Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.
Some of you might be wondering what that figure that I use for my avatar is. Is it a badly-drawn human? Is it a badly-drawn starfish? Is it a badly drawn human-starfish? Well that, my friends, is called a meeple. SOYLENT GREEN IS MEEPLE.
Meeples are little (usually wooden) figures used as tokens in board games. And the game that made them famous is Carcassonne, the winner of the 2001 Spiel des Jahres, the biggest, most bad-assed award given in the world for board games each year.
Carcassone is considered a “gateway” game for people not particularly familiar with board games, but for the Candy Land crowd, it might be a little awkward because there’s not a board to be found. You build the board in Carcassone. From a single tile, a whole world will be created by the players, of course manipulated to their advantage.
So power to the meeple! Let’s talk Carcassonne.
Players: 2 to 5
Gametime: 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the level of analysis paralysis in your particular group.
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (Germany)
Key Mechanics: Modular board, worker placement
Story: This game essentially follows the development and settlement of an area of the world during medieval times. In this little world, roads, fortified cities, pastures and abbeys will be built by placing tiles, which the players can populate with their meeples to score points.
What do you do?: Your turn starts by drawing a tile. This tile is going to have pictures of land features. It could have a segment of road, or part of a walled city, or an abbey. And they will all have green pasture land. You will play this tile by placing it adjacent (touching at least one side) of tiles already on the board. You have to place the tile so that land features will match up with the land features of any adjacent tiles. Roads do not get to suddenly end in a grass field; this is Carcassonne, not fucking Alaska.
After you get the tile placed, you have the option of placing one of your meeples somewhere on that tile to claim that particular land feature in an attempt to score points. Here is what meeples can become:
- A meeple placed on a road segment becomes a thief. (in other words, Robin Hood)
- A meeple placed inside a city segment becomes a knight. (in other words, Sir Lancelot)
- A meeple placed in an abbey becomes a monk. (in other words, Rabbi Tuckman).
- A meeple placed in a pasture becomes a farmer. (in other words, Ray Kinsela. But no plowing over good pasture for a damned baseball field. Baseball hasn’t been invented yet.).
Once you place a meeple on a land feature, it’s yours and nobody else can join in. Players can conjoin previously separated features into one, however, and whatever player(s) has the most meeples on the feature is the only one(s) who can get points for it. You only have seven meeples to use, so you have to be smart but the only way to score points is to put those meeples to work, and quite honestly, if you don’t put those meeples to work they’ll just going to wind up becoming slacker loser asshole meeples and you should have fucking raised them better and...well, basically, just realize that there’s some strategy in where the meeples should go.
But how do those thieves and knights and rabbis become points? Well, you have to “complete” features. Plus, not to mention, once a feature is completed, you get to take your meeple back and use it again somewhere else. Here’s how features are completed:
- Roads are completed by placing two ends on it. You score one point for every tile the road travels along.
- Cities are completed by fully enclosing the walls around the city. You score two points for every tile the city touches, plus two bonus points for every pennant symbol (little blue and white flag that appears in some city features)
- Abbeys are completed by completely surrounding it with tiles (eight tiles, in other words). You score nine points for an abbey.
- Pastures are...well, they’re not really completed. Every meeple that becomes a farmer is stuck there until the game ends. But, at the end of the game, you’re going to score three points for every competed city the pasture touches. So, the right farmer placement can score a ton of points.
Players keep going around, taking turns putting down tiles, until all of the tiles have been placed. The remaining meeples on the table are scored with a slightly different scoring metrics (1 point per tile for uncompleted city, one point for every tile around an abbey, etc.), and the farmer scoring is added.
How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Once the dust settles, whoever has accumulated the most points is the superior settler of Carcassonne and all-around badass.
So, what’s awesome about this game?
- While people might not catch onto this game as fast as, say, Ticket to Ride, it’s still a game with a relatively simple ruleset to grasp onto.
- That being said, the modular board creates enough potential combinations that Carcassonne has the depth to be an incredibly strategic game. Carcassonne is very playable at a tournament level ala Scrabble.
- It just looks pretty. Green grass with little white roads and brightly-colored meeples, Carcassonne is incredibly visually appealing.
Variety is the spice of life: Carcassonne, as a game that has been out for quite a while, has developed a bit of reputation over expansions. Why? Because there’s a metric fuckton of them. I can’t promise this is totally accurate, but I’m going to say there are eight full expansions, 12 fully stand-along mini-expansions, plus a series of six more mini-expansions that each contain one tile for yet another mini-expansion. Add those up, and it equals a metric fuckton.
Some of these are low-key. (The River adds 10 tiles that create a water feature for the board, Traders and Builders allows goods to be added to cities for extra points, etc.) Some are fucking nuts. Take, for example, the Catapult expansion, which adds an actual small catapult for launching tokens onto the tiles. Or the Plauge expansion, which adds “flea tiles” (Horray, historical accuracy!)
Other ways to play: Carcassone has a fantastic Xbox Live and iOS app with good music and fantastic graphics. It’s one of the few digital versions of a board game I might like more than the board copy.
Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign]
Photos via BoardGameGeek