[Review] Carcassonne: the Castle
- Even though many "gamers" scoff at Carcassonne, I still find
it the ultimate "portal" game for introducing new folks to the
wonderful world of board games, even more than Settlers of Catan.
One of the things I liked most about Carcassonne was that it made a
fairly fun two-player game, and I often enjoyed those two-player
games as much as, if not more than multiplayer games. When I heard
that Reiner Knizia was making a two-player version of this classic,
I was ecstatic. And when I found the game, Carcassonne: The Castle
(Rio Grande Games, 2003 Reiner Knizia) under my Christmas tree, I
was overjoyed! How could a game like this go wrong?
But when I played the game, I found that it actually
exceeded my expectations. It quickly went from a good Carcassonne
variant to become one of my favorite two player games ever!
Carcassonne: The Castle is similar to other Carcassonne games, but
varies enough to make it probably the best version available. I
will now only play regular Carcassonne as a multiplayer game, since
this version is vastly superior. It certainly is one of the best
games of 2003!
Ten puzzle pieces are put together to form the outer walls
of a castle, to form an uneven shape that will hold seventy-six
tiles. The walls also form a scoring track, onto which are placed
one meeple each of the two different colors (black and tan).
Thirteen of eighteen wall tiles are placed face down on the corners
of the wall (because of the cities' shape, there are many corners).
Each player receives 6 meeples and 1 "keep" of their color. Sixty
castle tiles are shuffled and placed face down into a pile. One
player makes the first turn, with play alternating until all the
tiles in the face down pile are gone.
On a player's turn, they first draw a tile, then place it.
Tiles are made up of three types of terrain: tower, house, and
court. There are also roads traveling through certain tiles. The
first player must place their tile in such a way that it connects to
one of the start spaces on the castle wall (there are seven). After
that, all tiles must either connect to a start space or to a tile
that has already been played onto the board. Unlike other
Carcassonne games, the rules for placing tiles are not much more
restrictive than that. The only other rules are these: 1). Roads
must always meet roads although they can run into the castle
wall. 2). Tiles must have one of their sides completely next to
the side of another tile (you cannot stagger them when placing).
Other than that, court can be placed next to house, house next to
After placing a tile, the player MAY place one of their
meeples on the tile they just placed. They may place it on a road
(making it a herald), on a tower (making it a knight), on a house
(making it a squire), or on a field (making it a merchant.) As
tiles are connected, the places where meeples are may grow larger
but only one meeple may be placed per each individual house, court,
tower, or path. It is possible to have more than one meeple in each
place, but only if a tile is placed to join two already connecting
towers, houses, etc. When a road is finished by having both ends
run into walls, or a city square, the player removes their herald,
and scores one point for each tile on which the road goes through.
If there is a picture of one or more fountains next to the completed
road, the points are doubled. When a tower is finished (by having
every part of the tower surrounded by different terrain types), the
knight is removed, and the player whose knight it was scores two
points for tile that is part of the tower. When a house is
completed, the player whose house it was (most squires) removes
them, and scores one point for each house section. When a player
scores their first house, they place their keep on it. The keep
stays there the entire game unless the player builds a larger house
in which case the keep moves to the larger house. If, on a road,
house, or tower, there are the same amount of meeples for both
players both are removed, and nobody scores any points.
Courts are scored a little differently. When a player
places a merchant, they lay it on its side to show that the merchant
cannot be moved for the remainder of the game. At the end of the
game, merchants are scored receiving three points for each market
that is part of their court (little pictures on the tiles.) When
the last tile is placed, markets are the only things scored
unfinished roads, towers, and houses are NOT scored. The keep,
however, is scored. Whichever player has the largest keep scores
points for the largest empty area of spaces on the board at the end
of the game. For example, if there are a group of 12 spaces
together at the end of the game, and my keep is bigger than my
opponents, I would get twelve bonus points.
Whenever a player scores any points, their marker is moved
along the scoring path immediately. The first player's scoring
marker to reach each wall tile gives that wall tile to the player,
who reveals it and places it in front of them. There are nine
different types of wall tiles, which do a variety of things, form
doubling the scoring of certain areas, to giving bonus points, to
allowing the player to take an extra turn. After the last tile is
placed, and wall tiles, keeps, and courts are scored, the player
with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: The components in the game are top notch, and
extremely high quality. The castle pieces and the tiles are
extremely good quality, and all fit together incredibly well. The
wall tiles are small, and of good quality. There is no text on
them, and so at first one might have to look up in the rules what
each wall tile means but I found them rather self-explanatory.
The meeples and keeps are nice, although I would have preferred
black and white instead of tan (this is a minor, minor quibble). I
think the artwork on the original Carcassonne was better, and that
the cities there looked better, instead of all blocky like this
game, but this is a minor quibble. All of these good components
come in a box of excellent quality, with nice artwork on the outside.
2.) Rules: For those who have played Carcassonne before, the
rules for this game can be learned in less than five minutes. For
those who haven't, the game is still rather simple, and would be the
first Carcassonne game I would teach a newcomer to the hobby (if we
only had two players). The rules were printed on six colorful
pages, with so many illustrations and examples that we had no
questions, and the rules were understood quite easily.
3.) Comparisons to Carcassonne: Some of the things added in
this version, like the wall tiles, are fantastic additions. I also
really enjoyed having more freedom when placing tiles. I was a
little leery at first about the restricted space in which to put
tiles, but soon found that it made the game much more strategic and
fun. The merchants are much easier to score than either the
farmers in Carcassonne or those in Hunters and Gatherers. Overall,
this game was more simple in some ways, but more complex in others,
but taking the best of both worlds!
4.) Luck and strategy: There are always those who complain
about the luck of Carcassonne, when drawing the tiles. In this
game, we felt that this luck has been dramatically reduced, and that
placement of one's meeples is much more crucial to whether or not
one wins the game or not. Deciding to get some quick points to
obtain a wall tile is not a new, viable strategy, and keeps games
close and exciting. The wall tiles ARE important, and cannot be
ignored, as I have seen many games won by them alone.
5.) Theme and fun factor: This is a Knizia game, and you're
looking for theme? But the castle walls really help, and I though
that the theme fit fairly well around the excellent mechanics. We
had a lot of fun playing the game, as there was quite a bit of
interaction between the players, and we were constantly racing to
see who would get the next wall tile. Carcassonne: the Castle is
strategic, sure, but is VERY fun.
So, in summary, I recommend this game highly. It's certainly one of
the best games of 2003, and without a doubt one of the best two-
player games you can buy. It bears repeated playings and can be
played casually or very competitively. There's a lot to admire in
this game, and therefore I think that it's a must for gamers to add
to their collections. Unless you hate Carcassonne, give this game a
try, and even if you do you may not dislike this one.