Carcassonne is an extremely clever game designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and published in 2000, first in Germany by Hans im Gluck, then in the U.S. by Rio Grande Games. The original game won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) prize in 2001.
This is what is known in gamers’ circles as a “German-style” board game, meaning that it is designed for adults (or older children, at the very least) and features a sophisticated game engine that incorporates both strategy and luck. Part of its allure rests on the fact that, as a tile-based game, the board is literally built anew each time the game is played, so that a player’s particular strategies may have to change from game to game. Further, the game may be played by any number of players from two to five, with resultingly different dynamics.
Carcassonne is considered by many to be a “gateway game,” so-called because it allows entry into the world of strategic gaming without requiring a huge investment in time or learning curve on the part of the players. The rules are relatively simple, the number of players is somewhat elastic, and the game plays quickly (about 30 minutes is average.) It rewards both skill and luck; on every turn, a player may be faced with difficult decisions, on the outcome of which may hang victory or defeat. Still, the draw of a needed tile at an opportune moment may turn the tide, by allowing a player lagging in points to complete a points-rich structure and thereby pull into the lead.
Rio Grande Games also offer many expansions for the basic game of Carcassonne, including (among others) Traders and Builders, Princess and Dragon, and The Tower. The newest expansion is Abbey and Mayor, which introduces the idea of traveling merchants, who transport their goods to the cities and monasteries formed within the game. The cities in the countryside can increase to a size large enough to elect their own mayors, simple farmers build up large and lucrative farms, and the church tries to strengthen its influence by establishing abbeys. This expansion also allows a sixth player to join the game, and increases the duration of the average game to approximately 45 minutes.