is nice to have if you want a little more variety in your tiles. The magazine retails for $4.95, which is the same price range as the smaller expansions, so it is a good buy if you want the tiles.
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12. Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 5 – Abbey & Mayor [Average Rating:7.12 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.12 Unranked]
Board Game: Carcassonne: Expansion 5 – Abbey & Mayor
Bobby Warren
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Glendale
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12/14/07 (modified 12/27/07 after three playings)

So far it is only a description of what the expansion adds. After I get to play it a couple more times I will fill in the entry with my opinions on this, the fifth large expansion.

It comes with 12 new tiles, 6 Abbey tiles, and three new meeple types for each player.

Each player gets one Abbey tile which they can place on their turn instead of drawing and placing a tile. The Abbey can only be placed in a hole on the board which already has tiles on all four sides of it. It counts as an end of any feature it touches and allows those features to be completed.

The Mayor meeple (a.k.a. M.C. Meeple You can't touch him!), is a little taller than a standard meeple and looks like it wearing balloon pants. The Mayor is placed like any other follower, except it can only be placed in a city. When the city scores, the Mayor counts as a number of followers equal to the number of shields in that city. Yes, that means it counts as zero followers if there are no shields in the city.

The Wagon meeple counts as a follower which can be placed on a road, cloister, or in a city. When the feature is completed and scored, the Wagon counts as one follower may move to an adjacent, incomplete, unoccupied feature.

The Barn is placed on an intersection of four tiles that is only field segments on those corners. It causes all the farmers on the farm to immediately score three points for each completed city and those farmers are returned to their owners. If any other farm with farmers joins a farm with a Barn, those farmers score one point per completed city and are returned to their owner. A farm with a Barn on it is considered occupied and no new farmers or Barns can be added to that farm. At the end of the game any completed city adjacent to the farm the Barn is on scores four points.

I generally like the expansion though it does make meeples awfully plentiful and that might not be a good thing.
 
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