Family Game Night: Carcassonne

By Jeff Dougan

At the Urbana Free Library’s adult reference desk you’ll find a handout that details the library’s game collection. Information includes terms of checkout, fines, and a list of the games currently in the collection.

For readers who aren’t familiar with hobby games but are interested in getting started, I’d like to introduce you to some of the games in the library’s collection, beginning with Carcassonne.

Carcassonne game Chambanamoms Champaign Urbana

Carcassonne, available at local retailers or the Urbana Free Library, is a great game to start if you're interested in hobby games. Credit: Rio Grande Games

The details:

  • In the library’s collection
  • Plays 2-5 players as sold, can support more with expansions (sold separately)
  • Publisher’s suggested ages: 8+ (see notes below)
  • Purchasable at any of the locations previously recommended. Current suggested retail price $29.95.

Carcassonne is named after a city in southern France that is a real-life tourist attraction for its various Roman and medieval cities and abbeys. Carcassonne is a domino-like game in which the players build up the countryside while trying to control various features such as castles, roads and abbeys. It plays from 2-5 players as is, and can be played by itself or with any combination of expansion sets. Although the publisher suggests that it be played by ages 8 and up, they include a simplified version of the rules that I used to teach it to my son, the Grasshopper, last summer, and I know of several people who have taught their children as young as 6 to play with almost the full scoring rules. Playing with only the original game, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour to play; play time for a single game increases as you add expansion sets to the mix.

There are two reasons that parents have successfully taught young children to play this game, and they contribute to why I chose Carcassonne as the first game from the library collection to get an in-depth look. One reason is that, aside from one person needing to read the rules in order to teach it, there is no reading ability needed to play the game. The other is that, by using expansion sets (or not), you can make the game more or less challenging, and can also make it more directly competitive.

Chambana Champaign Urbana game night

Credit: boardgamegeek user Mecandes

Because a player draws a random tile each turn, even fairly young kids still have a decent chance to win the game as long as a scoring system is used that’s age-appropriate. The Grasshopper likes the pictorial nature of the tiles, which helps determine legal plays (although it’s sometimes easy for him to accidentally try to match an all-grass side against a road). Even more, though, he likes playing with the wooden person-shaped pieces, nicknamed “meeples” in the gamer community.

Carcassonne has roughly a dozen expansion sets, all of which add tiles and new rules, and most of which add some kind of playing piece or another. Adding more tiles makes an individual game last longer, and the new rules can sometimes help add an element of long-term planning to a game that otherwise has a very one-turn-at-a-time nature. Some of the expansion sets include rules that make the game more directly competitive, where in the original game there’s less room for player-to-player aggression.

Carcassonne makes an excellent introduction to hobby games as a relatively inexpensive, kid-friendly game that doesn’t demand lots of in-game thinking. I encourage people to try it out, either at an open board gaming event or by taking the plunge and buying it.

Jeff Dougan is a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-full-time dad to the Grasshopper, 5, and the Munchkin, 15 months. A lifelong gamer, he’s always willing to teach a new game to anybody, and equally willing to learn a new game almost anytime.

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