The game's name comes from a medieval French town that featured stone fortifications and surrounding roads and farmland, which is pretty much what you find inside the game box. German-designed and first released in 2000, Carcassonne sells in the U.S. under the Rio Grande Games label. It's a tile-laying game in which players try to score the most points by arranging random landscape pieces and forming the most towns, roads and farms. Along the way, players must decide when and where to deploy a limited number of wooden followers (also known as "meebles") en route to claiming territory and making the best use of the kingdom the players collectively create.
The game is played on a tabletop, beginning with the placement of a single, specially marked landscape tile. The tile includes all elements of the fictional land the players are about to create: farmland, road, and a section of fortified town. Players then take turns drawing random tiles and placing them on the table adjacent to other played tiles. But there are rules as to how the tiles can be added. A road must meet up with a road. Grass must touch grass, and town sections must abut other town sections. This can get complicated as different sorts of tiles are drawn and played, as there are many different tiles available and there's no telling ahead of time which will come up next and how they will be set down. Each game invariably results in a unique lay-out with different scoring opportunities and disadvantages.
Meebles don't wobble and they don't fall down!
As players make their moves, they must also decide whether to install one of their "meebles", or little wooden people on the tile they're playing, thus claiming that section of road, town or field for later point- scoring. The danger is that other players will build nearby in ways that reduce the points the meeble can score. For example, if a player claims a town with his meeble, he must complete that town, surrounding it with a finished outer wall with subsequent tiles in order to score points. But there's no guarantee he'll draw the tiles he needs. Furthermore, other players may add new tiles that make it more difficult for the town to be completed. Of course, not claiming a town can be dangerous, too, because it leaves the town open for others to claim.
The same goes for roads. A player may claim a road and therefore maintain sole possession of it. But he can't score any points unless the road has a clear beginning and end (usually defined by special tiles containing intersections or termini), and other players may decide to make that difficult to achieve.
Down on the farm
Farmers are more interesting. A player may, at any time, place a meeble in an open field. At the end of the game, points are scored by that "farmer" for any completed town to which his farmland has a direct connection (uninterrupted by roads or breaks in the game board). Unlike towns and roads, it's also possible for more than one player to claim the same field, although it takes clever strategizing, since there are a number of particular rules defining how land can be claimed.
Another bit of strategy involves resource management. Since meebles are limited in number and can only be removed from the board when their job is finished and points have been scored, it's possible to over-deploy and be left without reserves to take advantage of new scoring opportunities. Add to all this the extra allure of "towns with flags" and "monasteries", and you have a game with plenty of surprises, variation, and intrigue.
And that's just the basic game. There are expansion packs that make Carcassonne even more complex.
Spend a little time
The games can last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes depending on the number of players and skill level. It's recommended for ages 13 and up, but a motivated child of 10 or 11 who likes this sort of thing may also enjoy it. Older kids will have an easier time competing, though, as they become more adept at visualizing the game board and anticipating new opportunities to come.
The game seems simple at first, but players quickly learn multiple strategies that can be employed, not only to better one's own score, but to block other players from using the same territory. One of the things I like best about Carcassonne: sometimes I win, sometimes my kid wins. The game allows an adult to be evenly matched with a 13-year-old, perfect for parent-child game play!
---David MurphyRead more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on 6abc.com.