Carcassonne Board Game Buying Guide

Carcassonne Board Game Buying Guide

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Carcassonne is a modern classic that stands up against any of the best board games today. Like Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne has widely become known as one of the gateway board games thanks in part to an approachable ruleset that gives players an introduction to popular mechanics while still offering enough strategy for serious hobbyists.

Also like other gateway games, Carcassonne features dozens of expansions and spin-offs that allow new players to grow alongside the series. Unfortunately, a wealth of options can sometimes be a double-edged sword for newer tabletop gamers as it often leads to analysis paralysis. That’s why we have compiled this easy-to-follow guide to the entire series. Naturally, the best place to start is with the base game, as all expansions require it to play.

The Base Game

Carcassonne

MSRP: $39.99 USD

Age: 7+Players: 2-5Play Time: 30-45 mins

Carcassonne is a relatively straightforward tile-placement game. Players take turns drawing tiles to help build out the ever-expanding map. During a player’s turn, they can also choose to place a meeple on the board to claim landmarks such as roads or cities. Claiming landmarks scores points and the player with the most points after the map is completed is the winner. Of course, things are never that simple as other players will also want to claim valuable landmarks and potentially keep you from scoring as well.

Placing tiles soon becomes a strategic operation where players want to expand the map in a way that benefits themselves but not others. Sometimes, however, it cannot be helped. The luck of the draw may not give you the tile you so desperately need, meaning you’ll be forced to weigh your options and make the best of a bad situation.

As two rounds of Carcassonne never quite play out the same way, the base game offers plenty of replayability. In fact, the base game is likely all newer players will need for quite a while. Still, it’s nice to have some variability for games like Carcassonne that tend to get to the table quite often. Many of the various expansions add features and mechanics that relate to scoring, giving players even more strategic options. It should also be noted that the latest version of Carcassonne includes both the fan-favorite River and Abbot expansions. All river tiles must be played first and the abbot is a special meeple that can be picked up and scored before landmarks are completed.

Expansions

Carcassonne Expansion 1: Inns & Cathedrals

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

New Pink Meeples for Sixth Player18 New Land Tiles Featuring Inns and CathedralsSix Large MeeplesDouble-sided Scoring Tiles

Before diving into the inns and cathedrals aspects of the expansion, this add-on is noteworthy in that it includes components for a sixth player. These components are designed to be inserted directly into the original box, giving players even more options for crowded game nights. If you want to see our recommendations for even more titles that play well with large groups, check out our list of the best six-player board games.

The titular inns and cathedrals are new landmarks that allow for additional scoring when completing roads or cities. These tiles simply shuffle into the original box and are otherwise placed normally. When scoring, cities with cathedrals and roads with inns net more points than those without. Lastly, Inns & Cathedrals adds a big meeple that essentially counts as two regular-sized meeples, leading to even more scoring and serving as a tie-breaker for controlling landmarks.

Carcassonne Expansion 2: Traders & Builders

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

24 New Land Tiles20 Goods Tokens6 Builder Pieces and 6 Pig Pieces1 Cloth Bag

Traders & Builders isn’t a game-changing expansion, but it does offer some new ways to score and place tiles. Arguably the biggest addition is the new tiles that feature symbols for goods such as cloth, wine, and wheat. Players collect goods when claiming landmarks with these icons, and bonus points are awarded to those with the most of a certain resource at the end of the game.

Additionally, Traders & Builders introduces two new pieces – the builder and the pig. Essentially, builders allow players to place a second tile during their turn if placed on a landmark that already contains a meeple, and pigs score additional points for meeples claiming fields.

Carcassonne Expansion 3: The Princess & The Dragon

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

30 New Land Tiles1 Dragon Token1 Fairy Token

The Princess & The Dragon introduces the biggest tweak to gameplay thus far, meeple removal. Volcano tiles summon the dragon token that takes out those who get in its way. Additionally, the princess tile can be played to remove knights from cities. The only protection against these tactics is the fairy token. The other new addition is the magic portal tile which allows players to place meeples on previously laid tiles.

Rather than incorporating new ways to score, The Princess & The Dragon adds new competitive tactics to Carcassonne. It’s still not a fundamentally new game, but it offers one of the bigger deviations from the original title.

Carcassonne Expansion 4: The Tower

MSRP: $19.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

18 New Land Tiles30 Tower Floors1 Tile Tower

The Tower is one of the more divisive expansions as it focuses more on building up rather than expanding outward. Towers essentially act as area control landmarks, but even more than that, these structures can capture opposing meeples on adjacent tiles. The higher the tower goes, the further its reach. Captured meeples can be returned to their original player, but only for the ransom price of three victory points.

Carcassonne Expansion 5: Abbey & Mayor

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

12 New Land Tiles6 Abbey TilesBarn, Mayor, and Wagon Pieces for Each Player

The Abbey & Mayor expansion takes a break from removing meeples and instead gets back to offering players even more ways to score points. The new abbey tiles act as a sort of wild card piece designed to plug holes that might otherwise be difficult to complete. Mayors, on the other hand, serve as tie-breaker pieces for city control when two or more players are vying for the same town. Barns are placed in fields to score points from completed cities and wagons can move to adjacent landmarks after existing ones are completed.

Carcassonne Expansion 6: Count, King & Robber

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

2 Large City Tiles22 New Land TilesCount, King, and Robber PiecesKing and Robber Tiles

Count, King & Robber is yet another expansion that deviates considerably from the base game. Arguably the biggest change is the addition of the large city tiles that allow players to move meeples from the city to complete landmarks and vice versa. Players can even add meeples to the city after completing other players’ landmarks, promoting even more interaction and strategy. Additionally, the king and robber components reward players for developing the longest road and the biggest cities. Because of the added rules and components, Count, King & Robber is not quite as easy to teach as other expansions, but it’s still simple enough to understand after a round or two.

Carcassonne Expansion 8: Bridges, Castles & Bazaars

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

12 New Land Tiles12 Castle Tiles12 Bridge Pieces

Before we dive into Bridges, Castles & Bazaars, some eagle-eyed mathematicians might have noticed that we skipped Expansion 7. That’s because the dexterity-based add-on is out of print. As we’ll discuss just a bit later, Carcassonne has released dozens of expansions over the years, and many of them have since been discontinued.

One of the more notable features of this expansion is the bazaar tiles that allow players to host an auction where they can spend earned points on desirable tiles. This is a bit of a hit-or-miss add-on that some fans find fun and others feel slows the game down too much. Additionally, the expansion allows players to build around dead ends using bridges. Castles, on the other hand, can be placed in cities to score even more points.

Carcassonne Expansion 9: Hills & Sheep

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

18 New Land Tiles18 Flock Tokens6 Shephard Piece1 Cloth Bag

The Hills & Sheep expansion adds a sort of test-your-luck mechanic thanks to the shepherd piece and flock tokens. Shepherds are placed in open fields and players then select tokens blindly from a bag. Sheep tokens score points while wolf tokens remove the shepherd piece from the board. Hills, on the other hand, are a new tie-breaking feature. Additionally, vineyards are added for even more scoring potential.

Carcassonne Expansion 10: Under the Big Top

MSRP: $17.99 USD

Components (REQUIRES THE BASE GAME)

20 New Land Tiles12 Circus Tiles8 Acrobat Tiles16 Animal Tokens1 Big Top Token6 Ringmaster Meeples

Under the Big Top goes all in on its circus theme. Interestingly, however, the circus tiles are a bit of a gamble. When new circus tiles are played, the big top tile is moved from the previous one and replaced by an animal token with a number value. The number value is then attributed to surrounding meeples. Additionally, the ringmaster meeple scores additional points for every circus feature adjacent to it. Not to mention, meeples can stack on acrobat tiles to net even more points. Rather than other expansions that allow players more scoring options, Under the Big Top more or less changes the focus of Carcassonne altogether. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing; rather, it’s a change of pace that can make an old favorite feel like new.

Other Versions

Carcassonne Big Box (2022 Edition)

MSRP: $89.99

Components

Carcassonne Base GameInns & Cathedrals ExpansionTraders & Builders ExpansionThe Abbot, The River, The Flying Machines, The Ferries, The Messengers, The Gold Mines, Mage & Witch, The Robbers, and The Crop Circles ExpansionsMore Than 150 Tiles7 Different Types of Meeples

Every so often, Carcassonne releases a new big box that contains the base game and several expansions. The most recent edition contains the base game, the Inns & Cathedrals expansion, and the Traders & Builders expansion, as well as the abbot, river, robbers, and several other pieces from previous expansions. The big box is a great place to start as it offers quite a bit of content all in one package. Many fans consider the first two expansions some of the best, so having both in one package is certainly a win for the Carcassonne Big Box.

Carcassonne 20th Anniversary Edition

MSRP: $49.99

Components

87 Land Tiles17 River Tiles40 Meeples5 Abbotts1 ScoreboardCharacter Stickers

Carcassonne also offers a 20th-anniversary edition that is mostly the same as the base game but adds some upgraded visuals and meeple stickers. Additionally, the anniversary edition also includes exclusive tiles that add even more variability and scoring opportunities.

Carcassonne: Amazonas

MSRP: $34.99 USD

Age: 8+Players: 2-5Play Time: 35 mins

Carcassonne: Amazonas is a standalone title incompatible with the original game and its expansions. Amazonas plays similarly to standard Carcassonne, but it introduces boats that venture down the river. However, in a given turn, players must decide if they want to play meeples or advance their boat. Both actions score points, giving players various potential paths to victory.

Carcassonne: Gold Rush

MSRP: $34.99 USD

Age: 8+Players: 2-5Play Time: 35 mins

Like Amazonas, Carcassonne: Gold Rush is a standalone title incompatible with the original game and its expansions. This time, however, the franchise takes a trip to the Old West. Outside of aesthetics, the major difference between Gold Rush and standard Carcassonne is the mining mechanic. Claiming mountains more or less works like any other landmark in Carcassonne, except they return mining tokens. These tokens can award up to five points (or pieces of gold) or as little as zero points. Essentially, it’s like mining gold – sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t.

Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers

MSRP: $39.99 USD

Age: 8+Players: 2-5Play Time: 35 mins

Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers is a prehistoric-themed version of Carcassonne. It mostly plays the same as standard Carcassonne, however, players can score additional points for animals located within their landmarks. Additionally, finishing forests (Hunters & Gatherers’ version of cities) awards players special valuable tiles. This occurs even when finishing another player’s forest, promoting even more player interaction. Like other standalone titles, Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers is incompatible with the original game or any of its expansions.

Carcassonne: Safari

MSRP: $39.99 USD

Age: 7+Players: 2-5Play Time: 35 mins

Carcassonne: Safari is yet another standalone version of Carcassonne incompatible with other entries in the series – this time, with an African safari theme. The rules largely remain the same, however, additional points are scored for different animals present on landmarks. Additionally, the newly added safari truck game piece also serves as a new mechanic. These pieces are placed in yet-to-be-played tile areas and can be picked up and moved for additional points when the map eventually expands to that part of the grid. Strategic placement can even lead to blocking other players, or at least, encouraging them to help you.

Mists over Carcassonne

MSRP: $39.99 USD

Age: 8+Players: 2-5Play Time: 35 mins

Mists over Carcassonne is the first cooperative iteration of the series. This version plays similarly to standard Carcassonne, however, players score points together to try and reach the threshold for victory. While that sounds simple enough, players also need to worry about managing the number of ghosts on the board present by finishing up the new mist landmarks. Allowing too many ghosts to run rampant on the board or failing to achieve a certain amount of points in a given period means that players lose. Also, for fans of the traditional Carcassonne experience, there is an additional set of rules to play Mists as a competitive experience.

My First Carcassonne

MSRP: $34.99 USD

Age: 4+Players: 2-4Play Time: 10-20 mins

As the name would suggest, My First Carcassonne is a simplified version of Carcassonne that targets a younger demographic. Due to its streamlined ruleset and more colorful artwork, we identified My First Carcassonne as one of the best board games for five-year-olds. This title leads younger gamers nicely into standard Carcassonne, which is easily one of the best family board games available and suited best for ages eight and up.

Other Versions

Carcassonne: Digital Version

Like many other popular titles, Carcassonne has also made the leap to digital on several platforms. It is available as Carcassonne on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $19.99 MSRP. Additionally, it can be found as Carcassonne – Tiles & Tactics on PC and mobile for $9.99 MSRP. Expansions such as Inns & Cathedrals and Builders & Traders can be purchased as DLC. Carcassonne can also be played online at Board Game Arena with a Premium subscription. Premium memberships start at $3 per month and give subscribers access to hundreds of popular board games like Ark Nova, Terraforming Mars, Wingspan, Azul, Catan, Ticket to Ride, and more.

Discontinued Versions

In your Carcassonne research, you may come across discontinued titles like Carcassonne Star Wars, for example. Entries like this, the Old Testament-themed Ark of the Covenant spin-off, and the missing Catapult expansion referenced earlier are generally only available on the secondhand market. While current publisher Z-Man Games has reprinted many iterations, some are simply lost to time, potentially destined to become collector’s items.

Bottom Line

Carcassonne is a versatile game that can be enjoyed simply as its base experience or be iterated upon through its various expansions. Luckily, many of the games listed above can be found for well under MSRP at retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart. To potentially find the best deal on Carcassonne, its expansions, and countless other titles, make sure to bookmark our board game deals page to stay up-to-date on current sales.

For some great recommendations, make sure to check out our list of the best four-player board games as well as our picks for the best solo board games.

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