#800 – Carcassonne: 20th Anniversary Edition

Base price: $50.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 30 – 45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Carcassonne: 20th Anniversary Edition was provided by Z-Man Games.

The nice thing about writing reviews in advance of my self-imposed deadlines is that it becomes pretty easy to figure out when big milestones are coming up. Here’s one. Eight hundred reviews! Covered a lot of different games, thankfully, most of them good. Rather than reflect, too much, I figured I’d celebrate a milestone with an anniversary edition, and one for one of my old perennial titles, Carcassonne! I spent way too much time getting a bunch of random expansions when I first got into the hobby, and now here we are, back again. This time, the 20th Anniversary Edition purports to have a few small expansions that celebrate, well, 20 years of Carcassonne. But how well does it do that? Let’s find out.

20 years and you’re back where you started in Carcassonne. This budding landscape will become a bustle of activity, from roads filled with travelers to monasteries of studious monks (and nuns) to knights defending the cities. You’ve heard tell of new visitors and vistas, with saintly abbots and rushing rivers supposedly around, if you know where to look. Your goal is to achieve power and prestige by helping this land be all it could be, but you’ll have to outwit your opponents to do it!

Contents

Setup

First thing to do is to set out the scoreboard:

Then, give each player a set of meeples in the color of their choice:

There’s two ways to set this up, otherwise. You can use the standard starting tile or start with The River:

If you’re using The River, shuffle up the other River tiles, keeping the two end tiles on the bottom of the stack. Shuffle the other tiles separately, including any tiles from any expansions you want:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

I’d normally pass on re-explaining the rules, but since it’s been at least 700 reviews since I talked about Carcassonne, I feel like I owe you some form of an updated explanation in my new, even wordier style.

A game of Carcassonne is played, one tile at a time, until the tiles have all been placed. Let’s walk through a turn and how that works.

Place a Tile

This one’s pretty straightforward. Take a tile and place it such that its features (grass / road / river / city / otherwise) line up with all orthogonally-adjacent tiles. If they don’t line up, you can’t place the tile there.

After placing a tile, you may optionally add a meeple on one of that tile’s features.

Place a Meeple (Optional)

If you have meeples in your supply and would like to place them on the tile you just placed, the feature must be unoccupied. This means that the feature (which may span multiple tiles) cannot already have one of your meeples or one of your opponents’ meeples on it. Note that two or more already-occupied features may, through clever tile placement, become one feature. The meeple takes on a role depending on which tile it’s placed on:

  • Road: The meeple becomes a traveler.
  • City: The meeple becomes a knight.
  • Monastery: The meeple becomes a monk / nun.

If, after placing a tile and a meeple, you have completed a feature, that feature scores.

Score Points (Optional)

Any complete feature scores after meeples are placed, on the turn it is completed. Even features you don’t control score. Generally, a feature is “controlled” by a player if that player has more meeples than any other player on a feature, with ties allowing all tied players to score. Completed features score based on their type:

  • Road: A road is considered complete when it terminates at some other tile feature or loops back onto itself. When a road is complete, the player(s) with the most travelers on it control that road and score 1 point per tile in the complete road.
  • City: A city is considered complete when it is completely closed off on all sides (and there are no empty spots in the middle of the city). When a city is complete, the player(s) with the most knights on it control that city and score 2 points per tile and 2 points per pennant (checkered flag) in the complete city.
  • Monastery: A monastery is considered complete when it is completely surrounded by other tiles. That means, in total, a monastery will be the center of a 3×3 grid of tiles when it is complete. When a monastery is complete, the player whose monk / nun is on that monastery controls it and scores 9 points.

When features are scored, all meeples on that feature are returned to their respective players’ supplies.

Note that, again, completing another player’s feature can allow them to score points on your turn.

End of Game

The game ends when all tiles are played! Now, resolve final scoring for the three features:

  • Road: If any roads are incomplete at the end of the game, players who control those roads score 1 point for each tile in the incomplete road.
  • City: If any cities are incomplete at the end of the game, players who control those cities score 1 point for each tile and 1 point for each pennant in the incomplete city.
  • Monastery: If any monasteries are incomplete at the end of the game, players who control those monasteries score 1 point, plus 1 point for each tile surrounding the monastery (orthogonally or diagonally). As a result, the most you can score from an incomplete monastery is 8 points.

The player with the most points wins!

Pseudo-mini Expansion: Farmers

This isn’t really an expansion; it’s just a more-complex rule that they moved out of the original game. There’s a fourth type of feature and meeple: the Farmer! Farmers work the fields and supply cities with valuable produce. It’s a lucrative business, if you can get it to work for you.

This adds a new type of meeple placement and a new scoring condition!

Farmers may now be placed lying down in fields, which are groups of adjacent green area on tiles. Like all other features, you cannot place on a field if another player already controls that field. Fields are cut off by the edge of tiles, the walls of cities, roads, and the occasional river, if you’re playing with that.

The challenge of this expansion is that fields are never considered complete, even if they’re completely enclosed! A farmer remains on the table until the end of the game, where they’re scored as part of final scoring:

  • A field is scored at the end of the game. Players in control of a field score 3 points per complete city that the field touches. Incomplete cities are worth 0 points.

Try to work this in once players have gotten familiar with the basic game.

Mini Expansion 1: The River

The River adds a new way to set up and get started! To use the River, place the two-tile starting tile in your play area, and shuffle up the remaining River tiles. As mentioned earlier, shuffle the two end pieces and place them on the bottom of the stack.

Beyond that, play normally, drawing from the River stack instead of the normal stack until all River tiles have been placed. To help, the River tiles have dark backs (as opposed to the standard light backs of other tiles), so it’s easy to distinguish which stack is which. On your turn, you may place a meeple normally on the tile if there’s a feature (meeples cannot be placed on the River itself).

After all River tiles have been placed, continue playing as normal with the other tiles!

Mini Expansion 2: The Abbot

The Abbot is an additional meeple that can be used in conjunction with the standard game. To do so, each player gets the Abbot meeple (they’re taller than a standard meeple and pointier on top).

When placing the Abbot, they may be placed on either a monastery or on the garden feature. Normal meeples cannot be placed on gardens.

To score gardens, treat them the same as monasteries (both complete and incomplete). As a bonus, if you did not place a meeple during the Place a Meeple step, you may instead immediately score your Abbot and return them to your supply. That monastery / garden is considered incomplete, for future tile effects.

The Anniversary Expansion

The final mini-expansion is the Anniversary Expansion! This pays some homage to the first three expansions of Carcassonne (Inns & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders, and The Princess & The Dragon) through a variety of tile effects!

To use these, shuffle them in with your standard tiles during setup. On a turn, if you draw one of these tiles, you place them as normal, but their effect may activate:

  • If the arrow on the tile does not point to another adjacent tile: Score 2 points. No effect activates.
  • If the arrow on the tile does point to another adjacent tile: That arrow’s effect activates!
  • If a tile is placed such that the arrow on an adjacent tile now points to it: That arrow’s effect activates!

There are three possible effects for an arrow:

  • Double Up: This effect allows you to, instead of placing a meeple normally, place a meeple next to a meeple you’ve already placed on a feature on the board. That pair of meeples will stay on that feature until it’s scored (and potentially help you control it). Note that you cannot use this ability to place a third meeple.
  • Place Anywhere: This effect allows you to, instead of placing a meeple normally, place a meeple on any unoccupied, incomplete feature in the current landscape. Fields, gardens, monasteries, cities, roads; go nuts.
  • Extra Turn: This effect allows you to take an extra turn immediately after the end of your current turn. You can’t use this effect to take a third turn, though.

Player Count Differences

The major difference in Carcassonne is always around how you handle control of features. In a two-player game, sharing is essentially the same as being neutralized; you both score the same number of points, so a feature only matters if only one of you controls it. This may manifest in mostly hands-off games where neither player interacts, or knock-down drag-out battles where every city and field is in danger of being poached. Depends on the players. At higher player counts, it makes sense to be a bit more generous. If you’ve got players A, B, and C, B benefits from sharing cities with A and C, but doesn’t want to share a city with both A and C. Instead, there’s an advantage to working with other players to score big features and leave another player out. There’s also the interesting factor of messing other players up. In two-player Carcassonne, messing up another player is functionally equivalent to benefitting yourself. In three+-player Carcassonne, that’s not necessarily true. If B spends all of their time messing with C and C spends all their time messing with B, A gets to grow unhindered (which is bad for B and C). You’ll see more temporary alliances as a result, as the enemy of your enemy may not be your friend, but can at least get you some points. I generally like Carcassonne most at two players, but I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional multiplayer game, especially where my old Catapult expansion was concerned.

Strategy

  • Be prepared to protect your unfinished features. The larger your city or your road gets, the more likely that other players are going to try and build such that they can join onto it. Whether or not you let them depends on your skill, luck, and your personal feelings about charity. The benefit to having another player on your feature is that there’s one more person incentivized to finish it / improve it, which may be helpful in games with three or more players. I wouldn’t team up with players that have more points than you, though; that seems like a good way to help the rich get richer. If you’re both not in first place, though, it may be worth reconsidering that. If you’re trying to protect your features, try to finish them or split them as quickly as possible when you see another player going after them. With fields, it can be very difficult to completely block another player, so just make sure that they don’t end up taking your big field away from you.
  • In particular, watch out for the tile in the Anniversary Expansion that lets you place meeples on unoccupied, unfinished features. This can let an opponent sneak up on you in a bad way, or let them pop onto a field that you were going to occupy on your next turn. Like I said, it’s sneaky, but it can be really useful for you if you want to try and take control of a city or get some extra points. One thing I like to do with this is score an Abbot on an unfinished monastery, and then use the portal arrow to place the Abott right back on the same monastery to score again. Means that there’s no real point to finishing certain monasteries, which can be basically 8 points per cycle if you handle it correctly.
  • If you’re trying to mess with your opponents, try to build aggressively towards them. If nothing else, it agitates them and might make them play a bit … worse? Or try to steal their features for yourself. It can be difficult to do well (and not necessarily worth it), but if you can successfully steal a huge city from another player, you may be able to swing yourself into a better spot.
  • It helps to know a few things about the tiles that are available. The one thing I always mention to players is that there are only two tiles that have a single road in and fields on the other three edges. They’re monasteries with a road that ends at the monastery. There are exactly two in the base game, and you should plan accordingly. If your big feature depends on a tile that doesn’t exist or is very hard to get, you’re going to end up disappointed. I don’t think there are any tiles with a city on one side and a road on the other that ends at the city, but I’ve seen that tile type in expansions. Beyond that, I try not to invest too much time in memorizing tile combinations; diminishing returns.
  • Don’t overcommit your meeples too quickly. When explaining the rules, I tell new players that there are two mistakes I see new players make frequently. The first is spending all of their meeples too quickly, rather than growing existing features. This both spreads them too thin (making them vulnerable to getting their features stolen by or shared with other players) and it leaves them in a spot where they can’t take new features. I generally try not to go under two meeples unless it’s an emergency.
  • Generally, the thing I see new players struggle the most with is fields. Showing a few examples may help, but also, waiting until your second game to explain them might be more fair. I think it’s that other features score once they’re completed, but fields score at the end of the game, so players have trouble aligning that delayed payoff with how the rest of the game works. I think it was smart to move that to the supplement, so either make sure you spend a bit of extra time explaining it or you just wait until a later game to try.
  • If you want to play dangerously, you can commit a farmer during the River placement, if you feel it’s absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t explicitly recommend doing this, but if you want the best shot at a massive field that’s kind of the right way to do it. Plant early and build small cities in the surrounding field. It can work; it just also has an equal chance of completely failing.
  • I’ll generally punish players who commit farmers too early. You can do this by building the River such that it constrains the size of their field, you can use roads to encircle them and leave them in a worthless field, or you can just never build cities in their field. Make them do the work themselves if they want the points. Usually a player only makes this mistake once or twice.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I really like the Easter Eggs and fun art bonuses on some of the tiles. There are a bunch of references to other Carcassonne games (I saw at least one Hunters & Gatherers reference), other expansions, and other pieces all over the tiles. There are also fun flags and celebrations happening. It’s a good look for a 20th Anniversary Edition, I think.
  • The Abbot mini-expansion is a nice boon for players who get stressed about investing their meeples in monasteries. I like that you can recall the Abbot; it lets me experience buyer’s remorse with meeples and undo it on a subsequent turn. I get the whole gamut of emotions around meeple placement. Plus, having gardens as a nice alternative to monasteries (unlike Cults, a different micro-expansion) is a nice bit of engagement. I think it helps the landscape look more complete (since players are more invested in getting 3×3 blocks).
  • I was always a fan of The River 2, so making The River double-ended really appeals to me. The River is huge, now, and I love it. There’s so much going on! It really does a nice job of expanding out the original play area so that you have a variety of options and places to play before the first tile is even flipped. At lower player counts, I think it also tends to encourage players to kind of stay away from each other, which is more the type of game I prefer, so I enjoy it.
  • I appreciate the “robber” to “traveler” rename. It makes the game seem more pleasant, which I’m all in favor of. It’s a small change, but one that I like.
  • I also like that farmer rules have been moved out to the additional content, rather than being a core part of the initial game. I think you can definitely play a few games of basic Carcassonne without farmers and fields before introducing them so that players can learn the core mechanics first. I tend to notice that Carcassonne has a pretty solid tilt towards the more experienced players when using fields. Players either forget about them or don’t know how to execute on them at the right times in order to win. Not their fault, either; it’s just the benefit of experience. Siloing that for a bit until they’ve played more might help new players have a more fun experience with the core game.
  • Honestly, I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed playing Carcassonne, and this reminded me. It was one of my favorite games for a long time! It still kind of is, honestly. I appreciate the simplicity and elegance of just “draw a tile, place a tile” and having that be most of the game. A lot of games have come and gone and added their own spin to the game, but I think the core game is a classic for a reason. This integrated just enough expansion content to keep things fresh, as well, and I really like playing with the full box.
  • The box color is very good. It’s just a very bold blue, and I’m a big fan of that.
  • The game includes stickers for the meeples, which is a cute touch, and it’s a very diverse array of folks. I appreciate that there seems to be a pretty broad swath of representation on the meeple stickers, even if it took me the better part of two Fast and Furious movies to get all the stickers on the meeples. They’re a bit particular, but I made it work. I do regret not thinking about doing better color-matching, but that’s the classic sticker remorse I have for everything.

Mehs

  • While I appreciate this game for being one of the foundational titles for teaching me how to riffle shuffle arbitrary objects, I would have liked some kind of bag to randomize tiles from. The smart move is to put all the tiles in the box lid and just draw a tile without looking, but it’s hard to avoid flipping tiles over when you do that. A bag somewhat solves this problem. I may just pull the bag that I have in my old Carcassonne Big Box and place it in here, if I expect to start moving forward with the expansions in the future. And I might!
  • An aspect of the Anniversary Expansion is a bit dependent on how aggressively you choose to play. One arrow references the Big Meeple from Inns & Cathedrals by allowing a player to place another meeple adjacent to their first one. That’s all well and good, but if you’re not playing in a game where players are actively trying to take over each others’ features, you may not see a ton of utility for that action. To be fair, the same thing happens in Inns & Cathedrals; if you aren’t playing aggressively, having a Big Meeple doesn’t really help you.
  • I had to shift the entire board during my photoshoot and yikes that took a while. This is just the problem with shifting a massive tile game. What can you do?
  • The 20th flags are fun, but trying to disambiguate “flags” and “pennants” when explaining the game to new players took a while. I had an issue where I was telling my opponent that the Anniversary Expansion tiles all have a “20” on them, only to see that the flags on many tiles have a 20 on them. We clarified. But there’s also the “tiles with flags” versus “tiles with pennants” clarification that needs to happen. There’s just a lot of flags. A lot of blue flags. A lot of everything.

Cons

  • I’ve been hesitant to get into Carcassonne since the art rework because I’ve already invested in almost all of the original expansions (maybe all of them + a few of the mini-expansions + a few weird ones I could find random places), and this using the new art means that maybe it’s time to either bite the bullet or become okay with the art mismatch. This is really my biggest complaint with the new version. I think that the game’s core expansions are rich and fun, but I do hate the idea of having to re-get expansions I already have for that art consistency. It’s not necessarily critical, but, that’s kind of the thing that happens with major art reworks. I’m kind of hoping this also means they’re going to box up some of the harder-to-find expansions into packs, since I didn’t buy any German tabletop magazines in 2011 or whatever.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, the Carcassonne: 20th Anniversary Edition reminded me what I love about Carcassonne, and it’s added a few new things that allow the base game to stand on its own pretty well. First up, I think the extra 30 tiles or so is a real boon for the game. The River feels longer and the Anniversary Expansion, while not my favorite expansion, adds some nice homage to the three classic Carcassonne expansions and some extra tiles to keep things fresh. Plus, I mean, I wasn’t sold on the art changes, but the game looks great. There seems to be some level of spot paint done on the tiles, the color scheme is good, the extra Easter egg-type features are welcome, as well. It just feels fun and celebratory, and frankly, a 20th Anniversary Edition deserves to feel fun. I think this edition feels refined, as well. I could see someone enjoying this completely on its own without feeling like they need expansions (though this may galvanize me getting back into the expansions that I’ve truly missed; who’s to say?). For me, Carcassonne was a game that really got me into the hobby, and I’m so glad that it’s come back in a big way for me. I didn’t realize how much I missed playing it until I got to sit down and hit it again. There’s something to be said for that experience of coming back to a game I haven’t played in a few years. Carcassonne still feels fresh, and I really like that. The extra tiles help, but I think there’s a reason that Carcassonne is a classic. It’s simple, elegant, and it has staying power in the tight two-player competition and the messy multiplayer extravaganza. It’s a celebration and a revitalization, for me, and I’m stoked to be playing Carcassonne again. If you’re looking for a game that’s a classic for a reason, you like tile-placement games, or you’re just a big fan of games about parts of France, you might enjoy this 20th Anniversary Edition of Carcassonne! I’m certainly having a blast.


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