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Subject: A definitive glitchy review or an evergreen game and its copious expansions rss

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Chris S
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I sporadically review games...
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As usual in my reviews, I won’t be significantly rehashing the rules here, as those are readily available if people are interested. Instead I will be focusing on my opinion of the game itself, and the various gameplay mechanisms of the game. This review is going to be a little bit different than most reviews in that I am also going to do mini-reviews of all of the expansions for the game that I have played myself. There is a section of these lower down.


Somehow everything can fit into two small planos making for easy travel. One more major positive for the game.

Experience with the game: I’ve played this game for years, and it has been one of the staples of my collection. Upfront I will say I really love this game, and due to the amount of times I’ve played it, and the number of times I have introduced lots of non-gamers, I am not even sure how many times I have played it. It’s one of the few games I own that the expansions get mixed in regularly, and with variety. I am not sure how many times I have played this game actually, I started recording plays a few years ago, but I have played this game for years prior to that time, for a while multiple times a week even. Not sure the total number of plays it is in all. But needless to say my experience with this game is pretty thorough at this point.

Due to the numerous expansions, and my experience having tried… nearly all of them if not all of them, I am going to include a section below detailing my thoughts on the expansion as well, and grouping them into categories for those not yet acquainted with the numerous expansions.

Rules clarity: Carcassonne is easy to learn, and quick to teach. The rules can be learned by a quick read. For the most part it is largely uncomplicated (at a base level at least). The only consideration that takes a small amount of time to fully grasp in terms of the rules (not to mention the strategy of it) is the scoring of fields. That takes a little longer to really get the hang of. Where the game starts getting much more complicated is when you start adding in the different expansions. Each of the individual expansions are not complicated in and of themselves, and are modular, but as you start stacking more and more expansions upon one another they become more and more complicated with more rules.

But the rules always remain clear, just more complicated the more you add to the game.

Components and Art: I have the original version of the game, and I really love the artwork of Doris Matthäus in the game. It is simple, somewhat bland appearing, and it may just be the nostalgia of playing the game so many times, but I really like the original artwork. I don’t have much experience with the new art so I can’t offer much opinion on it. Looking at the pictures online it looks nice, clean, slightly more colorful than the original artwork, but nostalgia or not I still prefer the original artwork. In terms of component quality the game checks all of the boxes. The tiles are nice and thick, well printed in my experience, and the watermarks for all promo tiles (except a few random tiny expansions/promos) are a very welcome addition, especially for reorganizing everything after the game ends. The meeples, well to be honest the meeples are the most recognizable symbol of modern board gaming. Hard to say anything but positives about them.


Meeples from the game are as iconic as anything in any game.

Gameplay: Carcassonne is the type of game that is simple to learn and deceptively light. You simply pick up a tile, and then place that tile, then having the options to place a single meeple on the tile you placed, choosing to either place it on the city, field, road, or monastery according to certain placement rules. Meeples return to your hand when the feature is completed (or in the case of the farmers in the field, they never return to your hand). Management of your meeples is crucial to the strategy of the game.

The simplicity of the game is part of the beauty. And yet despite the seemingly dependence on luck of waiting for the correct tile the game has a depth of strategy. Waiting for a certain tile that you “need” means you have failed to have multiple options open to you at all times. Success in the game is determined by who surveys the entire board and knows just when to sneakily slide in another farmer to the big farm, or when to create a descriptively large farm that goes less noticed, or when to close a city before it gets too enticing for others, or when to choose to send a knight to take another city, or even when to simply score a quick road in order to grab just a few points while helping your own features. There are many decisions to be made with each tile placement, and when to lock up your meeples.

The first couple of games with an experienced player might leave new players thinking farms are unbalanced. It is true that farm management in the game can be extremely powerful. Ignore farms and you are almost certain to lose. But what players learn quickly is that while the big farms make a big splash in the score, spending too much of your resources (meeples) on the fields can leave you without additional scoring options. Suddenly you will draw good scoring tiles (such as a monastery near the end of the game, easy points ready to grab) and yet you will have no meeples to place due to spending too much on the farm.

Each feature in the game has its own degree of strategy and is unique in how and when you want to play it. Cities score high, but near the end of the game the risk of a big city increases as the points are far lower (50% less) when left unfinished. As the game ends you find yourself trying to wrap up these loose ends more and more. Monasteries early in the game lock up a meeple for a long time but score fairly, while later in the game when there are gaps to drop a monastery into their value significantly increases as the amount of time they tie up a meeple is decreased and they score the same value if unfinished at the end of the game (per tile) as they do during the game. Roads also don’t lose value at the end of the game meaning leaving them unfinished is less of a burden. Fields are where the difficult decisions have to be made. A large part of the strategy of the game is sneaking farmers into fields while not overcommitting.


Games can get pretty sprawling with more expansions added.

There are arguments that drawing the single tile leads to too much luck is certainly one that I understand, and I have even played before with the house rule of having a hand of tiles to choose from. While I understand the desire to have a few more choices each turn I prefer the rules as written, with only 1 tile in hand at a time. More tiles increase the analysis paralysis possibility of the game. It takes away from the beautiful simplicity. While I will agree to play it with that variant if people ask for it, I actually prefer the original way of playing.

At first blush the game doesn’t seem to have THAT much player interaction, but it doesn’t take long for players to recognize that the game is actually full of interaction and even direct conflict between players (even without the expansions).

Scalability: With expansions the game pays 2-6 players. I have played it many times at all player counts, and while I think it plays ok at all player counts, I actually prefer to not go above five, or really not above 4 if I can help it. The game starts having a little bit too much down-time for me above 4 and way too much above 5. The interesting thing about the game is that the number of players doesn’t necessarily add much to the length of game since it is determined by the number of tiles. In that sense it is nice that you can play lots of players in about the same time period, the downside is the down time.

Expansion Discussion: I’m including a different section in this review because of the deluge of expansions that have been released for Carcassonne, and the questions new players to Carcassonne encounter when starting. It’s difficult to put the expansions in different categories because they are modular in nature and not all modules are created equal. I’m actually going to break them down by modules below, not expansions alone. In general I try to not add too many modules to any individual playing of the game. There are a few that I ALWAYS play with, and then I occasionally add one for variety.


All of the expansions and the 3 base versions in 2 planos.

Must have modules:

The Phantom-
How often I use this module- Always
Thoughts- It allows a second action whenever the phantom is available to play. It seems to be hard to come by these days but… it’s pretty easy to pick up translucent meeples of the player colors and then using them instead of finding the phantom. The increase of choices while using the phantom is significant.

Inns & Cathedrals-
How often I use this module- Almost always
Thoughts- It adds more decision making for cities and roads. While they can score even higher than normal they also are higher risk. Cathedrals make cities incredibly enticing for other players to get into your cities, and also make cities worthless if not completed. You can even sabotage other player’s cities at the end of the game if you happen to draw a cathedral right at the end of the game. I highly recommend adding this module once you have a good handle on the game.

The Big Meeple-
How often I use this module- Always
Thoughts- This is actually included with the Inns & Cathedrals expansion, but I am separating it out because it is modular and can be payed without any other expansions. It’s simple, a single meeple that counts as two. It makes conflict for farms and cities even more intense, and increases choices about exactly when to use the big meeple, especially in regards to when to put it in a farm knowing that you will lose it for the rest of the game.

The River and River II-
How often I use this module- Always
Thoughts- These make the start of the game much more open, with a river already being down, and also manages to decrease the likelihood of a huge farm forming in the middle of the game. I think both are interchangeable and either is fine. But I am a big fan of this expansion.

Modules that add variety and are worth playing:

Traders-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of the Traders & Builders expansion, it gives incentive for completing cities even if you are not invested in the scoring. I like the twist on mechanics, and the incentives to work on completing things you otherwise would not be interested in. It’s nice to spice up the game.

Builders-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of the Traders & Builders expansion, it actually speeds the game up. You can place the builder in any city or road you already have, and by doing so when you add to that feature you simply get to grab another tile. I like the way it speeds up building large cities and roads. Nice to spice things up, especially if playing with cathedrals.

Bridges-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of Traders & Builders as well as bridges, castles, and bazaars. Gives more options when placing tiles by allowing you three bridge usages which can get you out of a pickle in terms of roads. I actually prefer to use this module, but I have lots of gamers I play with the think it gets confusing and prefer to not use it. Either way it is a nice expansion and a good fit for the game.

The Tower-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- A module that adds serious conflict in the form of wooden towers that can be built around the board. Further down you will see that another module that adds direct conflict I do not recommend. The difference? I like the ability to plan for and watch attacks with the towers, and it gives players an ability to stop the attacks in the form of a high cost- one of their own meeples. Interesting mechanic and one I actually do enjoy including. It just rarely gets added because it seems most other players don’t love it and I think it is a poor choice to introduce to new players.

The Siege-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of the Cult, Siege, and Creativity expansion. These tiles put cities under siege and are an interesting way to counter large cities. I enjoy including them in the game, although they are hard to grab now. Decreases the value of cities while increasing the value of farms. It leads to some interesting decisions. I don’t mind including them.

Vineyards-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of Hills & Sheep, this expansion allows you to add vineyards around monasteries which increases the points monasteries can take. I think of it like Inns and Cathedrals. The difference is I don’t think that the monasteries really need much assistance in being even more worthwhile. But I will include it from time to time.

Shepherds-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of Hills & Sheep, this adds another mechanism to farms. You can add a Shepard to a farm you are farming, and then if you add to that farm you can draw from the bag to see if you manage to get some more sheep to score, or perhaps a wolf! It adds a push your luck element to the game, and it’s an expansion that I enjoy having within the game.

The Labyrinth-
How often I include this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- A very interesting 1 tile addition. It adds no rules, and simply adds one random tile that makes 4 roads into one. I like the variety it brings to the table without adding to the rules or complexity.

Modules I could take or leave:

Castles –
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Part of Traders & Builders as well as bridges, castles, and bazaars. It is fine in that it makes small cities castles which have a slightly higher value, but overall I don’t really care if this is in my game or not. It’s north worth even explaining in my opinion generally.

The Pig-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- Part of the Traders & Builders expansion. The pig increases the value of farms, something I think the game doesn’t really need. Farms have enough value. But if you want even more competition over major farms this is the expansion to add. It changes the strategy of the game though so for variety it is fine to use. That being said I don’t mind it being part of the game. It’s easy to add to the game and fine on it’s own. But I never suggest it being included.

The mini expansion-
How often I use this module- Always
Thoughts- Surprisingly easy to get ahold of considering that it is more of a promo than anything, I like the variety of tiles this adds to the base game and since it is one of the few modules without water marks on the tiles I keep it in with my base game at all times. I enjoy having it in my game though. It also has a very useful tile for the river, with a road around the back to cut out even more the likelihood of the mega-farm.

The festival-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Only included with the special edition 10th anniversary version of the game (but can easily be purchased separately on Ebay) these tiles without buying the base game. Although the special edition also comes with translucent meeples so if you are having trouble getting the Phantom this is one way to get those meeples as well. You get to take meeples back off the board with the festival. I think this is a fine addition to the game. It gives a little more forgiveness for when you know you are losing a farm and you have a worker tied up there but it really isn’t necessary and reduces tension in the game so I can basically take it or leave it.

The Cult-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Part of Cult, Siege, and Creativity and as a separate promo this is only available on the secondary market. Cults serve essentially as a counter to monasteries. They have an interesting mechanic. Games when they are included will be heavy in terms of monastery type play. They are fine to use but I rarely finding myself looking to include them.

Hills-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Part of Hills & Sheep, hills are yet another example of a way to alter the battle for features, most notable large farms and cities. If you claim something on a hill you have the tie breaker. Not a huge change, I can take it or leave it.

The corn circles I & II
How often I use them- Occasionally
Thoughts- An expansion that gives you a couple of options to manipulate the map in a way you normally cannot. Either taking a meeple back that might not be optimized, or adding one to a feature. With experienced players this expansion can add some nice variety to the strategy of the game, and a twist in turns, but it also distracts from the simplicity of the game. I don’t mind rarely throwing it in for variety every now and then.

The School-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Two tiles that replace the original starting tile, as well as a teacher that you take when you complete a road to the school. Then you score the next feature and return it to the school. The expansion only matters for the very first part of the game, and the school depicted has a palm tree, which doesn’t really fit the theme. That being said the tiles were created for a good cause and while the palm tree doesn’t fit the theme of the game it does fit the theme of the charity support. Fun to add for a tiny bit of a change in the early part of the game.

The wind rose-
How often I use this module- Rarely
Thoughts- You score 3 points by placing a wind rose tile down if the tile is placed in the right quadrant. It mildly limits 4 tiles you place during the game for minimal gain. It’s fine to have in the game, but it isn’t really worthwhile to have in the game either. It’s a bit “meh” and it adds to complication of the game for little purpose.

Die Klöster-
How often I include this module- Rarely
Thoughts- Just a fun expansion with German monasteries. It adds nothing else to the game. You will end; up having too many monasteries in the game though with it included.

The Gingerbread Man-
How often I use this module- Occasionally
Thoughts- This is actually for the Winter Edition of the game. I could take it or leave it honestly, but it gets included because there are so few expansions for the winter edition of the game. Which, is a fantastic base version of the game with some unique artwork. I do enjoy using it in the winter time.

Modules that I prefer to not play with:

The Princess & the Dragon-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- While some people might like the conflict this adds, in my opinion the times I have played it leaves me slightly annoyed that it is included and wishing it were not. Sure it adds some direct conflict and the dragon meeple is really cool, I would rather not play with it again.

Mayors-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- part of Abbey & Mayor expansion. The strength of the mayor meeple is determined by the number of pennants. It increases the likelihood of large cities in my experience and while it is an OK expansion I simply don’t think it adds enough value to be worth including in my game. But there is nothing wrong with it, I just like leaving it out.

The Barn-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- part of Abbey & Mayor expansion. When the barn is placed in a farm it must be scored immediately. It allows you to retrieve workers from farms prematurely and adds to a little instability with farms. Sure it helps eliminate super farms that score at the end, but it also can increase the importance of farms during the game and it takes away some of the strategy I like with farms in terms of the careful tension that is created fighting over big farms. It changes the dynamics too much for me.

The wagon-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- part of Abbey & Mayor expansion. It can be moved to adjacent features after being scored. It gives some creative ideas, but I think it adds more complexity than it is worth. Not my favorite.

King and Robber Baron-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- part of the King & Scout expansion. This expansion actually adds some interesting tiles that I have mixed in with the base game (no water marks on them) so I use them in every game. Again these are interesting. But the King and Robber Baron themselves, which really are almost straight from Catan as longest road and biggest city scorers. I have used these a few times and while it can lead to trying to create an even longer road I find it adds a little more work to remember what the last longest road or largest city was for very little addition to the game in terms of fun. So as a result I never use those two tiles.

Wheel of Fortune-
How often I use this module- Almost never
Thoughts- This actually is a stand-alone game as well. It provides a large starting tile that then has a wheel of fortune which dictates things in turns. I find it just increases the randomness in the game without increasing fun. If you are looking to have more random in the game it may be worth getting. If not… I would pass.

Mage & Witch-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- There isn’t anything wrong inherently in this expansion to the game. On paper it seems to work fine. You move the mage or witch from feature to feature during the game and when doing so it will increase or decrease the scoring. But I find it to take away from the enjoyment of the game, much the same was as the princess and the dragon does.

Little Buildings-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- Going with the theme of many of these modules, this module adds some more complexity with little additional fun, but it does also add some decisions, in terms of when to place the buildings during the game. Even though it does add some decisions to the game it simply is not worth including.

Halflings I & II-
How often I include these modules- Never
Thoughts- One of the more unique modules in the game. Half tiles that you start with that can be played instead of drawing a new tile. I have to give credit for the uniqueness of this module without changing the rules much. But that being said I still prefer not to use them because they don’t fit great in the board and they take away from the tile drawing aspect of the game. I will use them if someone is particularly interested in them, but generally I don’t like to include them. But props for them including expansion tiles from even more recent expansions.

Ignore these modules:

The abbey-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- part of the Abbey & Mayor expansion. Sort of a get out of jail free card type expansion. It completes everything around it. I really don’t like this expansion as I think it takes away more important decisions during the game, and gets you out of a bind at the end of the game too quickly.

Bazaars-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- Part of bridges, castles, and bazaars. This adds bazaars that then leads to new tiles being put up right then and used. I don’t like this game primarily because it significantly disrupts the flow of the game with very little fun added to the game. Hard pass, don’t bother.

The Count of Carcassonne-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- Provides a different starting set of tiles, and also significantly changes how the game is played. Honestly it is just a different game with this in play, and as such I strongly dislike using it. I like original Carcassonne, I don’t want substantive changes to it. Others might disagree.

The Catapult-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- This is where Carc jumps the shark. Why is this even an expansion? In my experience it’s not even fun as a dexterity game, and totally distracts from the game. It doesn’t add fun by being crazy, it adds annoyance and a silly poorly thought-out dexterity game.

Creativity-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- Part of Cult, Siege, and Creativity. I’m just not creative enough to use 4 blank tiles very well to good effect. I will pass on ever drawing on my tiles… so they are blank.

The Flying Machines-
How often I use this module- Never
Thoughts- One of the mini-expansions that I find… less than exciting. It adds randomness in the form of a die roll which is unnecessary and complicated meeple placement in a way that only leads to randomness instead of anything of benefit.

The plague-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- Hard to get ahold of anyways, this module adds some real frustration to the game. It is aggressive but generally not in a way that I enjoy.

The Gold Mines-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- One of the mini-expansions. You add gold bars which are then distributed among scoring players when a feature is completed. In my experience this adds nothing of real substance or interest to the game while it does add a layer of rules. Not worth the energy to remember the rules every time one of the tiles is played.

The Ferries-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- Another forgettable mini-expansion, this one having the same problem as the rest, added complexity with limited increase in enjoyment. This time when a road is extended you can change the direction of the ferry associated with it. It’s fine and all, but again, the payoff isn’t worth it.

The Messengers-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- More randomness added to the game, all without any real increase in interesting strategy and extra random actions and points being drawn. I don’t love this addition to the game, in fact I hope to never play with it again.

The Robbers-
How often I include this module- Never
Thoughts- Putting aside the fact that this module has the same name as another module, this one I find particularly distasteful. It adds complexity without really adding increased fun. A theme with the endless onslaught of expansions you might notice. But those one gets slightly more irritating than most, having to place a robber on the scoring board than moving your figure after the robber. Sure it’s easy enough to do, but… is it really fun? And does it really add much strategy? Nope. Hard pass.


Altogether it still looks fantastic on the table.

Final Thoughts: Carcassonne is one of the evergreen games that just keeps going. I have found over the years that it easily lives up to its reputation. It is incredibly easy to learn, and easy to teach. It has a huge amount of strategy available. I have heard many people talk about it being too light or random, but being a fan of deep strategy games I have found that my love for Carcassonne has not lessened over the years. I still deeply enjoy it, and find it full of interesting decisions and strategy. There are way too many expansions to wade through, and some of them are pure garbage, but among those expansions there are some real gems that can add even more variety and decisions to your game. I still highly recommend Carcassonne to anyone. Those new to gaming, and those who are seasoned gamers who just have not tried it yet, somehow. It’s a great game which deserves it’s evergreen status.

Score: 9/10


If you enjoyed my review, see my other reviews here.
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Derek Whaley
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Interesting review overall, and I largely agree with you regarding the expansions, except for the Ferries: I love that expansion! However, you got two things wrong from what I can tell. First, Creativity is only 2 tiles. Second, The Monasteries (Die Klöster) actually have rules – they are not just extra cloisters. And you are supposed to replace the base game's cloisters with the new ones so that you do not have 12 cloisters in a 84 tile game. I highly recommend that you try The Monasteries with the official rules – it is actually quite a game-changer and I enjoy the new mechanic immensely. The rules are on the BGG page for the expansion.

Since you have Siege on your occasionally list, I recommend you track down Besiegers before it is too late. It is a slightly improved version of Siege (better graphics, for sure) which includes six, rather than four, tiles. Have you tried German Castles or German Cathedrals yet? Those also change up the game quite a bit.
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Chris S
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Whaleyland wrote:
Interesting review overall, and I largely agree with you regarding the expansions, except for the Ferries: I love that expansion! However, you got two things wrong from what I can tell. First, Creativity is only 2 tiles. Second, The Monasteries (Die Klöster) actually have rules – they are not just extra cloisters. And you are supposed to replace the base game's cloisters with the new ones so that you do not have 12 cloisters in a 84 tile game. I highly recommend that you try The Monasteries with the official rules – it is actually quite a game-changer and I enjoy the new mechanic immensely. The rules are on the BGG page for the expansion.

Since you have Siege on your occasionally list, I recommend you track down Besiegers before it is too late. It is a slightly improved version of Siege (better graphics, for sure) which includes six, rather than four, tiles. Have you tried German Castles or German Cathedrals yet? Those also change up the game quite a bit.


Creativity is just stored, so I wasn't sure off the top of my head how many tiles are in it. All the same though I'm not creative enough to be worth using for me! In better hands I am sure they are.

Hmm... for some reason I thought they were just replacements. I'll have to try them out eventually.

I have besiegers as well, I just haven't used it much, but I do like it.

I have not tried German castles or cathedrals. I'll have to try them eventually.
 
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Ken
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Thank you for the review. As a new player this is very informative.
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