My Top Ten Carcassonne Expansions
Carcassonne is one of my favourite board-games. It’s great for teaching to new players, and is one of my go to games for introducing people to modern board-games. Keeping it simple is great for new players, but if you dive into the world of expansions you can make the game more complicated or involved. Over the years I have collected many different Carcassonne expansions. There are a bewildering number of options available, but only a select few can make it onto my top ten list. Did your favourites make it? Read on to find out!
Honourable Mention: The Labyrinth
Contents: One labyrinth tile
This expansion was published in a magazine and only consists of a single tile. It’s beautiful little maze that joins four different roads together, also making it a uniquely configured tile. It might be my favourite individual tile in the game, but one tile with no extra rules isn’t really enough for me to rank it as an expansion.
10. Count, King and Robber
Contents: Two large tiles for the city of Carcassonne, a Count of Carcassonne meeple, tiles and tokens for King and Robber and 22 land tiles including 5 shrines and 12 river tiles.
This expansion is a strange mixture of different ideas. The standout addition are the large tiles that represent the original city of Carcassonne. This is an alternative way of starting the game. Instead of starting with one tile or the river, you begin with a huge city instead. It looks spectacular, but I still prefer the original experience of starting from nothing and slowly covering the whole table.
The city isn’t just an fancy starting tile. It does two things during the game, one I like and one I don’t. If a feature is scored and your meeples are outnumbered on it you can put your meeples into the city. I like this idea of compensation for losing out on a confrontation. However once your meeples are in the city, you can put them onto later features as they are completed. This adds a new dynamic to the game where your opponents can undo all your hard work during the game which I don’t enjoy. It seems too easy to steal all their points once you have a meeple in the city.
The King and the Robber award extra points for controlling the largest city and the largest city respectively. It adds a little extra book-keeping to the game as you have to keep track of the current record, but it adds an extra reward to building huge cities and roads, so I’m definitely in favour. The official rule is that the King and Robber score a point for each completed city and road respectively, but I prefer the house-rule that the record holder gets a flat ten or fifteen points to save heaps of counting at the end of the game.
Another addition are the shrines. These look great and they are like evil versions of the monasteries. They score in the same way, but they are rivals with the monasteries, so if a shrine is completed, the neighbouring monasteries score zero and vice-versa. If the shrines aren’t placed next to a monastery, however, they don’t offer anything new or exciting.
In general, this expansion offers a few interesting ideas, but is a bit of a mixed bag. I think the King and the Robber is the best part, but you don’t really need any new tiles to do this, and the official rules for them could be simpler.
9. The Watchtowers
Contents: 12 new tiles with watchtowers on them
This is another mini-expansion which lets you add watchtowers to your cities. Each watchtower has a cryptic little symbol on it that shows you how it scores points. Watchtowers always care about the 3 by 3 square of neighbouring tiles just like monasteries. Instead of scoring one point per tile, they might score two points per meeple, or three points for each monastery. You score points by completing a road or city that you control which connects to the tower. I like that they give a variety of different ways to score points, but this isn’t the simplest expansion to explain, which is why it isn’t higher on my list.
8. The Goldmines
Contents: 8 tiles with gold bars, 16 gold bars and a scoring chart.
Next is another mini-expansion, this time based around collecting gold. When you place a tile with a gold bar, you put a gold bar on that square and a neighbouring tile. When ever a feature is completed, the controller of that feature claims any gold on it. The more gold you get, the more points each bar is worth. It’s often fairly easy to place the tile so that you get both bars, so I have a house-rule that the second gold bar gets placed on the next tile to be placed. This leads to more gold scattered across the map and a higher chance of a competitive scramble for gold.
My biggest critique of this expansion however is that the gold bars look a little naff. I plan on painting mine with gold paint so that they stand out a little.
7. The Flying Machines
Contents: 8 tiles with flying machines and a flight dice.
The flying machines one these tiles represent man’s first attempts at flight. When you place a meeple on a flying machine it is launched a random distance in the direction of the arrow. This enables you to put meeples on features that are already occupied, which can be a huge swing in your favour. Or they could soar off the map! Placing these tiles and using them is a lot of fun.
6. Castles in Germany
Contents: Six castle tiles, each twice the size of a normal tile.
This expansion is really unusual because each player starts with a rectangular castle tile in reserve at the start of the game. This adds an interesting strategic option, and lets you make plans that won’t be completely ruined by the luck of the draw. The castles also represent the potential for a lot of points. I’m normally wary of such high scoring tiles because I don’t want the luck of the draw to decide the whole game, but because everyone gets one castle each, the game becomes about how well you can use it.
Castles add points in two ways. Firstly they score like large monasteries, getting points for each square in a 3 by for grid around them, with the castle counting for two points. Secondly roads and cities next to them score an additional three points if completed. But beware these bonuses apply to every-ones pieces. I love that such a powerful tile can backfire, so be careful playing with this expansion.
5. Cathedrals in Germany
Contents: 6 new tiles with famous cathedrals on them
Building roads is perhaps the least exciting thing you can do in Carcassonne. Cathedrals all lie at the junction of three or four roads and give an extra point per tie to anyone that completes a road that ends at the cathedral. With this bonus players will fight over even the shortest of roads.
But you can also put your meeple on the cathedral itself. Then it greedily scores points for each section of road attached to it. But there’s a catch! You can’t get your meeple back until all the roads connected to the cathedral are complete. With your opponent’s help both of you can score big points but if you have to complete four roads on your own, that meeple on the cathedral may be stuck in place for a long time.
I like this expansion a lot because usually multiple players benefit when you play a cathedral. Deciding when to work together with your rivals adds a layer of strategy to the game. Aesthetically, these six tiles all have different art on them, adding more variety to your game. My only criticism is that cathedrals appear in another expansion, which is later on the list. Having two different things that work differently but have the same name is a little confusing to explain to new players.
4. Bridges, Castles and Bazaars
Contents:12 new tiles including eight bazaars, 12 wooden bridges and 12 castle tokens.
Like other entries on this list, Bridges, Castles and Bazaars offers a mix of interesting ideas and innovations. The bridges add cute little wooden bridges letting you build roads over other tiles. This means you can put tiles in unexpected places and adds a nice three-dimensional element to the board.
The castles are something you can use when you complete a two tile city. Instead of scoring four points, you can place a castle, and score points when a neighbouring feature is completed. If you can predict how the game with unfold, you can score big points by building a castle near an important feature. If however none of the features get completed, your meeple is wasted, scores zero and is left stranded and unavailable for the rest of the game. Another small but important rule is that they count as four points for surrounding fields instead of three. I like the new gameplay that they add, but I so have a small gripe. The castle tokens are surrounded by grass, which means that two fields separated by a castle look like they have been unified. It would be a miserable way to lose if you misplayed because of this cosmetic touch.
I have no gripes about my favourite new addition the bazaars, which helped put this expansion into fourth on my list. When a player lays a bazaar, a small mini-game begins. The officials suggest an auction where you bid points, but I prefer the simpler variant where you draw one tile for each player. Starting with player who laid the bazaar everyone chooses a tile and adds it to the board, scoring in the usual way. This twist forces players to test their skills evaluating tiles. How much are these tiles worth to you? Do you need to stop your friends from getting the perfect tile to complete their city? These mini-games slow the game down, but create an interesting new form of conflict. What’s great is that even if you aren’t the player who draws the bazaar you still have a chance to take part and score points.
3. Traders and Builders
Contents: 6 pigs, 6 builders, 24 tiles and 20 goods tokens.
Traders and builders adds a very interesting dynamic to the game. It can incentivise you to complete your opponent’s cities. The new city tiles have wine, wheat and cloth logos on them. If you complete a city, even if you don’t control it, you get a token for that good. Who ever has the most of each good at the end of the game gets a ten point bonus. I like this because it forces you to keep an eye on more than just your parts of the board.
The other titular addition is the builder meeple, which I’m not a fan of. If you add a builder to a feature you already control, when you add to it in future you get an extra go. This is such a huge bonus, it warps all your plans around it. Playing two tiles a turn is so strong, your first thought is to always extend that one feature you have a builder on. Instead of trying to balance all the different facets of the game, you just get caught up on one city or one road. I prefer letting the cities and roads grow organically, rather than the turbo-charged boost they get from laying two tiles a turn.
The cutest element of this expansion is the pig. You can add it to a field where you already have a farmer, and if you control that field at the end of the game, you get an extra point for each city it supplies. This is a very easy addition to the game, and because you can wait until the near the end of the game, it’s fairly risk free to get these extra bonus points.
2. Crop Circles
Contents: Six tiles with crop circles on them.
The final mini-expansion on my list was originally a bonus seventh expansion with one tile appearing in each of the six previous mini-expansions. I think this is a nice little bonus for collecting the whole series, and I love the flavour of mysterious crop circles doing strange things.
Each crop circle has a symbol inside them which tells you which kind of meeple it affects. When you play a crop circle, you choose ‘add’ or ‘remove’ and this decision affects all players.
For example if it was a farm crop-circle and you chose add, everyone must add a farmer to a tile where they already have a farmer, if possible. If you chose remove, they must remove a farmer from the board if possible. Quite appropriately these tiles can cause lots of mischief.
1. Inns and Cathedrals
I believe Inns and Cathedrals is considered by most people to be the best expansion and I heartily agree. It adds so much to the game it even adds the pieces needed for a sixth player! In a lot of expansions there are new ways of scoring points, but there isn’t always a risk to match the reward. Here however the inns and cathedrals can boost your score or wipe it out.
If you complete a city with a cathedral in it you score three points for each tile and shield. However if you don’t finish the city it becomes worthless. When someone draws a cathedral tile, they have to decide how confident they are that they can complete the entire city. Or you can use it on your opponent’s city if it has become too big and you think they can’t complete it in time. A similar principle applies to inns and roads. Roads with inns score double when completed, but nothing when left unfinished. In both cases, there can be some dramatic climaxes to the game where a player is desperately trying to find the final piece for their city or road and other players are trying to find a way to stop them.
There is still more good stuff to find in the expansion. It adds interesting new tiles that have new combinations of cities, roads and monasteries to add more variety to your stack of tiles. Finally you get an oversized meeple that counts as two meeples. This doesn’t get you anymore points when it scores a feature, but it does make it easier to win the contest to control a feature. This makes the game more aggressive as it becomes easier to fight for the big cities and long roads. The large meeples are my favourite new type of meeple added in any expansion. Knowing when and where to deploy them is a real skill. If you get them stranded somewhere it can be disastrous.
If you only buy one expansion, it should be this one. It integrates seamlessly with the original game and adds more interaction between the players which I love. You might add an unwanted cathedral to their city, or use a large meeple to claim their long road. Inns and Cathedrals adds lots of new ways to annoy and frustrate your friends, and isn’t that what board-games are all about?