Board Game Review

That Damned Pig (Carcassonne)

Carcassonne is a classic and is a great game. One of the first games I’d played and possibly one of the first games many gamers play. The mechanics and play style are simple enough to pick up quickly and the concept appeals widely, it’s not so obscure that it would put off newcomers. It’s also one of those games where you need to know how to win but don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of score values, having someone who knows how to keep scores (and who’s honest enough to do it!) will suffice. But honestly, it’s not a game I’m in a rush to play again, and that’s not because it’s a bad game!

A crash course in the core of Carcassonne.

  • Players work together to build up a world consisting of roads, fields, cloisters, and cities, but against each other to earn the most points through the completion of things they’ve claimed.
  • The score value of a completed map element is based on both its size and difficulty to complete; the score you get is based on the element completed multiplied by how many tiles it spans.
  • Roads, cities and cloisters score when they are completed, or at the end of the game if not. Complete cities score 2 per tile, and incomplete score 1 per tile at the end of the game. Both roads and cloisters score 1 per tile in the core game.
  • Players claim different elements of tiles by playing meeples on them. They can only claim on a tile they are currently playing, and tiles can only be laid so they make sense; roads attached to roads or cities linking to other cities logically.
  • Only one element of a tile can have a meeple placed on it when claimed, a meeple on a tile with both a city and a road on it must be on either the city or the road. It does not claim both.
  • Farms are scored at the end and are based on how many cities they are connected to with the most dominant player being classed as in control. A farm extends so long as there is green field connected to a farming meeple, farms cannot cross over roads or cities. Each connected city is worth 3.
  • Meeples are returned to players when the elements they claimed are completed. If a meeple’s associated element cannot be finished, that meeple cannot be returned to its player. Farming meeples are out of play until the game ends.

I like Carcassonne when I’m playing it. That’s my reasoning for it being a great game. It’s a game where your ability to plan and implement long term tactics can show and pay off beautifully. By tactically building up a large city so others can’t join or by building lots of smaller cities in a field you’re farming you can rack up a lot of points you can demonstrate your cognitive dominance. On the flip side, it also allows for players to show how cruel and spiteful they are; stealing shares in parts of large cities by forcing them to connect to smaller elements at the last possible moment, or by placing tiles to intentionally make it so other elements cannot be finished, you can easily ruin someone’s day. But what I’ve found is that no one wins Carcassonne by accident. You’re able to pick up points somewhere so long as you’re picking up tiles, even if it means playing out a longer tactic.

A longer tactic is specifically how my experiences go. But I’m not one to pick up points quickly, nor am I the sort to create a large city and amass points in one haul. I steal points on the fly, outnumbering someone within their own city so their efforts are for naught. Which would explain why the people I play with aren’t in a rush to play it again, but I’m not in a rush because I quickly get bored in Carcassonne. I’m not the long term planner in Carcassonne. Speed is not the aim of the game; you take your time, plan your turn and play it out carefully to ensure the greatest yield of points. And that is why I’m not in a rush to play. I’m not saying planning is a bad thing, but when you’re playing with 4 other people, each of whom is equally as determined to win, you eventually get into a position where you’re spending 5 minutes between your turns, if not longer! It’s not down to a lack of understanding or tactics either, you don’t know your next move till you pick your tile randomly, and even then the tiles played just before yours can change not only your next move but possibly your whole game-plan. Despite this, it’s a good game to play whilst having a chat, catching up or whatever else. You only need to focus on the game when it’s your turn, picking upon the changes of the board as they happen and as you need to.

I have had some great experiences with Carcassonne, but no single moment or play through can reflect an overview of what Carcassonne is like as every player will have a different plan of attack. I often focus on farming, aiming to own the greatest mass of land connected to the most cities, which is no easy feat! My partner is a little more gung-ho than that, trying to claim as much as she can as quickly as she can often resulting in her having 5 cities on the go at once! This is perfect for me of course as I can easily claim the larger ones with a few lucky tiles. Another of my friends will simply build one city, and that will be all he’ll invest his meeples into, often adding 3 meeples gradually to an ongoing city, which is impressive as you cannot add meeple to an element which is already claimed, you can only join two claimed elements with a new tile. One of the many long term planners I play with. The set we play with has the river and the traders and builders expansion, which is where the title of this review comes in. That bloody pig. The pig is added to a farm and increases the points gained from each city, and I always forget it exists! There have been innumerable times I have lost because the pig was added to someone’s farm on their last turn. And with so many expansions available, I guess that’s where this review would have headed had I more expansions. You’d never remember everything available to you because there’s so much… and with more tiles added with each expansion you’d be able to play other games between your turns.

Pros

  1. It appeals to everyone. There’s no heavy storytelling or lore to understand, nor any complicated mechanics in the core game.
  2. As much as the game is randomly chosen tiles, it doesn’t hinder your ability to win.
  3. There are multiple ways to score, meaning you always have the potential to score points.
  4. There are lots of expansions so the game shouldn’t become stale.
  5. It’s very quick to set up and play.

Cons

  1. For its weight, can be a long game. A very, very long game.
  2. The number of expansions can be daunting, and some of the added mechanics are questionable.
  3. Placing meeples well doesn’t always guarantee them returning, other players can soon prevent that.
  4. The tiles you invest in elements can be for naught should another player get greedy, resulting in wasted turns.