2001 was a very important year for German board game designer, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It was the year in which Carcassonne, his first board game, saw widespread commercial success after receiving two prestigious board game awards. So, what are these awards? And why was it important that Carcassonne won them?
The first award that Carcassonne received was the Deutscher Spiel Preis. This is another German board game award that is typically given to games with especially innovative or good gameplay.
The second, and perhaps most notable award that Wrede’s game received was the Spiel des Jahres (or Game of the Year). The Spiel des Jahres is a German award presented every year to a board or card game that promotes excellence in game design, usually given to a family-oriented game. Although it offers no prizes, a game that is awarded the Spiel des Jahres can usually expect an increase in sales. Some estimates say this increase may be tenfold, so a game that typically sells 1,000 units in a year would then go on to sell 10,000. Scott Tepper estimates that just a nomination will bump a regular game’s sales up from between 500 and 3,000 copies to 10,000, and winning the Spiel des Jahres will net them between 300,000 and 500,000 copies sold. Not bad for a game that Wrede thought of while on a holiday in southern France.
Now, on to the game itself.
Carcassonne is a turn-based city-building game made for 2-5 players. Players begin by placing the “starting tile” down in the play area. Next players take it in turns to draw single terrain tiles from a bag and place them in the play area. Sounds simple enough, but each tile placed must match up with the tile (or tiles) it is joining. Roads must connect to roads, cities must touch cities, and fields must touch fields. In this way, the players build the board as they play
As players place a tile they may also place a small wooden figurine called a “meeple” on it, claiming a feature (a city or a road, for example). Once a feature is completed, the player with the most meeple on it earns points for every tile that feature takes up.
The game ends when all the tiles have been placed. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.
Carcassonne is what’s referred to as a “Eurogame”, or a “German-style board game.” Among other things, games that fall into this category emphasise strategy while downplaying luck, and don’t eliminate any players so everyone keeps playing until the end. Because there isn’t any direct conflict between players and no-one is eliminated before the game ends, eurogames are typically well-suited as social games.
While Carcassonne certainly has an element of randomness to it, there is emphasis on strategic placement of tiles and intelligent usage of meeple, and this is where the game gets interesting. Depending on who you’re playing with, the game could go in several different directions.
Everyone could turn the game into their own little city-building simulators and focus on building and completing their own features in solitude. This is somewhat boring, I would not recommend this playstyle.
You could have a very aggressive, cutthroat playstyle and use your tiles to block other players from completing their features, potentially trapping their meeple in a horrible, uncompleted city forever.
You can even play semi-cooperatively. If multiple players have an equal number of meeple on a completed feature, they share the points. There’s no greater feeling than teaming up with your friend to complete that huge city you’ve been working on all game, netting you both a tonne of points. Alternatively you can wait until your friend has almost finished a feature, then jump in at the end and claim the points for yourself! In my opinion, this is probably the meanest, yet most fun way to play Carcassonne.
Carcassonne provides you with such a huge variety in potential playstyles. The way that luck and strategy are blended together when it comes to drawing and placing tiles means that no one player ever has the advantage over another. Carcassonne manages to ensure that every game is a different experience, while one match may be brutal and competitive, another may be cooperative and peaceful. It’s no wonder the game has been so successful. It’s spawned numerous expansions and even has its own app.
This is definitely one of the better board games I’ve played, can’t recommend it highly enough. Go check it out if you can.