Jul 17, 2017

Carcassonne: What to buy

We recently added Carcassonne to our summer board game collection, and it immediately became popular with my extended family. I highly recommend Carcassonne for casual board gaming: it's very easy to pick up, and can accomodate a wide range of play styles from friendly to ultracompetitive.

I'd say one of the biggest obstacles to getting into Carcassonne is the bewildering variety of expansions on offer, from dragons and magic portals to catapults. With that in mind, I thought I'd set down our experiences with some of the basic add-ons.

For starters, I think most editions of the base game come with the River expansion included. I strongly recommend using it with new players, as it forms a very good tutorial: you'll encounter roads, cities and cloisters, and players will get to place followers on them, so they'll have something to build on when the game proper starts.

On that note, River II is also a pretty good add-on: it gives the river a branch and generally makes the initial river setup a little less predictable.

Another mini-expansion you'll probably want to pick up is King (and Scout). King introduces special scoring tiles for the longest road and largest city, which are lovely for encouraging megalomania in players, but also comes with five useful additional tiles for fixing situations that can come up with the base game where a space can be created where no tile can go.

Finally, as the first bigger expansion, I'd definitely recommend Inns and Cathedrals. As with King, it comes with a couple of useful basic tiles, but the meat of the expansion is six Inn tiles and two Cathedrals. The inns are found alongside roads, and give double points for completing the road - but none if it's left unfinished. Cathedrals do the same for cities, which can lead to truly epic struggles for massive cathedral cities. These are made even better by the new "big follower" that comes with the expansion: each player gets one bigger follower figure that counts as two followers when determining who gets to score a road or city. Finally, there's a sixth full set of followers included. Inns and Cathedrals adds to the basic gameplay, but doesn't introduce anything too complex, so in my mind it's almost a must-have expansion.

Beyond these, it's really up to individual taste. The expansions above don't dramatically change the base game, but they enhance it while keeping complexity and playing time under control. From what I've understood, adding too many other major expansions will begin to bog the game down quite badly. Frankly, I've looked at the other big expansions, and none of them really interest me at all. Carcassonne as played with the expansions listed here is an excellent board game; this list should also be a good starting point for exploring the rest of the massive list of add-ons if you're so inclined.

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