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Does Carcassonne have any wonders of the world around it? No, none even close. Does Hans im Glück care about that little inconvenient fact? Not a bit. I guess the definition of “Carcassonne” expands yet again with this unique expansion…

Throwing Geography into the Trash Heap
  • Facts are inconvenient – Up to this point, Carcassonne has had dragons, ferries, magic portals, circuses, mages, witches, giant compass roses, a Ghanan school, cult shrines, cathedrals from Germany, the Low Countries, and Japan, and modern buildings from Darmstradt. Historical accuracy is not this game’s strong suit. So sure, let’s just throw in four impressive architectural structures, only one of which is even in France (and hardly the most impressive structure of its type in the world). Did anyone ask for a Wonders of Humanity expansion? No, and I don’t really understand why these specific structures were even chosen. I suspect it was due to marketing. The worst part: there are going to be more of them.
  • And this thing goes where? – If you can get over the inaccurate history of this, then welcome to the next obstacle: trying to put it on the map. The mechanic is simple enough. As soon as a player reaches 10 points, they get to place this anywhere on the map where it fits and then can place up to two meeples on it, including a bonus meeple they just got from the 10 point spot on the board. Oh, and also the other players’ meeples now move to the 15 spot on the board. Oh, and you need two extra meeples per player, one to act as your bonus and one to mark your wonder as your own. Got all that? Great! Good luck finding a place to put this goliath that benefits you in some way, because all normal placement rules apply.
  • And it does what now? – Okay, you are now historically/geographically indifferent to the wonder, you somehow managed to figure out how to get a wonder, and you’ve placed it haphazardly on the board. Now what? Oh right, get ready to jump back and forth between the (unprinted unless you paid a Euro) rulebook and the board as you try to remember what your specific wonder does. You probably should also remember what everyone else’s does too, just to make sure they’re not intentionally or accidentally cheating or misunderstanding the rules. Shoot, did you forget to do something? Just wait, the next Wonders of Humanity expansion is probably coming out soon and will add four more rules to the mix. Playing with this expansion feels like as much work as building the architectural wonder depicted on the Tetris-like tiles.

What have we done?!
  • Setting the record straight – Carcassonne versions 1 and 2 got pretty confusing regarding multi-tile features and what they counted as (1 tile, 2 tiles, 5 tiles!). Carcassonne 3.0 finally just says what we all wanted it to from the start: each thing that looks like a tile is a tile. Thank. God! They really dropped the ball when they started releasing multi-tile expansions and this clarification makes life so much easier. All of the new tiles in Wonders of Humanity are 5-tile features and count as 5 tiles for all intents and purposes. How hard was that? I will never play any other way again.
  • For the win – Once you figure out the sometimes confusing rules, the four Wonders are quite fun in game-changing ways. Notre-Dame, for example, gives a player points for placing a meeple adjacent to a Monastery. Just placing—it doesn’t even have to score for the future. Pretty cool, though difficult to remember. Similarly, players with Stonehenge score 3 points whenever they complete a Road. No meeple required! Circus Maximus and Alhambra are end-game bonuses, so a little less interesting. The former rewards a player for every meeple of other players’ colors still in a City at the end of the game—this one could go either way and your own meeples and multiple meeples of the same color in an incomplete City don’t score. The latter rewards a player for the number of Farmers they have out, which makes this the least profitable since a player rarely has more than 2-3 farmers out at the end of the game. That being said, a player with this bonus may intentionally toss some out there since they will get both 4 points for their farmers and 3 points for any completed adjacent Cities, like usual.
  • A risky gambit – The Wonders of Humanity, especially as a series, is a daring move by Hans im Glück and it is not a terrible idea, despite the historical inaccuracies involved. Adding impressive architectural works, presumably from around the world and not just Europe as with the current iteration, could attract new players from other countries and also introduce some truly game-altering rules to Carcassonne, for better or for worse. The tiles, too, are interesting in their shapes and format. By having them so large, there are a lot of features that get introduced with these new tiles, making the board grow quickly and giving players many new tile placement options all at once. The art on the tiles is also beautiful, like always, so somehow fits with Carcassonne even while being historically off-putting.

Conceptually, Wonders of Humanity is an interesting direction to go with Carcassonne, and I am not entirely onboard. As a historian in my professional life, I find every deviation away from historical Carcassonne to be a problem in that it pulls me out of the weak theme the original game established. I also am a little worried that additional Wonders, as announced when this released, will require even more rules-checking, turning a simple and enjoyable game into more of a chore. All that being said, I find the tiles visually beautiful, the overall quality very good, and the tile shapes to be unique in a good way. I probably would not buy this straight from unless it was part of a larger order and I don’t think it is worth seeking out otherwise. It is a somewhat gimmicky and fiddly expansion that looks good but could use some refinement.

Playability: B
Affordability: B
Compatibility (with other expansions): B
Aethetics: A
Learning Curve: B-

Oh no! The drawbridge is rising and now I can’t get into the bloody city! What on earth can a poor citizen of Carcassonne do? Apparently a siege is out of the question.

So this is what invincibility feels like
  • Missed opportunity – As a collector of everything Carcassonne, I find that however much I want to like The Besiegers, I just don’t. It’s a crappy expansion with a fiddly mechanic, and I think that’s a strong reason why Hans im Glück hasn’t released it in the new art (yet). The Drawbridges was an excellent opportunity to fix that expansion by integrating the two (probably as a full-sized expansion). Instead, what we get is a decent expansion about moats and drawbridges but no actual reason for either since these features historically were only needed to defend against sieges and invaders. Maybe Hans im Glück needs to stop focusing so heavily on mini expansions and return to larger expansions.
  • Let’s break all the rules – The Drawbridges does something that few expansions do: it let’s you break the core Carcassonne rule that you cannot place a meeple in another player’s feature. While that is certainly fun and involves a new level of strategy, it can also be quite aggressive and very random. As with most things in Carcassonne, the tiles come out randomly, so one player may get all the Drawbridges or get none. This imbalance makes the expansion imbalanced and can lead to huge coups where one player goes from having no meeples in a player’s City to having the majority. Yes, there is strategy here, but there is also a lot of luck. Also, once a City is completed, then that's it—there are no more opportunities to take over that City. While there is a logic to these, it also makes for a race to complete features before a Road is completed, which can add undue stress to an otherwise relaxing game.
  • Didn’t we try this already? – On the other hand, this mechanic really isn’t new. The first edition of Expansion 5: Abbey & Mayor introduced the Wagon as a new type of meeple. When the feature that the Wagon is on is completed, the Wagon was allowed to move via Roads into an adjacent incomplete, unclaimed feature. This mechanic was considered very fiddly and so was replaced in the second edition with a new rule that the Wagon can move to any adjacent incomplete feature. So the Drawbridges brings back the spirit of the original iteration of the Wagon with movement restricted to an adjacent City but initial placement restricted to Roads and the status of the City irrelevant. Perhaps this is why they changed the rules for the Wagon, but this expansion seems to just bring back what was already discarded, which seems strange.

How did it take this long?
  • Bridges that go up – How is it that it took 23 years from this game’s release to come out with a Drawbridge expansion? I mean, it’s one of the most obvious concepts for a medieval-themed game. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that one finally came out and that it looks as good as it does. The fact that some of the moats don’t have water—very historically accurate. Indeed, most moats did not have water. Conceptually, this expansion is a great idea that should have come out in the first few waves of expansions.
  • Where’s my Trojan Horse? – Despite the rules borrowing heavily from the Wagon meeple from Abbey & Mayor, the Drawbridges have a simple strategic viciousness about them that I really appreciate. These tiles hold the fate of a City in their little Roads. Complete a Road attached to an incomplete City and you can roll right in, current tenants be damned. You can even steal a City from someone using just Drawbridges if you link a few of them up to the same City. It takes a lot of advanced planning to pull off, but when it works, it feels deserved. Yes, it is a very aggressive expansion akin to The Tower, The Count of Carcassonne, or The Princess & the Dragon, but it doesn’t feel as mean, which is good. Much like The Ferries, this expansion also makes Roads feel more worthwhile and strategic than they do in the base game.
  • Simple elegance – Ah, nothing is more satisfying than relatively straight-forward tiles without gaudy expansion features or unthematic icons. And 12 tiles with a ton of Cities and Roads, what a treat! This expansion probably pairs well with Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders, which also rely heavily on Cities and Roads for its mechanics. One of the tiles even includes a Garden, which is always a welcome addition for the often underpowered Abbot figure. And three Water Towers appear on tiles, foreshadowing a future use. Honestly, there is nothing negative that can really be said of the tiles themselves—they are great.

This is a very welcomed expansion. Its rules are straightforward if a bit aggressive. Its tiles look good and the addition of 12 new tiles is nothing to scoff at. And the integration potential with this expansion is extraordinary. If you mix these with Expansions 1 and 2—which are undeniably the most popular—then you will add the ability to daisy-chain Roads into double-pointers that then immediately allow a player to potentially steal a City, which may have Trade Goods in it. Throw in The Ferries and you will really have some aggressive Roads that do more than just score 1 point per tile. I am sure the expansion will mix well with many other expansions, although I fear that the Wagon may cause some confusion at times. As far as stand-alone expansions go, I do feel it was a missed opportunity not to release this as an Expansion 12 alongside The Siege and perhaps one other mechanic, but oh well. If you happen to have an opportunity to get this expansion, you won’t regret it.

Playability: A
Affordability: B
Compatibility (with other expansions): A-
Aethetics: A
Learning Curve: A-

Ghosts and Carcassonne: what a novel idea. Mists Over Carcassonne seems like an out of left field Carcassonne spin-off. The fact that it also functions as an expansion means it has quite a lot in common conceptually with Wheel of Fortune, but the stand-alone aspect is something entirely different from the base game of Carcassonne and it is something that is the focus of this review. If you want to see my review of the game as an expansion, you’ve got to wait a while long since I haven’t actually tried it yet.

Perilous Puzzles
* Unraveling the Mystery – Mists Over Carcassonne involves ghosts, cemeteries, and haunted castles, and players work together to try and unlock the mysteries of this game. And what mystery is that? How it works! Seriously. I have played around 30 games of this now, but I have only played about 5 of those using the correct rules. Without a doubt, this game has to include some of the most poorly-organized rules in all the Carcassonne family. And even the wizards at Wikicarpedia have struggled to translate Hans im Glück’s poor structure into something that makes sense. Part of the problem is that there are six levels players can play at, some of which actually change rules. The other part of the problem is some important rules are either buried or not located in a logical place. For example, did you know that if you are playing with 2-3 players, each player should actually play as two separate colors? Alongside that, if players connect features, they actually score for each color! Oh, and if you score a feature—any feature—you can choose to either score the points or remove up to 3 ghosts from a single tile. Yeah, we learned each of these rules separately after playing the game wrong for many times. On the plus side, we now feel the game is too easy.
* Behold, A Castle in the Fog! – Carcassonne is known for its castles. I mean, some people call Cities ‘Castles’. Then there are German Castles. Oh, and you can’t forget Castles (from Castles, Bridges & Bazaars). So the addition of yet another Castle feature is rather uninventive. The rules for it are also rather underwhelming—surround the Haunted Castle and score 2 points for each adjacent tile with mist. Really? That’s it. Okay, so say I’ve trapped my poor meeple on it for most of the game and the tile is completely surrounded. I score 18 points. Woo. I could have scored more just by claiming a large City. The core of this game is really scoring large Cities with several meeples to gain points, and scoring small features quickly to remove ghosts. Haunted Castles serve no purpose and I doubt I’ll ever claim one in the future.
* Leveled Up – Undeniably, one of this game’s potential strengths is also one of its gravest weaknesses. This game scales like many cooperative games do. But where many co-op games increase difficulty by removing or increasing something, or adding an extra rule, Mists Over Carcassonne adds rules six times and also changes them. The game includes a little cardboard cheat sheet for these changes, but it is sometimes difficult to interpret and still requires players to know what the new rules are to begin with. The game begins without Cemeteries and Castles (Level 1), then adds them (Level 2), then adds a timeout mechanism (Level 3), then removes ghosts (Level 4), then changes Cemetery rules (Level 5), then makes each player fend for themselves (Level 6). It is a lot to take in, and explains why the rules are so hard to understand. Conceptually, the level system should work, but in practice, it is confusing and should have been workshopped some more. Established rules shouldn’t change between levels—better solutions can be found.

Crisis in Languedoc
* Reinventing the Wheel – One thing you have to credit this game with is that it truly reimagines Carcassonne in an innovative way. Turning the game into a truly cooperative game using many of the same core mechanics of the base game converts Carcassonne into a puzzle-timer game. The clock is always running down, with ghosts and tiles both running out, sometimes quite quickly. Teamwork is key to ensure that as many meeple as possible get onto potentially high-scoring Cities. But players also have to watch out for running out of meeples, creating too many mist areas and open Cemeteries, placing too many Ghosts, and creating incompletable features. It’s a very difficult balance and will take many games to get good at.
* Panicky Peasants — This game instills a strange sense of fear and panic that is both exhilarating and satisfying. As the ghosts enter the field, and especially when the first Cemetery comes out, players can feel the tension, as if the end is nigh and the game may just beat the players. It makes some decisions very tense, and there is a lot of gambling, especially since the tile draws are still entirely random like in the base game. But this feeling makes the game quite fun and victories are truly enjoyed by all players. The game also plays very fast. There often are few realistic choices for tile placements, so games, especially at Levels 1 and 2, can take only minutes in some cases. So if you lose, there is a strong desire to try it again; and if you win, you may want to push your luck and try for a second win.
* Doubling Up – Although this isn’t a review of this game as an expansion to Carcassonne, the fact that the game can serve as such is nothing short of wonderful. This game adds 60 new tiles (plus a gorgeous new 2x2 start tile) to your base game experience, with new features and the addition of ghosts. In sort of adds the long out of print The Plague expansion into the game in a new ghostly way. The new scoreboard is also fun. I consider this the Halloween expansion, which with the Winter Edition means Hans im Glück really needs to create an integrateable Spring expansion (or Summer if they want to claim the base game is Spring). And yes, Winter Edition can totally be mixed in with the base game—you just have to believe!!!

Mists Over Carcassonne was not a spin-off that anyone asked for but it is certainly one that has proven its worth. As a cooperative game, it takes the Carcassonne family in new directions that are both innovative and fun. From introducing ghosts and cemeteries to ramping up difficulty, the game will prove popular as a warm up game in a familiar genre and setting. While it certainly has some issues, those are not insurmountable and I encourage players to work their way through them in order to actual get to the heart of this game, which is a puzzly, luck-based tile laying game with a surprising amount of skill and strategy hidden under the fun façade.

Playability: A-
Affordability: B+
Aesthetics: A
Learning Curve: C

Reviews & Session Reports / First Mists Over Carcassonne Session Reports
« on: December 26, 2022, 04:11:45 PM »
Happy Holidays everyone!

So, I picked up the German version of Mists Over Carcassonne during the Advent event on CundCo and finally gave it a try today. Like most my Carcassonne playthroughs, it was just two-player, though I don't think that has a huge impact on this iteration of the game. In any case, I made the bold and, in hindsight, presumptuous decision to start at Level 2. That was a grave mistake.

Game 1: Level 2
Drew a Cemetery tile as the very first tile and promptly drew a bunch of tiles showing Mist that couldn't be connected together. We quickly ran out of meeples with our Cemetery in possession of 6(!) when the last ghost was placed. Game lost.

Game 2: Level 2
The first Cemetery came out a few turns into the game, but was quickly followed by a second Cemetery. This didn't impact much, to be honest, but the game was already feeling brutal. The ghosts were gone within a few turns and we felt like we could do absolutely nothing to stop them. Game lost.

Game 3: Level 1
We decided to switch to Level 1 to get a few victories under our belt before returning to Level 2. Also presumptuous of us as we soon discovered. We quickly ended up with an out-of-control massive Mist field and it was eating up our ghosts fast. We staved it off a few turns by drawing vanilla tiles and single-ghost tiles, but the latter just increased the size of the giant field even more. Game lost.

Game 4: Level 1
We immediately went in for a rematch and got what we thought was lucky by drawing a bunch of vanilla tiles early on. That eventually got us up to 44 points of the 50 we needed to win! But with barely any vanilla tiles left, all we had were ghosts, and we made the mistake again of allowing a single Mist field to grow to an unmanageable size. Our 6 points fled ever into the distance as we ran out of options. Game lost.

Game 5: Level 1
We decided this game that our primary goal was to make small Mist fields and avoid a monster field. We also were going to aim for more smaller-scoring features than large features like big cities. The problem is that we kept drawing Mist tiles with lots of ghosts on them. Against our best wishes, some of these fields merged and made awkward holes that we weren't able to fill. Game lost.

Game 6: Level 1
Attempting the strategy again from the previous try, we went for small Mist fields and small features. We had some luck early on and managed to get up to 26 points, but the small point gains weren't increasing fast enough and we kept drawing Mist tiles with awkwardly-arranged Roads on them. We had some luck fending these off initially but then we suddenly stopped drawing more Mist tiles with Roads, which meant we couldn't complete any of the Mist fields. The Roads were killing us slowly but surely. After some truly terrible draws of those insidious three-ghost tiles, we lost our sixth and final game of the day.

Recap: Mists Over Carcassonne is no light-weight co-op game. Just getting good enough to attempt Level 2 is a challenge. Like all Carcassonne games, luck is a major factor which can make or break the game, but there really is a lot of strategy in this game too. Honestly, we're not huge fans of co-op games in general and I mostly bought this game for the Ghosts, Castles & Cemeteries expansion. Having lost the co-op mode six times in rather rapid succession, I am not sure how much more we're going to try it. My partner really hates losing games, and when nobody wins multiple times in a row, she gets even more jaded. I think we'll try the expansion next and see how we like that. I would be willing to try Mists Over Carcassonne again, but my advice to anyone playing it for the first time: it is much more difficult than it appears!

How do you watch the people of Carcassonne? From the watchtowers, of course! Scattered throughout the cities and countryside of Carcassonne can be found twelve imposing bastions of bonus points, ripe for the picking. But are these new features worth watching out for, or are they there to trick you into letting your guard down? Let’s find out…

Gaudy Guardians
* An Early Modern Imposition – As per usual, Carcassonne has shifted away from its medieval roots to tilt toward convenience. Round towers were around in the Middle Ages but they were not overly common and rarely did ones of this magnitude stand alone, especially in Languedoc. So adding twelve of them to the landscape is both jarring and anachronistic. Aesthetically, they are also not visually appealing. The whitish walls make them stand out from Cities, but they also dominate the tiles in somewhat unwelcome ways, and their perspective is just weird. And the obvious instructions printed right in the center of each tower is just plain ugly.
* Rolling Them DiceCarcassonne has always been a game of luck of the draw, but adding twelve tiles that can often result in immediate or near-immediate points, which are in addition to points gained from completing the connected feature, is a lot. Places strategically, these tiles can result in many bonus points to the player who drew and claimed it, but everyone else is left out in the cold. If one player through luck obtains many tiles with Watchtowers, the entire game can swing hard in their favor.
* Today’s Number (again) is Nine – Oh yay, another expansion that bases its main scoring mechanic on a central tile and the eight tiles around it. We sure haven’t seen that idea before, no sir! Honestly, though, when can we finally get more creative with how we score things in Carcassonne? German Monasteries tried the orthogonal cross idea—great! Wagons could actually travel on Roads—awesome! And The Markets of Leipzig turned Sheds and Farmhouses into actual scorable features—AMAZING! But no, we get more of the same with The Barber-Surgeons, Castles in Germany, Darmstadt (*shutters*), and Watchtowers.

Bold Belfries
* Equal Representation – Few expansions touch on nearly every core feature in Carcassonne. However, Watchtowers can benefit from adjacent Meeples, Cities, Pennants, Roads, and Monasteries. The only feature left out are Farms which a) aren’t officially considered a core feature anymore, and b) wouldn’t make sense to benefit from the mechanic of this expansion. And for the most part, these bonuses work really well and are straightforward. Most add a single point for each meeple or feature on that tile or any of the eight adjacent tiles. Monasteries, because they are more rare, add 3 points each. This whole concept makes placing and scoring for the Watchtower so much more strategic because you may want to score it fast, if the opportunity presents itself, or you may want to build it up slowly to maximize points.
* Fill ‘Er Up! – More tiles are always welcome, especially ones that add a good mix of Roads, Cities, and Farms, and because of the core mechanic of this expansion, the former two are definitely in high demand—the only thing left out are Monasteries for reasons of space on the tile. These tiles are all in the new style, but before things got crowded in the Cities. As one of the earliest Carcassonne 2.0 expansions, the Farms and Cities also slightly darker and the backs of the tiles differ slightly from later tiles. But thrown in with a good mix of other tiles, you’ll hardly notice. And most importantly, these are twelve new, useful tiles that will enlarge your Carcassonne tile pool.
* Mixing It Up, Expansion Style – Few expansions work seamlessly with other expansions, but this has to be one of the best. By focusing on adding bonuses to only the core mechanics, there are plenty of options to maximize points even when this is mixed in with many other tiles. The bonuses are also unlikely to get watered down since all tile-based expansions will add more Roads, Cities, and Monasteries. The expansion may, indeed, benefit from Magic Portals and The Flier since all of the tiles have at least two claimable features, only one of which can be claimed when the tile is placed (unless using The Phantom). Move over previous player, I’m getting in on this bonus too!

In the end, The Watchtowers is a decent expansion that adds a lot to a game of Carcassonne without taking much away. But the luck aspect of drawing the Watchtowers can definitely cause an imbalance if one player draws several and can use them to good effect. That makes this also one of the more strategic expansions and one that probably benefits from mixing with other expansions, especially those that provide ways to claim features on previously-placed tiles. The aesthetics of the tiles are also more practical than artistic, which can be jarring or upsetting to some players. The expansion is still worth trying out, though, if for no other reason than the twelve new tiles it will add to your collection.

Playability: B+
Affordability: B
Compatibility (with other expansions): A
Aesthetics: C
Learning Curve: A-

As a last hurrah in celebration of Carcassonne’s 20th (sic 21st) anniversary in 2021, Hans im Glück released yet another promotional expansion: The Gifts. Unique among all other Carcassonne expansions, The Gifts is composed of 25 small playing cards that are awarded to a player randomly whenever they add on to another player’s City or Road. The concept implies altruism but, in reality, this is one of the most brutal, cutthroat expansions released to date. These gifts are laced with arsenic.

A Spoonful of Poison
* Unhelpfully Helpful – Great strategy often hinges on a single tile, and when all of your opponents are trying to complete your low-value Roads and Cities to win themselves a Gift, it’s quite frustrating. Gone are the days when nice, mid-sized Roads and Cities are possible. With this expansion, the only ones you will get are small features—because an opponent “helped” you complete it—and large features—because your opponents still want to try and steal them from you.
* Monks Against Synods! – With exceptions for The Count of Carcassonne and The Shrines, Monasteries have been one of the few inviolable features in Carcassonne. Once you place a Monk on a Monastery, it is yours unless some Dragon, Tower, or Plague comes along and boots you off. You could always be assured that the points would come to you eventually, and you never had to worry about some other player raining on your parade. But no longer! Now, with a simple play of the Synod card, a player can add their Monk to your Monastery and share the points with you, or add a second later and even steal your Monastery. I will be writing the pope on this matter forthwith.
* Two Is The Loneliest Number – Say what you will about Carcassonne, but it is a great 2-player game. The competition between features, the ability to neutralize your opponent by sharing the feature, the sheer number of tiles each player gets to draw (36 each if playing with a 72nd draw tile). It’s nearly perfect, even if there are benefits to playing with more people. But this expansion is not so great with 2 players. Whereas in a larger game, people can help each build Roads and Cities in order to take down another player, in 2-player games, it’s just the two of you. There’s no informal alliances to make Gifts worthwhile. So the only reason to get a Gift is to screw over your opponent. So everything becomes a race to the bottom: How many Farmers can you get in a Field? Can you complete the City or Road fast enough? Are they going to share your Monastery? The entire game becomes something different, and not necessarily for the best since the cards are all randomized and any Gift could change everything.

Backhanded Negotiations
* The Enemy of Your Enemy is My Enemy – The Gifts is a game-changer, which is startling for a two-decade-old game. Never before has so little changed so much in Carcassonne. These cards destroy traditional strategies, make meeple placement far more strategic in the long term, and create far more opportunities for conflict. While many players enjoy the relatively peaceful nature of Carcassonne, it is undeniable that the game has a lot of untapped potential for conflict. This expansion, in reality, does a lot of what The Count of Carcassonne should have done, but didn’t. It makes stealing features, repurposing meeples, and tile placement itself a meta-game, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
* Lounge Rats – Ever miss that opportunity to take a Field by one turn or one bad tile draw? Well now you can just steal it later. The idea that a meeple could be repurposed from an adjacent feature and turned into a Farmer is surprisingly novel and remarkably effective. Now, low-value adjacent features can serve a double purpose, so long as you draw the right card. Large Fields especially are a risk since more tiles means more opportunities to move Meeples onto it. Now the other features themselves could be sources of new Farmers. And if, for some reason, a player overcommits, they can use the card in reverse to claim an adjacent incomplete Road, City, or Monastery, sweeping in for the steal. It’s frankly genius.
* Streamlining Traffic – Did you accidentally place a meeple on a dud Road? Are you sharing a high-value Road with an opponent? Have you unintentionally combined two of your Roads into one? Worry no more! With the Road Sweeper 3000, you can take all the Robbers off of any Road on the board for the low, low cost of one Gift. So take those Robbers, sweep them up, and rake in all those sweet, sweet points.* (*Disclaimer: Points are awarded to the player with the majority Robbers; players with fewer Robbers do not receive points; current player may place new tile in such a way that it continues the feature just scored.)

The Gifts is one of those rare expansions that changes up everything, generally for the good. Is it conflict heavy? Yes. Does it play well with 2 players? No. But with those caveats aside, it is a great addition to any Carcassonne game. Even the two cards not discussed above—Cash Out and Take 2—are useful. The former allows players to cash out meeples stranded on low-value features, while the latter lets players choose their tile from two tiles. At the end of the game, all unused Gifts are worth 2 points. The Gifts is a vicious expansion, moreso than almost any other one except perhaps The Plague. But the randomness of the expansion is all in the cards, which may be its greatest weakness. Although the cards are balanced between the five types, it would possibly be better for each player to only have access to one of each and be able to activate them whenever they help build another player’s feature. That would fix the obvious imbalance caused by a player, say, grabbing several ‘Change on the lie’ cards. But fan variants don’t belong here. This expansion is a wonderful addition to Carcassonne and it will definitely change your gameplay experience if you feel the game has become stale over the past twenty(-one) years.

Playability: A-
Affordability: A
Compatibility (with other expansions): A
Aesthetics: A-
Learning Curve: B

Can someone tell me the way to Carcassonne? No? Okay, well is there a sign somewhere? Oh my... there are signs EVERYWHERE! Or so it seems with The Signposts, yet another annual promotional expansion available exclusively from Hans im Glück. I suppose in a game where road-building is one of the major mechanics, it was inevitable that road signs would appear. But have they really appeared? And who is marring my beautiful landscape with these unsightly arrows?! Darn, I've begun my review already...

Corn Circles III
* Aliens Have Invaded Again – At first it was strange shapes in corn fields – now it is strange arrows beside Roads. When will these strange occurrences end? Carcassonne has long abandoned some of its more visually pleasing elements in favor of blunt gameplay features, but The Signposts are definitely near the top in obviousness. Large arrows sit beside every road of this 12-tile expansion, and they are as ugly as they are easy to read. They less resemble Signposts (which, by definition, require both a sign and a post) than garish painting on an otherwise green lawn. They might as well have called this expansion "The Arrows" and just admit that's what they are.
* Math is Hard – If the arrows don't bother you, the sheer amount of math involved with this expansion may. You see, to make the most of your Signposts, you need to collect multiple ones – one of each type, in fact. But these must be valid Signposts for them to count, so if you have a tile with a Road that goes in the wrong direction or that dead-ends, then that won't work. Confused yet? And don't get me started on the tile with the two curving Roads, or the roundabout Road. Keeping track of what's a valid Road or not on a long Road can produce headaches. Tylenol is recommended.
* Now now, Stop Fighting, Children! – By this expansion – at last count number 761 – there have been a few Road-focused expansions released. You have the Wagon, the Inns, the Robber Baron, The Ferries, The School, German Castles, Bridges, Labyrinth, The Tollroads, etc. Some of these multiply Road points, some redirect the Roads, some give bonuses. And now this expansion encourages you to do some urban planning (in a "luck-of-the-draw"-based game, no less). Indeed, it could directly contradict some of the cards in the more recent The Gifts expansion. And in usual Hans im Glück fashion, the rules instruct you to simply only play this expansion with the base game – any other combination is at your own peril. Woe to ye who tries to play with several Road-based expansions at once!

Roads Get Around
* Expanding Out to the SuburbsCarcassonne has always had a tile balance problem. While the base game had a fairly safe ratio of Road-City–Monastery, most of the expansions have thrown this some to increase the benefits of its own features. Inns & Cathedrals included a lot of tiles that made large Cities and longer Roads. Traders & Builders was all about City-building. Princess & Dragon was more about sheer volume of tiles so that the Dragon could spread out its wings. This expansion is all about Roads, and the designers smartly realized that more Roads were needed to optimize it, so all 12 tiles have at least one Road, and there are some real gems, including a Roundabout and a Road-over-City. There are also balance-correcting tiles such as a new Monastery and Garden, and half the tiles feature City segments. In other words, this expansion is great for someone who wants a whole lot more tiles without imbalancing their feature ratio.
* Clarity Can Be A Blessing – Say what you want about the terrible visual look of the arrows, but at least they are very clear, which is more than can be said about other expansion features (looking at you, 20th Anniversary expansion!). And the different colors help differentiate the directions of the arrows, which is very useful for calculating the multipliers.
* More and More and More – Math is terrible, yes, but multipliers can really be awesome once you overcome the challenges. Carcassonne has never included a proper multiplier feature before, so it is certainly a novel development. If a player scores a Road with one type of valid arrow, they get 1 extra point per valid arrow. If they score a Road with two different valid arrows, each valid arrow get 2 extra points. And if they have all three different valid arrows, they get 3 extra points per arrow. The points can really add up if you make a long enough Road with several valid arrows on it!

The Signposts is really a mixed bag expansion. The vast number of well-balanced tiles is a wonderful addition to a Carcassonne collection, but the arrows are ugly at best. The rules are also very fiddly, although the potential return in points can make it worth figuring out. Perhaps the price of this expansion is its saving grace: it's quite affordable from and can be added to an order without usually increasing the cost of shipping. So while I can't strongly recommend this expansion, there's no reason to avoid it either.

Playability: B
Affordability: A
Compatibility (with other expansions): C+
Aesthetics: C+
Learning Curve: B-

The Carcassonne universe has seen lots of conflicts over the years, but The Cathars, The Siege, and The Besiegers are probably the most blunt in their intent. The Peasant Revolts returns to this classic theme and perhaps attempts to replace it, since none of those earlier expansions have been re-released in the newer art style. Yet peasant revolts were a very real thing in the Middle Ages, so how well does this expansion recreate the revolting serf experience?

Simply Horrendous
* The Upsidedown – The entire premise of this expansion is that the peasants are revolting. There are three ways you can tell this on the tiles: by the pitchfork watermarks, by the marching army of peasants carrying said pitchforks, and by the crappy little sepia icons on each tile. I have never been a fan of instructional icons on Carcassonne tiles. Indeed, both the 20th Anniversary Edition expansion and the newest Signposts expansion includes terribly-themed icons that make me wish for anything else. But even thematic icons like those in The Princess and the Dragon or the Carcassonne Minis expansions are ugly. These are no exception. And the fact that all three of them look the same at a glance doesn’t help. Anyone with the slightest vision problem will need a magnifying glass to see whether the icon shows a City, Road, or Monastery. Surely the designers could have thought up a better, more thematic solution.
* Predictably Annoying – There’s a randomization mechanic used in many games where a certain number of cards or tiles or some other object is shuffled and then a small percentage of said item is discarded unseen. No matter what the game, the mechanic is always clunky and annoying for the person setting up the game, but the payoff is usually increased randomization. While it usually doesn’t bother me, in Carcassonne, it seems to go against the very nature of this countryside-building game. During set-up, players are instructed to shuffle the 12 tiles together and then discard three at random, without looking at them. This is done in order to vary the number of each type of bonus in the game. But I want to play with all my Carcassonne tiles, darn it! The Hills expansion from Hills & Sheep at least puts those tiles to some other use that fits the theme without entirely sacrificing the tile. Discarding three and never seeing them in any shape or form for the rest of the game just seems like a waste that could have been avoided.
* The Inevitable Incompatibility of Expansions – Hans im Glück has repeated since 2015 that it would not provide FAQs or instructions regarding how to play promo expansions with each other. They encourage it, but they don’t support it. For the most part, that has been easy enough to work around, but this is the game that finally breaks compatibility entirely, namely with one of Hans im Glück’s very first non-Spielbox promos: The (German/Dutch/Japanese) Monasteries. Namely, when you “protect” a meeple from revolting peasants, you set it down flat on the board in the same manner as a Farmer in a Field. The only problem is that Monks placed in The Monasteries as Abbots (Goodness, Hans im Glück has to get its terminology worked out!) need to also be placed a certain way. What if you want to protect a Monastery with an Abbot So, in situations where both expansions are used (and I would argue The Monasteries is one of the best and simplest of all promo expansions so it should be used a lot), players now have to determine a third way of marking a protected Abbot in a Monastery.

Hiding in the Springtime Grasses
* Meeples in Repose – The extension of reclining meeples to all standard features is long-in-coming and, despite the misstep mentioned above, is overall welcomed. While I am not certain this was the best use of the mechanic, I think the idea of laying meeples down to “protect” them is quite visually useful, especially since the Farmers are always protected from the peasant revolt tiles. By the end of my two play-throughs with this expansion, most of the meeples were lying flat, fearing the inevitable arrival of a peasant revolt that had already passed them by. The randomness of the revolts, while annoying, also ensures that players aren’t able to count precisely how many of each type of revolt may strike, so it is usually a safe move to protect a meeple unless you are certain that a specific revolt type has run its course.
* Long-term Investments – Carcassonne has traditionally not been a strong push-your-luck game. There have been auction elements, dexterity mechanics, various forms of randomness, and aggressive attacks, but this expansion allows players to take a gamble. They can choose to save their points and leave their meeples unprotected, or spend some points in either fear that someone will draw a revolt tile or hope that someone will pull several, in which case they may earn their points back (or even in excess). The more valuable the feature, the more likely a player will want to protect their meeple. This is truly novel for Carcassonne and can prove quite fun for people that like playing the luck game. By itself, the reward for surviving a single revolt is rarely enough to justify the cost of protecting the meeple, but compounded with the risk of losing the meeple and, by extension, the claim to the feature, now that can be costly. But, I mean, 4 points is 4 points, and that sometimes can make the difference at game end! Argh!
* A Revolt-load of New tiles – It may sound obvious, but I love myself some new Carcassonne tiles, and this expansion gives players a dozen new ones. While most are standard arrangements from the base game, there are a few stand-outs, including a “witch’s hat” City that is good at separating Fields, two disconnected Roads allowing a large Field to merge, and a dead-end Road with a Garden. And more Gardens are always nice. Ironically, this expansion doesn’t include a new Monastery even though most 12+ tile expansions do and this expansion in particular includes a Monastery-related mechanic. Still, the new tiles are nice, the art with the revolters is fun and welcome and nearly in scale, and I personally really like the new crowded Cities.

This expansion is a mixed bag, much like most of those released from December 2020 to November 2021. Its core features are quite fun and provide nice new mechanics that are not like anything in Carcassonne before. But the execution is sloppy or even lazy, and the lack of consideration for other expansions is really showing a dirty corporate side to Hans im Glück’s operations. More generally, this expansion really needs to be paired with The Flying Machines or The Magic Portals from The Princess and the Dragon, because it will cause several tiles to become vacant with no way of easily reclaiming them (especially Monasteries). As a stand-alone expansion, it shows promise but also a lack of forethought, but some of those problems can be addressed through careful selection of companion expansions.

Playability: B
Affordability: B+
Compatibility (with other expansions): C-
Aesthetics: A
Learning Curve: B

Note: This is only a review of the 20 extra tiles in the game. This is not a review of the edition as a whole.

Carcassonne has been around for over two decades now, so it is pretty impressive that expansions are still being released annually for it. The only other game with such a track record is Catan. That being said, many of Carcassonne’s expansions have been less than impressive, and some have been downright dull or confusing. The 20th Anniversary Expansion—or rather “inspansion” since it is exclusive to the 20th Anniversary Edition of the base game—chose to play it safe, but as a result it sort of just makes parts of the first three full-sized expansions redundant. Let me explain…

Pride & Prejudice
  • I’ve Seen This Before – Hans im Glück loves its legacy and it knows that the first two expansions, Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders, are the most popular expansions in the series. They have been included in every Big Box as well as several combo boxes over the years. So, instead of developing something new, the designers of the 20th Anniversary Edition decided to borrow the most popular concepts from the first three expansions, namely Big Meeples, the Builder, and Magic Portals (from The Princess & the Dragon). This is all done through 20 extra tiles (15 are marked with a lazy “20” watermarks on them—the remaining 5 are new River tiles with nothing interesting to note except for the double-sized source tile with a “20” emblazoned in the middle) that are shuffled into the rest of the tiles. The tiles are uninspired—many are just base game tiles with the new mechanic on them—and the actual mechanic is lazily depicted in a relatively small blue arrow that can be difficult to differentiate. Furthermore, playing a game of Carcassonne using both the 20th Anniversary Expansion and any of the first three expansions will inevitably result in confusion and a general feeling of repetition between features and rules.
  • Double the Punch, Half the Impact – While there are certainly tactical advantages to the new mechanic where a player can double-up their meeple presence on a feature, thereby replicating the effect of the Big Meeple from Inns & Cathedrals, the end result may be that two of your meeples are now stranded on a feature for the rest of the game. Inns & Cathedrals addresses this by providing an entirely new meeple that doesn’t cost you one of your normal meeples. The mechanic in the 20th Anniversary Edition, however, does the opposite. It now costs a player two meeples from their core supply of 7—that’s a high cost! If someone manages to trap those meeples, they are there for the rest of the game unless you also mix in an expansion like The Festival, that helpfully can be used to remove trapped meeples from tiles. While the benefit of dropping a second meeple on a feature can be shocking and game-altering, it is a risk that rarely equals the reward.
  • Bad Strategy, Now With Punishment – One mechanic I always dislike in games is account-keeping. It’s just annoying. Whenever I play The Princess & the Dragon expansion, I ignore the bonus points from the Fairy. In 2-player games especially, it rarely moves so just continues to accrue points each turn for whoever happened to move it last, and trying to remember the +3 points for completed features with the Fairy is futile. Other than the Fairy, Carcassonne hasn’t really had a ton of account keeping. But this game has it twofold. First, if a player places a tile so that the bonus action arrow is not pointing to an adjacent tile, then the player receives two points. This is just dumb. Don’t reward a bad move. If the player didn’t get the bonus action, it’s probably because they had a more valuable use for the tile. But then to add a dumb rule to a dumb rule, a player in a later turn can place a tile adjacent to an arrow and activate the bonus action. I get that this is to further emphasize the importance of these bonus tiles, but just no. We forgot about that rule at least twice when playing, and also forgot about the +2 points for not using the bonus action. And then there is the situation where you don’t want to or can’t use the bonus action but don’t qualify for the bonus points. It’s all a bit too much.

Sense & Sensibility
  • Return to a Land of Magic – Introduced in The Princess & the Dragon as a way to claim vacant features left incomplete from previous rounds, the Magic Portals are by far one of the most popular and useful features introduced to Carcassonne. Thus, their return in the 20th Anniversary Expansion, albeit in a slightly modified format, is extremely welcome. Any player of Carcassonne knows that there are situations where a player must leave something vacant because something else is potentially more valuable. This little addition corrects for that by allowing a player to claim any vacant feature left over from a previous round. And I mean ANY, including empty Gardens or Monasteries, or unclaimed Fields. This feature can be a game changer in all the right ways!
  • Churning Those Tiles – Another popular mechanic from an expansion is that of the Builder, which allows a player to take a second turn if they expand a feature that has their Builder figure on it. In the 20th Anniversary Expansion, players only have to draw and place the appropriate tile to receive this bonus, but the benefit is still very nice. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like getting a second tile to place in a row, and this mechanic also helps go through the tiles a little faster.
  • More is Better – Perhaps the simplest but best feature of this expansion is the fact that it adds 20 new tiles, however simple they may be. Among these new tiles are 2 new Gardens, which are always welcome since they are slightly less represented across the line than Monasteries, and a new Monastery, which increases the number in this edition to eight total. I have always felt that Monasteries, which are limited to 6 in the base game (7 with The River), get short shrift in Carcassonne despite the fact that 10% of people in the Middle Ages were directly involved in some capacity in the Church. Adding new Monasteries and Gardens helps increase the odds that a player will pull one of these tiles, increases the chances that they will be able to claim a Garden, and provides for a more exciting play experience. The other additional tiles, including the new double-sized source tile, the new lake, and the 3 other new River tiles, are always welcome, although I wish this version of The River expansion had its own unique watermarks like those on the Big Box 6’s River tiles.

This expansion was certainly not Hans im Glück’s best, but it also was far from its worse. At least everything was fairly straightforwards, which is more than can be said about the Carcassonne Minis and half of its promo expansions over the years. Nonetheless, I feel that this expansion was a missed opportunity to do something that respected the legacy of the series but in a new way. Simply copying mechanics from the first three expansions doesn’t respect the legacy, it undermines the first three expansions! In 2011 and 2016, The Festival was released as a new expansion with a simple but useful mechanic. I think that 15 bonus tiles (not the new River tiles—those are fine) could have done something similar, perhaps by borrowing concepts from some of the most popular spin-offs or creating something equally useful and new. This is not the place to propose alternatives, but it is the place to say that Carcassonne deserved something more useful and interesting to commemorate 20 years of an amazing game. Fortunately, Hans im Glück is giving us The Gifts at Essen this year, so there is perhaps some little bonus expansion that will satisfy, if not replace the disappointment that is the 20th Anniversary Expansion.

Playability: B+
Affordability: D
Compatibility (with other expansions): B
Aesthetics: B
Learning Curve: B

The Marketplace / WTS/WTT Carcassonne Edition
« on: July 20, 2021, 01:33:24 AM »
In case you didn't see this on BGG, my coworker randomly brought an unpunched but opened copy of Carcassonne 1st edition to work. It is in a branded box (printed, not stickers) with Rio Grande Games 1st English edition branding on the back. It includes an unpunched copy of The River, as well. The scoreboard has a grey track. Meeples are still in their bag, presumably never touched. The rules are presumably the Rio Grande 1st edition Farmer scoring (I can check) but the formatting is awful and perhaps redone by PixelPark for some reason (I can also check this).

My coworker donated the box to the library, but we already have a Big Box 6 that I donated in 2019, so we don't need another copy and this one clearly has some value since it was a very limited print run...the New Zealand board game market is not that large and printing branded copies of Carcassonne could not have been cheap. Since we have the game, my coworker (who just left for a new job today, sadly) gave us permission to sell or trade it for another game.

I think a sale is preferred so we can buy some smaller, 30-minute games that can be played during lunch times, but I'd be interested in a trade if one is appropriate. At this point, I don't know the value but if you feel like making an offer via PM, please feel free. Consider it a blind, non-binding auction at this point. I'll try to post some photos shortly and I'll try to be careful not to dislodge any tiles, although I can't guarantee they'll all stay in place during shipping. Shipping from New Zealand can be expensive, so keep that in mind if you make an offer.

General / MOVED: Custom scoreboard
« on: February 25, 2021, 10:42:37 PM »

I may love the postman, but I don't like international shipping charges right now. For €28.95, I'll pass...

General / US East and West Coast Maps
« on: October 19, 2020, 07:18:29 PM »
I'm somewhat surprised that the announcement of a re-release of Winter-Edition with the River included and a printing of German Cathedrals in the new art have completely overwhelmed any discussion regarding the new Carcassonne Maps for the East and West Coast of the United States. I'm very excited about these, not just because they are two new maps or because they represent my home country, but because they are clearly intended to be played together in a truly epic game. The current posters are already A0 size, I believe, so this will be twice that! You will need about 200 tiles to play, based on previous Maps, and these ones actually look quite open, too, so it may require up to 250 tiles, or perhaps the equivalent of three full sets (216 tiles). And there are bound to be new rules that use the Map Markers as well. Will two sets of Markers be required? What will the new gimmick be?

After a year absence (wow, really?!), I have come to once again regale everyone with my magnanimous thoughts on an expansion to a game that I seriously thought five years ago had finally given up the ghost. And just to give a previous of my final thoughts, how are they still pushing out new and interesting expansions that improve gameplay after twenty years?! But I digress. First, THE REPORT!

The Road More Taken
 :-* Novel Approaches – Tollroads are a fact of life, especially in developing areas, or highly-developed areas, or places where road construction is/was especially expensive. And that fact was true even in the Middle Ages, at least in some places. And while I don't know for certain weather medieval Languedoc had toll roads, the idea that it did is not far-fetched and is also very relatable to today. So bravo on finding yet another reasonable mechanic.
 O0 No Costs, High Rewards – Despite the name of the expansion, Tollkeepers does not actually ask anyone to pay a toll, which is a pleasant enough fact. Instead, you just get to collect tolls from Roads. And the mechanics are quite easy since the cardboard is all player-specific. Simply claim a crossroads (yet a new "feature" that hadn't been a thing before) with your toll gate and reap the rewards when any of the connected roads are completed. And make sure to drop those juicy eight Travellers tiles on your tollroads for extra bonuses and the ability to increase (or decrease) your profits going forward.
 :)) Did Someone Say Vanilla? – Basic, feature-less tiles are always a special treat in Carcassonne because they change up the tile tower (or bag) without changing the rules. This expansion includes two tiles, one of which is new in the context of the base game, both featuring "Crossroads" but otherwise not possessing any new features. Toss these into your standard rotation and enjoy varying your game just that much more.

This Road Costs How Much?
 :neutral-meeple: Nude Is Still Not In – While this certainly isn't the first time it has happened, The Tollkeepers is yet another expansion that introduces player-specific cardboard, which means only six players can play it at a time (which I acknowledge is reasonable) rather than the twelve that can hypothetically play using the full set of Hans im Glück brand meeples (which I agree is entirely unreasonable). More annoyingly, though, is that even with games using smaller player counts, people who prefer the better, variant colors must use different color cardboard.
 :-X No Looking Backwards – The Tollkeepers is also another expansion that relies on the new thematic features on the second edition tiles. While you can proxy in bushes and farmhouses from the first edition, there is no guarantee that they have the same balance of features, and not every bush is associated with a specific segment of road in the same way the second edition features are. So adapt wisely and house-rule often to enjoy this if you have not upgraded to the new edition.
 >:D Problems with Promos – The Tollkeepers represents the fourth promotional set in four years to not be linked to some geographic region or branding strategy (the others being The Watchtowers, The Fruit-Bearing Trees, and The Barber-Surgeons). In the meantime, only one new full-sized expansion has released in that time: Under the Big Top, way back in 2017. Although these expansions are all available through Cundco, most people outside of Germany are unaware of this and these remain a real hidden gem in the pocket of Hans im Glück. An official expansion collecting all four of theses NEEDS to come out. And soon. They are treated as random stand-alone outcasts when they could constitute a viable expansion taken altogether.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better stand-alone expansion to Carcassonne than this in recent years. Simple, intuitive rules with basic mechanics completely redefines the Road game and shifts the entire Carcassonne experience just enough to make it feel fresh. Competition between players over Roads and Travellers is a fun new aspect while the abundance of tiles with Roads in the base game means that the Tollgates won't just get used, but they will shift usually a couple times through the course of the game. There's nothing inconclusive about this expansion: get it now!

Playability: A
Affordability: A+
Compatibility (with other expansions): A+
Aethetics: A+
Learning Curve: A-

News and Events / Dragon and printed sheep
« on: January 16, 2020, 10:14:39 AM »
Also a stupid question I was wondering: If we play with expansion dragons and expansion hills and sheep, what if dragon lands on a tile with a sheep painted like on River III for example ? If there is action gather flock, should we score point for the sheep ? That would seem counterintuitive since it should be eaten, but poor sheep is just painted on tile. I don't think it was ever discussed.
My own personal take on this is that, while the sheep would obviously remain on the tile, the presence of the dragon on that tile means that you can't include them in a gather flock action until the dragon moves. Basically, the dragon blocks the sheep. I doubt you'll get an official ruling on that, though, since the only pre-printed sheep appear on CC1 tiles (River III and Halflings I), which Hans im Glück is done making new rulings for. At least for thematic reasons, however, the dragon should still block sheep from being gathered even if it can't eat those sheep.

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