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Learn How to Play the Board Game Carcassonne

I love board games, and I particularly enjoy writing guides to help new players learn the rules.

Carcassonne: What's in the Box?

Carcassonne: What's in the Box?

Carcassonne is a unique type of game that is a lot of fun. Like Ticket to Ride, this game does not seem that complex on the surface: You lay some tiles and assign wooden pieces to the tiles for points. Oh, be wary, young gamer—the strategy level here can be fairly high.

Winning Carcassonne

The goal of Carcassonne is to have the most points after the last tile has been played and the final score is calculated. You do this by placing your limited supply of "meeples" or wooden men strategically to provide you with the most points.

A Typical Carcassonne Board Layout

A Typical Carcassonne Board Layout

The Game Board

Interestingly enough, there really is no game board. This is a tile-laying game. Therefore, you start the game with one tile on the table, and each person adds their new tile to it. This process builds the game board as you play the game. Because you build the game board each time you play the game, it is different each time.

Roads, cities, fields, and cloisters (churches) appear and develop as you build the board. It is really pretty cool to watch this interesting piece of game art develop as you play—because you don't know exactly what it will look like when it is done.

Meeples Generate Points

The little wooden pieces you have are called "meeples" by the gaming community. This stands for "my people." In Carcassonne, they are called "followers. It's all the same thing. As I stated, on your turn, you will place the meeples in the most strategic place possible in order to generate points.

You can assign your followers to be a:

  • Thief
  • Knight
  • Monk
  • Farmer

Thieves on the Road

If you place a follower on a road, and the road gets completed with two endpoints, you gain one point for each road tile. You cannot remove the thief from the road until the road is completed.

Knights in the Cities

As you place a tile with a city on it, you can place a follower in the city. This creates a knight. You complete a city by surrounding it on all sides by a city wall. The player whose knight is in the city gains two points for each tile that makes up the city. City tiles also sometimes have a pennant, or flag, on them. If so, you get two points per pennant. When the city is complete, you get your knight back.

Monks at the Cloister

If you place a tile with a cloister on it, you may place one of your followers on the cloister. This turns your follower into a monk. A monk scores points when the cloister is completely surrounded on all sides, with the cloister in the middle. The completed cloister is worth nine points to the owner of the monk. Like the others, you may not remove the monk from the board until the cloister is complete.

Farmers Work in the Fields All Day

The biggest gamble you can make, and potentially the largest payoff in the end, is assigning your follower as a farmer. This means the meeple goes in a field, and it is there for the entire game—you don't get that meeple back. However, in return, you get four points for each completed city the farmer's field borders. The distance of the city from your meeple is not important. So, if you border five completed cities, you would earn 20 points at the end of the game.

Playing the Game

You start the game with one specific tile on the table. All subsequent tiles build off that single tile. They can go in any direction you choose.

  1. On your turn, you select a tile (they should be in a bag or turned over so you cannot see what they are).
  2. You look at all the possible combinations of ways that tile can fit with the other tiles that are in play, and you place it. It must match the connecting tiles in some fashion (roads must connect, city walls must connect, etc.)
  3. Then, you determine whether you want to play one of your followers on that tile. You can choose not to play a follower as well.
  4. You cannot place a follower on the same land feature as another player's. So, there should only be one meeple per road or city. However, if you are building the same road or city from different directions and they are not adjacent to each other, you can share someone else's points.

There is really not much more to the gameplay than that.

Bring on the Strategy

The strategy in the game is based on two elements:

  1. Where do I place the tiles?
  2. Should I place a meeple on the tile or not?

Look for Advantageous Tile Placement

As you place tiles, look for advantageous places for you. Can you extend your roads a little further? Can you quickly win a city? Can you sneak a cloister into a location where most of it is already surrounded?

Find Opportunities to Immediately Get Your Meeple Back

Look for opportunities to quickly score and receive your meeple back in the same turn. For example, you can complete a two-tile city or a three tile road fairly easily. This allows you to gain points and have the same meeple available for your next turn.

Be Careful in the Endgame

The endgame is very important. You can gamble your meeples early in the game. However, as the game continues, it becomes very apparent that your meeple resources may be running low.

You need to make judgments based on what the board looks like and how many tiles are still available to be turned over—by you. Someone else may not make a play that benefits you. So, if you have three players and 10 tiles left, you will probably only get to turn over three more tiles. Don't place a new meeple in a city if you can't expand the city further.

Calculating Final Points

Don't fret if you have followers on unfinished roads or in uncompleted cities or cloisters. They still offer you points at the end of the game—so your gamble is not completely lost—and it may be just the extra push you need to win.

Unfinished items score as follows:

  • Roads are worth one point per tile.
  • Cities are worth one point per tile and one point for each pennant.
  • Cloisters are worth one point for each tile.

As you can see, if you have a long unfinished road, large incomplete city, or almost-completed cloister, you can still garner a good amount of points for the land feature.

Extending Your Game With the River

Typically, I will not discuss expansions for a game in the "Learning to Play . . . " series. They will have their own articles later. However, "The River" is different. It comes as a free expansion with the core Carcassonne game. Therefore, it deserves to be covered.

  1. Rather than starting with the pre-designated starting tile, you start the game with the series of 12 tiles that make up the river. There is a spring at one end and a lake for the other end. There will be 10 tiles in-between them.
  2. Start with the spring. Each person adds onto the river until all the 10 tiles are used—as if you were playing a standard game. Then, the last person adds the lake tile.
  3. The only limitation to the placement of the river tiles is that it must not flow back on itself, like a "U". I guess, in Carcassonne, water always flows downhill.
  4. You can play followers on these tiles just as you would normal tiles—just not in the river . . . duh!
  5. When the river is complete, you then continue play as if it were the standard Carcassonne game.

Trying the Game Online

Do you have an Xbox 360? If so, you are in luck. You can try Carcassonne before you purchase it. In the Xbox Live Arcade, you will find Carcassonne, as well as other games like Settlers of Catan and the Lost Cities card game. I have seen rumors that Ticket to Ride is also coming to this platform.

Are You a Carcassonne Fan? Tell Us About It.

OberonViking on June 02, 2012:

Great game play on the iPad

jon on December 21, 2010:

what dose the king and thef ??

wmspringer on July 22, 2010:

I could never really get into the base game, but once I added Inns/Cathedrals and Traders/Builders it got a lot more interesting.

MrsKnowledge from Spanaway on July 22, 2010:

That looks like a pretty cool game. The look of it almost reminds me of another game but I can't recall the name. I think I'll try and play this on that site.

Reimund on April 11, 2010:

You can also play the game online on your pc or mac at

Bobby Jennings on December 28, 2009:

Great write up.

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