This is the game that really got me into gaming. I'll give a little backstory before jumping into a review. My wife and I were going to meet some friends for lunch one fateful Sunday. When we got to the restaurant, only two of our friends (we'll call them T&M) were there yet. They were sitting at the table, playing a game that reminded me of Settlers of Catan. They told us it was called Carcassonne, and then they stopped their current game and invited us to play with them. We liked it so much that I ordered it on Amazon that day and it arrived two days later. We later found out that T&M had been introduced to the game the previous Saturday evening by some friends of theirs, and had picked up their copy on their way to lunch on Sunday. After playing a few times, I ordered the first expansion, and later ordered a combined set of expansions from Germany (the instructions were in German, but I printed off an English version).
So I hope that tells you just how much this game made an impression on me. Now I'll talk a bit about the game. I would think most people on BGG are familiar with this particular game, but then, maybe you're newcomers to the genre like I was. Maybe you're here because of how much you liked some game called Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride.
The game is made up of tiles. Tiles that have different features on them - walls, roads, cloisters, or fields. Players take turns placing tiles, making sure the features on the edges match up (you can't have a road just suddenly dissapear, or an unwalled patch of city meet up with a field). They can then place a follower, or "Meeple" on a feature in that tile. When the feature is completed (a city will walls all the way around it, or a road with two endpoints, or a cloister with 8 tiles surrounding it), that feature is scored, and the player gets his Meeple back. With out getting too much into the technical details, there are some nuances - completed cities are worth more than roads, and incomplete features are worth points (less points if they are cities) at the end of the game.
And then there is also farming. A player can put a Meeple on its side on the field portion of a tile. That Meeple will remain there until the end of the game, and will then score 3 points for every completed city that touches its field.
Finally, there is the way in which you can steal (or share) features. You can't place a Meeple on a feature which is currently controlled by another player. However, you can place a Meeple on a feature (a city for example), which is separate at the time, and then try to place tiles so that your feature connects to another player's. If a completed feature has one Meeple from each of two players, those two players get the same score for that feature. But if one player manages to get two Meeples on a feature to another player's one Meeple, he gets all the points for the feature, and the other player gets none.
This introduces a lot of interesting strategy to the game. Do I play multiple Meeples as farmers to try to steal this big field from another player? It could be worth a lot of points in the end, but then I'll have fewer Meeples to work with for the rest of the game. Should I play this tile here to complete my city, or play it over there to connect my field to another player's?
Each player only has one tile in their hand at a time, which has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it means you spend less time on your turn (or waiting for other people's turns), because there are only so many places you can put that tile. But on the other hand, it makes it harder to strategize. You can hope you'll get certain tiles in the future to further a particular scheme or strategy, but you can't guarantee you'll get them.
But one thing I really like about this game is that a lot of scoring takes place at the end (farms and any incomplete features). So during the game, it's not always evident who is winning, or who is going to win. So if you're behind, you don't necessarily feel like the game is over for you. You can enjoy working on your cities, roads, farms, and cloisters, and getting points throughout the game. You might lose in the end, but in my experience (and the experiences of those who have played with me), the game is still really fun.
It is still possible for two players to gang up on a third, or for players to spend a lot of tiles sabotaging other players. But we don't really play that way, so that hasn't been much of an issue for us.
I won't get into the expansions much, other than to say that there are several expansion that are really fun. Some enhance the game, and some totally change it.
OVerall, I heartily recommend Carcassonne.