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Carcassonne is one of the titles that pulled me into tabletop gaming about a decade ago. Sure, I’d always liked games as a kid and I played various board and card games, but it was Carcassonne that really hooked me. It’s the game that led me to BoardGameGeek, a huge rabbit-hole that I’m still exploring now.
While it’s not one that hits the table often these days, I’ve always got a virtual game or two of Carcassonne on my iPhone—the app is still, in my opinion, the gold standard for board game apps, and well worth the price.
There’s a new version of the base game out now—although the box just says “Carcassonne,” there are a few differences: most apparent is the new artwork for the tiles, though the gameplay is largely the same. The main difference in gameplay is the Abbot mini-expansion, which is only available as part of this base set, so if you already own Carcassonne you’ll have to decide if it’s worth replacing your old set.
At a glance: Carcassonne is a tile-laying game for 2 to 5 players, ages 7 and up, and takes about 35 minutes to play. It retails for $34.99. The age rating is pretty good—I know some kids start playing at 6 or 7, but it’s also great for adults.
- 72 Land tiles
- 12 River tiles
- 1 scoreboard
- 40 meeples (8 each in five colors)
- 5 Abbot meeples (in 5 colors)
OK, so the “meeples” I’m referring to are technically called “followers,” and you won’t find the word “meeple” anywhere in the rules. Still, these little wooden people have long been called meeples by the boardgaming community, so I’m sticking to that term.
The Abbot looks kind of like a chess bishop, with robes and a tall hat.
The tiles are 1.75″ square, and punch out really cleanly. The backs still use the same design as before so the set is compatible with any existing Carcassonne sets you may already have. The artwork on the front of the tiles, however, has been redone. It still looks similar, but the walls now have blue-roofed towers instead of red, and some of the tiles have colorful flower gardens in the fields. Aside from that, there are subtle differences in the artwork but it still matches the original sets pretty well.
How to play
You can download a copy of the rulebook as a PDF here. Since Carcassonne isn’t a new game, I’ll give a very brief overview here without getting into too many details.
The goal is to score the most points by the end of the games, when the tiles run out.
Each player takes all of their meeples and puts one on the scoreboard. The starting tile is set in the center of the table (or the river source if you’re using the included River expansion).
On your turn, you draw a tile and place it anywhere so that it matches any edges that it’s touching. Then you may place one of your meeples on that tile—meeples may be placed on roads, in cities or monasteries (formerly known as cloisters), or in the fields, but only if nobody already occupies that feature. Then, if any features are completed, those features score points and the meeples on those features are returned to their owners.
Farmers (meeples placed in the fields) only score at the very end of the game, and award points based on the number of completed cities their fields touch. Other features get partial scoring if they’re incomplete at the end of the game.
The new feature included in this base set is the Abbot. Each player has one Abbot meeple. Some of the tiles now have little flower gardens in the fields. An Abbot may be placed either in a monastery or in a flower garden when you play that tile (instead of placing a meeple as usual). Flower gardens score the same way as monasteries—when it is surrounded by 8 tiles, you score 9 points and remove the Abbot.
However, there’s an additional ability: on a subsequent turn, if you do not play a meeple on your turn, you may optionally take back your Abbot and get partial scoring on the monastery or flower garden immediately.
One other note: In the older rules, I believe that farms did not extend around the source of the River, but I didn’t spot that rule here. It’s a minor rule change, removing a rule that was often forgotten, but veteran players should note that it makes getting a farm at the source of the river a little more advantageous.
And now, a musical interlude:
If you have never played Carcassonne, I highly recommend it. It’s one of my favorite games—and that’s saying something, because I have a really hard time picking favorites of anything. It’s simple enough to teach a kid, and there’s an elegance to the fact that there are so few rules (at least in the base game). But don’t be fooled: there’s still a lot of strategic depth to the game. It can be a casual, light-hearted map-building game, or it can be downright cutthroat as you battle over who gets the farm.
I first encountered Carcassonne nearly a decade ago, and I still love playing it now. This new edition could make a great game for that friend of yours who’s just getting into board gaming now and doesn’t yet have all the essentials. One of my favorite things about Carcassonne is looking at the map at the end of the game and seeing all the crazy-shaped cities, roads to nowhere, clusters of cloisters, and so on.
If you already own Carcassonne, I’m not sure that you really need to rush out and buy this one. The Abbot is a fun twist, but I’m not sure that it’s enough of a game-changer that it’s worth buying a whole new set. I know that publisher Hans im Gluck (Z-Man is the US distributor) has taken some heat from existing fans for continuing to release new base sets with features that can’t be purchased separately. Since there are only 8 tiles with flower gardens on them, the Abbot could easily be packaged as one of the Carcassonne mini expansions. I suppose time will tell if it gets repackaged later on.