When I had first heard of Carcassonne, I had assumed that it was basically a Middle Ages variation of Risk. After all, it’s a game in which you put your pieces on the board, taking over various roads, cities, and other areas of the countryside, and the first two syllables of its name were “Carcass”.
However, I was mistaken. First off, you don’t start off with a static board. The board is made up entirely of square tiles that are built up as you go. Plus, there is no element of removing your opponent’s men. This is purely a strategic building game, and is much shorter than the average game of Risk.
In the game, you are constructing the southern French city of Carcassonne, one tile at a time. The tiles have pieces of roads, cities, and/or fields on them, along with the occasional cloister (monastery). Every time you place a tile, you have the option of playing one of your 7 followers on the tile you just played, claiming a road segment, city segment, field segment, or cloister. Once you’ve placed a follower, he stays there until the road, city, or cloister gets finished (if you place your follower on a field, he doesn’t leave until the end of the game). For every road, city, or cloister that gets finished, the follower on it earns points. Your goal is to get more points than your opponent(s).
There are many strategy games out there – Axis & Allies, Chess, Khet – but this is one of the few strategy games that doesn’t feel like a strategy game. In fact, there’s enough of an element of chance in the game that you could win without doing much strategy at all, which is one of the best things about this game. Literally anyone ages 8 and up could play this game and have fun playing it.
This game came out in 2001, and has enjoyed such popularity that it has spawned many expansion packs and variations. If you do decide to buy this game (and I highly recommend you do), the Inns & Cathedrals expansion is a good one to start with. It makes the roads and cities worth potentially more points without adding too many new rules to the game. If you want more cutthroat competition in your game, the Tower expansion is good for that, since it allows you to actually remove some of your opponent’s followers.
Bottom line: If you can find this game (which can be a little hard to do, since it’s more likely to be found in a specialty games store than your local Wal-Mart) it is very much worth buying.