We often hear about the importance of first impressions. Back in the early 2000’s, I was introduced to a game, and to be honest, I didn’t really like it. Looking back, I can’t remember the specifics of the experience, why I didn’t like it, just vague impressions. I moved on, left college, got a job, moved to Japan, time passed and this game’s popularity endured, it’s stature growing in the community before cementing its place as one of the classics of modern board gaming. Originally released in the year 2000, this classic has more expansions and variations that you can shake a stick at. I’m talking about Carcassonne.
As I said, my first play of Carcassonne wasn’t a great experience. I wasn’t engaged and I was bored, underwhelmed by the mechanics. Perhaps I was just a bit too young, the game a bit too passive for someone more used to the violence of Magic The Gathering and Warhammer. Nevertheless, as I waded deeper into the hobby in the past few years, I’ve found a desire to re-explore some of the classics. I’m glad I did.
My favourite thing about Carcassonne, is it’s versatility. It’s a straightforward game: draw a tile blindly, add it to the map, making sure it matches. Place a dude on a road, in a farm or in a city to score points. Farms are the only rules complication, and something I often leave out for first time players. It’s not a difficult concept, but it seems hard to imagine before the first game, when you have never seen the board finished.
Anyway back to the versatility of Carcassonne. For me, this game is a chameleon. It can be whatever you want it to be, depending on the situation you’re in. The attitude you take into the game can completely change your perception and experience. Let me illustrate this with a few examples.
It’s the end of a long game day, and you’ve just finished Fury of Dracula, an intense, epic fun game. Everyone is a little burned out. You’ve got four people, who just want to play something light and fun, something you don’t take too seriously or want to think too deeply about. You take Carcassonne off the shelf. Each tile draw is seen as an oddity, something to smile at, whether it’s a castle or road, it doesn’t really matter. The game almost becomes co-operative as people build out the map, focusing on their own specific areas, resulting in a beautiful city scape. It’s a tool to bring everyone around the table to facilitate time together.
How about the start of your game day? There you are, eager to play something. You’re waiting on one or two more friends before jumping into the multi-hour space opera that is Rex. You take Carcassonne off the shelf. This time, it’s a slightly different beast. You’re staring at the board, straining to see the optimal move. You curse as your opponent tries to edge into your territory, you spit in frustration as she successfully shares the points of one of your big cities. Every road tile you draw is an opportunity to hinder your opponents, prevent them for expanding their cities, or maybe even split their farms. It’s competitive and the map is a littered with half finished cities and roads to nowhere, like some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Carcassonne is such a wonderfully simple game to teach. I mentioned the basic game play elements before, draw a tile, place it. The current basic box available in retail, even includes The River expansion which makes the game smoother to teach. As it’s name implies, it adds a river to the board, using a smaller set of tiles, around which the town will be built. It gives a sense of immediacy, but at the same time irreverence, as these early tiles seem unimportant (hint, appearances can be deceptive). Pull a tile, line up the big blue line with the other big blue line, turn finished. With this expansion, a new player will be up to speed in absolutely no time.
I’ve played Carcassonne a lot in the past few years and at various player counts too. I’ve played the base box, with and without the River, I’ve used farmers and I haven’t, I’ve played remotely with friends on the app. There’s just something about this game. It’s fantastic, it reflects who you are and like most of us it’s getting better with age. It’s not overly expensive, and it’s a game I would not hesitate to recommend. I’m glad I went back and revisited this classic, because I would have missed out on an absolute gem.