Dale Yu: Review of Carcassonne 20th Anniversary Edition

Carcassonne: 20th Anniversary Edition

  • Designer: Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
  • Publisher: Hans im Gluck/Z-Man
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Z-Man/Asmodee USA.  Played conservatively 300 times with various versions over the years

carcassonne 20th anniversary

So, though gaming has been part of my life for the bulk of my adult years, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively new hobby.  I was astonished to see that one of the mainstays of my early gaming years, Carcassonne,  just had its 20th anniversary.  To celebrate, Hans im Glueck has arranged a special edition to celebrate this milestone.

The new version of the game comes in a beautiful blue box with a golden crest in the middle and a meeple at the bottom.  The 72 basic tiles are all here, though with some modifications.  The artwork on the tiles is different, and there is a high-gloss finish on the tiles, most notably seen on the cities.  There are also an additional 15 tiles marked with a “20” on them to provide a bit more variety – these tiles are only found in this version.  Additionally, you will find the 17 tiles of the River expansion.  You can choose to play with these tiles if you like, but you can just stick to the base set.

At its heart, it is a simple tile laying game.  There are very few feature types on the tiles, grassland, roads, cities, and an occasional monastery.  On your turn, you place the tile they you are holding so that it is adjacent to at least one other tile.  At the sides where your tile touches any other, all of the features must match – roads match roads, grass matches grass, city matches city, etc.

Then once you have played the tile, you have the option of placing one of your scoring meeples on any of tile features (road, city, grassland, monastery), with the caveat that the feature cannot already be occupied – that is, if you continue a road which already had a meeple standing on it previously, you can’t jump on the road on your newly placed tile because it’s already “owned” by the meeple previously placed.  However, if you connect two different sections of road, each with their own different meeple on it, this newly conjoined road can be shared by the meeples on it as they were both present when their segments were joined.

If, after placing your tile, a road or city is complete, or a monastery is fully surrounded by other tiles, it is immediately scored.  The meeple which was standing on the feature is returned to its owner, and it can be played to the board again on a later turn.  If there were multiple meeples on a feature, if one color has more than the others, it scores all the points. Otherwise, the meeples with the most each score full points.

A completed road scores one point per tile in that road

A complete city scores 2 points per tile as well as 2 additional points for each coat of arms found in that completed city

A completely surrounded monastery scores 9 points.

The game continues until all the tiles have been placed on the board. At this time, there is a bit of final scoring of the incomplete map features

Incomplete roads score 1 point per tile

Incomplete cities score 1 point per tile and 1 point per coat of arms

Incomplete monasteries score 1 point for each tile surrounding it, and 1 point for the monastery itself

The player with the most points wins.  There is no tiebreaker.

If you’re familiar with the game, you’ll suddenly be thinking that I left something out – what about the farmers!  Well, in this version of the game, farmers are not in the basic rules.  I’m not sure if it has always been this way – but my brain seems to remember being taught farmers in basic Carc.  In any event, 20 years later, farmers are felt to be an expert rule, only to be used after playing the regular game a few times.

Farmers are meeples which are laid flat on the grass in a field.  Like other features, only one farmer can be in a field unless tiles are laid to conjoin two previous fields…  At the end of the game, each field scores 3 points per completed city that it touches.  They can score many points at the end of the game, but they can be hotly contested (as it is often easy to add a farmer to an existing field).  Also, once you place a meeple as a farmer, you’ll never get it back as fields are only scored at the end of the game.  So if you invest too heavily in farmers at the start, you’ll be short on meeples to play to score points during the run of play.

This 20th Anniversary edition also comes with three expansions: The River, The Abbot, and the Anniversary Expansion.  They can each be played on their own, or can be combined in any permutation to the game.

The River – There are 17 tiles in this expansion, starting with a double wide Source tile and ending with 2 lake end tiles.  The source tiles are placed on the table as the first tile in the game, and the 2 lake tiles are placed on the bottom of the shuffled River tile stack.  Players first draw and place the River tiles to generate the initial board.  The rivers must always flow outward from the source, never doubling back on itself; and each end will be capped with a lake.  Once all the River tiles are placed, start using the regular tiles and play a normal game.  Your board will simply be 17 tiles larger.  There are no ways to score the river.

The Abbot – Each player gets a special Abbot meeple (with a steeple-shaped cap).  There are no extra tiles used in this expansion, but the Abbots can be placed on the gardens which are found on some of the tiles (this artwork is not used in the regular game).  The gardens act similarly to monasteries; they are worth 9 points when fully surrounded.  However, the Abbot has the special ability that if there is a turn where you choose not to place a meeple, you can remove your Abbot from the board, even if his garden is not fully surrounded, and score points for it based on the tiles surrounding it.  You regain the Abbot in your supply and you can place it again on a later turn.

The Anniversary Expansion – meant to be an homage to the first 3 large expansions to Carcassonne.  These tiles are easily visible by the “20” on the tile as well as the blue arrow on it which explains the special ability of the tile.  These fifteen tiles are shuffled into the base tiles and simply drawn at random like any other tile.  When you place an Anniversary tile, the placement of the arrow is important. If the arrow does not point to a previously placed tile, nothing happens with the arrow and you simply score 2 points.  If the arrow does point to a previously placed tile, then you can take advantage of the action in the arrow – there are three possibilities

  • Double meeple – you have the option of placing a second meeple on top of your own already placed meeple on the tile which the arrow points to.  You now have a much stronger position for that feature.
  • Meeple next door – you can choose to place your meeple on any unfinished feature on the tile which the arrow points to instead of being restricted to only placing on the tile that you just played
  • Extra turn – after you finish your current turn and score any points, take another turn immediately.  You can not take a third turn in a row if you play another extra turn expansion tile.

The game rules really remain unchanged – the only difference I can really see is that the farmer scoring is now an “advanced” rule instead of part of the basic game.  Otherwise, the tile set appears to be the same, and there is just something captivating about the simple and elegant method of drawing a tile, placing it next to like features, placing a meeple on the tile you placed and then possibly scoring.  It is the sort of game that you can teach the basics in about 2 minutes, and yet the game still holds up after probably 1,000 plays (in person and online).  I still haven’t tired of the game, and I have definitely killed more than my share of tile sets from overuse.  I would say that I’ve probably owned six or seven versions of the base tiles.

For all of the tiles, there is new artwork as well as a shiny glossy finish to the tiles.  There is a lot more flavor artwork to the tiles, many of which refer to other Hans im Gluck games.  Theoretically, the tiles here will work with any of the other big expansions, and the extra artwork is just to celebrate the milestone for the game.  The box also includes a sheet of stickers so that you can add little humans to your meeples.  I have chosen not to do that as I prefer the plain wooden meeples.

carcassone 20th meeples

A picture from HiG with the meeples (as I did not sticker my own)

While I love the presentation of the new box and the glossy finish on the tiles, I’ll admit that I’m less excited about the extra art.  I am generally one who prefers simpler art, and my personal preference is to not have any distracting art.  While the extra little things on the tiles are fun to look at and we’ve enjoyed trying to figure out all the Easter Egg references, the purist gameplayer in me would just as soon have the art only contain stuff needed to play the game.  As usual, I feel like I’m in the minority in this opinion as most of the locals that have seen the tiles have ooh-ed and aah-ed over the new art.

Gamewise, Carcassonne remains one of my favorites, and I do like this version as it gives me a new set of base tiles which aren’t all beat up, and a few expansions to shake things up – though I’ll readily admit that my favorite way to play the game is simple vanilla Carc.  It’s been awhile since I’ve played, so I no longer have all the tiles memorized.  I might make a color copy of the back of the Rio Grande Games rules which have the full manifest of tiles on it – but maybe I’ll just be more excited than usual when my weird three sided city with a road coming out of it manages to pop out of the bag and in to my hands!

Carcassonne remains one of my all time Top 10 games, and I heartily recommend this version (or any version) of the game to anyone interested in the hobby.  For me, this remains the ultimate gateway game, and likely the first game I’ll pull out when someone asks me to explain more about “those games I have in my basement”.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Matt C: It’s a solid game, especially as it limits a player’s choices on any given turn, there won’t be an overwhelming amount of information to process at any given point in the game.  That makes it nice for new gamers.  However, the game doesn’t really grip me strongly and I’ll tend to either go something possibly lighter or a bit more complex, depending on the situation.  I seem to recall something about a heated debate raging on how the farmers scored.  I always played by the rules I had in my box…

Mitchell: Carcassonne remains an excellent game, deep enough to warrant its own book and light enough to introduce to just about anyone. The entire portfolio of Carc expansions and settings quickly became utterly overwhelming and the only one that I still play is Carc: The Castle, a neat and contained version highlighted by Knizia’s scoring innovations. Probably (and knowledgeable OP ludologists can correct me), Carc was the first tile placement game that set the pace for what is now two decades of games that riff off the original idea. As I peruse my collection I would say that Carc is among the most influential of game influencers for this now proliferating genre. It deserves multiple kudos for that alone. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, Steph H., Mitchell
  • I like it.  Matt C.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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4 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Carcassonne 20th Anniversary Edition

  1. huzonfirst says:

    If there was ever any question that games have become lighter and more accessible over the years, the clincher has to be that it was felt that the farmer rules–the *simplified* farmer rules–were deemed too complex for the Carcassonne basic game. Wow. I know that HiG has a good feel for the game’s audience, so I’m sure this is a sound decision, but man, talk about dumbing things down!

    • Moritz says:

      Not sure what you mean with “simplyfied” farmer rules?
      Anyway, the farmers in Carcassonne represent a so called abstract rule. By far most people struggle to learn abstract rules. What do I mean with that? So if you learn the game new, you learn how to puzzle the tiles. Then you learn to place your Meeple. Already here, the first abstract rule kicks in, that you can`t place a Meeple at any area which already contains a Meeple. Why is it abstract? Because most people can`t picture what an area is. So far they only know 1 or 2 tiles. Their univerese of rules are all playing with one or max. 2 tiles.
      Please check first time Carcassonne players, they will place a Meeple on every tile they place, with the only exception being the closing of one of their areas. Why, because the meaning of getting the Meeple back and use them wisely is abstract as well. They do not have a feeling of how many turns they have, how big the board gets`, etc., so they will run out of Meeple pretty soon.
      If you multiply this now to the farmers, you see the problem. At the stage of learning the rules, nobody has the slightest idea of how big fields will get, how many citys will there be, what are 3 points compared to what I get from roads, etc. I simply have no relevant experience to link the rules to their scale in game.
      Abstract is not the missing of 5 minutes backround text you have to read, but the inability to link information to your way of thinking.
      Of course people who love boardgames, tend to be better abstract thinkers, but Carcassonne already left the bubble of these maybe 250.000 geeks worldwide.
      As Carcassonne offers those rules to follow up with and also has a lot of depth in total, I would not call it “dumbing down” (which I agree is an issue for some things).
      Examples for dumbing down in my opinion are more games like “Res Arcana” or “Wingspan”, which have have an overlay of relevance, but in the end are cube-pusher without depth. Or for example the choice of a far worse game to become a major award, but giving the second one to the game that could drag many many people into boardgaming (The Crew), even if it also contains abstract rules. These days Dominion would not get “Spiel des Jahres”, but “Kennerspiel”. Which would be a bad mistake and an example of dumbing down.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    Again, I’m not criticizing HiG for removing the farmer rule from the basic game, Moritz. It simply saddens me that we have come to such a state. When Settlers came out a quarter of a century ago, it was considered the ideal “gateway” game. I’m not sure it was ever a great choice (since the most important decision in the game is the first one of where to place your opening settlement), but can you imagine anyone suggesting that now? Settlers has far more rules than something like Ticket to Ride or Carc. And yet, back in 1995, it was the common wisdom that Settlers was the perfect title to introduce gaming to non-gamers. I’m not saying that we should go back to those days, but maybe it wouldn’t be the worst idea to challenge prospective gamers just a little bit more.

    By the way, when I talk about the “simplified” farmer rules, it’s because the rule for farmers in the first edition of Carc was slightly more involved than the current one. HiG changed it at the strong “suggestion” of the SdJ jury, who wanted to give their award to Carc, but felt that rule made it just a bit too complicated for its family audience. It must have worked, because Carcassonne won the SdJ, along with a bunch of other awards back in 2001. Funny, but the SdJ jury didn’t think the new farmer rule was too complicated back then!

  3. K.C. Bell says:

    Can I buy the sticker sheet off you?

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