Darius I – 73rd Great Khan of the Illustrius Barbarian Horde, Duque San Lorenzo, Marquis de Feltón, Chief of the Zayante, Baron von Whaleyland, Lord Kennedy
Of all the strange expansions Hans im Glück has released for Carcassonne over the past decade, none is stranger in theme than the Crop Circles. Much like Aricola's X-Deck, Crop Circles takes a theme that does not fit with the game and plops it right there for all to see. In the case of Crop Circles, however, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Problem of Aliens in the Middle Ages
* Random Crapiness – The major pitfall of this expansion, like so many others, is that the tiles are random. They get mixed in with the rest meaning players have no control over when a Crop Circle will arrive. They may appear exactly when needed: immediately before a feature gets scored; or at useless times: when no one has yet placed a follower on the featured feature. Luck 1, Skill 0.
* Confusing Symbols – Players who are just getting used to the Crop Circles may scratch their heads at the three symbols representing cities, farmers, and thieves. While the pennant logo is pretty recognizable and the pitchfork can be guessed, the thieves' logo appears more like an actual crop circle than the weapon I can only imagine it is trying to represent. In the end, I don't know what the theives' logo is suppose to be, but since it can't represent a monk, I guess it doesn't matter in the end.
* Less-than-helpful Options – While I understand the concept of abducting and replacing meeples on tiles via Crop Circles, in my experience I have rarely found placing a second meeple on a feature an option. While the rules may read "may place", they may as well just read "must place". This is because if you are fighting for a single feature, then the other player WILL place a second follower on that feature if you do or don't, either to win or maintain the tie. The only exception is if one of the two players is currently fighting for multiple features of the displayed type, which has yet to happen in any of my games when a Crop Circle is drawn. Also, if the player who drew the tile doesn't want to place or remove a follower, they still have to give everyone else the option of placing a second follower, which can be a bit annoying as well.
Help! Aliens Abducted My Meeples!
* All Your Meeples are Belong to Us – Despite all those negative things, I find the ability to force every player to remove a follower from the displayed feature a major win when I drew the tile. It was especially nice when I didn't have anything on that feature-type. Carcassonne doesn't have any force-remove options in the other expansions except in specific cases such as towers and dragons. An effect that affects everyone is a nice change.
* Endless Road – As with other recent expansions, this expansion includes a tile that depicts a three-way continuous road. This marks the third such road (I believe) since Abbey & Mayor introduced the first one. A four-way road appeared in Catapult, almost making the tiles worth the purchase price of the expansion (emphasis almost).
* Doubling Up – Although I am not a huge fan of the doubling-up option, its use aggressively does have its merits. I was the victim of one such use. It was near the end of the game and I had no followers left to place when the last Crop Circles, one affecting cities, appeared. A city that I shared with another player was suddenly far more vulnerable than I had anticipated. Where one moment we were tied, I suddenly found myself in the terrible position of someone who could not double-up my knights while my opponent could. The worst thing: he knew it and his wife was the one who drew the tile. She declared that she didn't want to double-up any of her cities, then he smiled at me as he put a second follower down beside his first, knowing he had not only stolen my city, but just moved into first place. I was second by four points...
This little expansion is quite worth purchasing, were it not only included in the German Carcassonne base game. If you live in Europe, you can email Hans im Glück and they will inform you of how to purchase this expansion separately through their part-replacement service for €5.00. Outside of Europe, you may be out of luck until Rio Grande Games and the other regional publishers get around to releasing the expansion. When it is available, though, definitely pick it up. It includes six "wheat" watermarks to make them stand out from the rest of the expansions (a nice touch for such a small expansion). And for those of you wondering, this six-tile expansion is the smallest official expansion released by Hans im Glück. Technically the Cult, Cathars and Tunnel were smaller, but all were only available as separate expansions from Spielbox. Does this mean Hans im Glück is looking into releasing more small expansions independently of the magazine, or was it just a strange moment in the history of Carcassonne? Who knows, but it's a fun one and definitely worth getting if found cheaply enough.
Compatibility (with other expansions): A
Learning Curve: B+
FINAL GRADE: B+
Carcassonne Small Expansions Ranking
10. Count of Carcassonne
9. The River
8. The King & Robber Baron
7. The Cathers (Siege)
6. The Cult
5. Crop Circles
4. The Tunnel
3. The Mini Expansion
2. The River II
1. The Plague