Hey everyone, happy Chinese New Year! Today, we’re taking a look at Carcasonne, for my second game review of the year!

Carcasonne is a map-building, worker-placement game, and supports two to five players. Set-up is extremely simple: everyone chooses a worker color, and the starter piece (the one on the top there) is placed at the center of the table. Mix up the tiles face down, and you’re ready to play!

On each player’s turn, they draw one of the various map tiles at random, and add it to the map. All of the edges must match with the edges of other tiles that it is adjacent to. Then, a player can use one of their workers (I believe the industry jargon for this particular type of piece is called a ‘meeple’) and place it on a feature of the tile they just played to claim it.

You can see the various types of features below the starter piece on the left. They are roads, castles, monasteries, fields, and the river. Actually, the river is completely optional, and I’ve never played with it; I’m showing it just for completion’s sake!  By placing a meeple on one of these features, you claim it, and you earn points for it based on what kind it is: roads get one point for each tile in its length; castles get one point per tile, or two points per if you complete it; monasteries get one point for the tile itself, and each tile it touches. Fields are special, and kind of tricky. To claim a field, you put your worker flat on it. At the end of the game, you get 3 points for every completed castle that field touches. For most features, you get your worker back once the feature is complete, so when you’ve finished a road or castle, or surrounded a monastery. For fields, however, they’re permanent, so claim those wisely!

You keep score on the scoreboard, which you can see on the right. Everybody puts one of their workers on it to track their progress; as you gain points, you move your meeple down the path. It’s entirely possible to claim more than 50 points in a game, so just start more circuits, remembering who has made it past the starting point more than once. And yes, it is possible to lap opponents!

The game itself is very simple. You have basically two choices each turn: where to place your new tile, and if you want to claim a feature on it. The complexity lies with how you want to mess with your opponents! I only gave you guys a small glimpse at the variety of tiles available in the game, every possible permutation of road, castle, and field are included, with a few different monastery types too. Is the green player close to finishing his castle? Add on a three-sided castle piece, so he now has to work harder to earn those double points! Yellow wants to reclaim that meeple on a road? Surround the end area with other pieces, so she’ll have to draw something matching all the sides to finish it!

The one tricky part of this game doesn’t come up to often, but it occasionally does. By default, only one person can control a feature. Even if you add a tile to someone else’s road, you can’t put a worker there, even though you just played the tile. However, if you and your opponent both have meeples on separate features that are then joined together, you both get full points for it. But if one of you manages to get a second worker of your color on yet another feature that is then attached, whoever has the most workers controls that feature! This won’t happen too often, but I have seen particularly cutthroat games where bitter battles for control were waged between players!

Like Settlers of Catan, Carcassone is an excellent entry-level game. The rules are decidedly simple, aside from the sole exception of when people are vying for control of a feature. Everything you do basically has a chance to get you points, and the backstabbing is more of an annoyance than a true hindrance. You could easily crank out a game in 20-30 minutes, depending on how many players you have. Language dependency is almost nil, since none of the pieces have writing on them. As long as someone knows they rules, you don’t ever have to look at the rulebook.

Carcassone is a perennial favorite of the gaming community as well. While I don’t own any, there are tons of expansions and mini-expansions available for the game. Most of them add different kinds of tiles, while others add new pieces that can be played on top. Some of the expansions increase the player limit, and one of my first games was a six-way brawl that triggered the battle for control I mentioned before! If you want to dive straight into the deep end, they even sell a big box set that contains everything, so you can get your entire Carcasonne fix at once!

Perhaps my only gripe with the game is the tiles themselves. I’m not a neat freak, but with people adding tiles and moving workers, they get jostled around and get scooched out of place. The more expansions you add in, the more tiles there are, and the more off-kilter things get! Plus, you’ll need a decent-sized table to play on. Depending on how people place their pieces, you could get a small, contained map at the end, or a huge, sprawling monster that threatens to go over the edge!

Final thoughts: Carcasonne is quick and easy, and I think it could easily find a place in most gamers’ collections, as both an introduction for new gaming group members, as well as a filler between meatier games. Heck, if you’ve got some of the more tactical expansions, it can even be the main event! Like Settlers, it’s also fairly easy to find here in Taiwan, and I’ve seen it at almost every game store here, with many of the expansions and even the big box available. They’re all technically the Chinese version, but like I said, the game is not language dependent at all, though rules for expansions may require some research online. It’s also great for all ages, since the basic rules are so simple. Maybe grab it for those long Chinese New Year family gatherings? You and your cousins will finally have something to do together! For digital players, an app version is available as well!