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Tips for a 4-player Basic Game

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I’m already starting to think about next year’s national Carcassonne championship in the UK. If it’s anything like this year (and previous years) it will be based on a number (probably three) of 4-player games using just the basic tiles before the top four players hold two semi-finals and a final between them to determine the overall winner.

I don’t like this method at all as I believe too much is left to chance in the 4-player game and as such it doesn’t provide an adequate indication of the players’ skill level. However, it doesn’t seem likely that this will change and since I would like to do everything I can to win I have been trying to come up with my own winning strategy that would be applicable specifically to 4-player games of the Carcassonne base game (i.e. no expansions).

So please have a read of the below, and if you can think of anything I haven’t thought of (or disagree with any of that which I have) then please post a reply!  :)

1) "Make every meeple count"
More players means less turns, and less opportunity to place your meeples. In a 2-player game you'll have either 36 or 35 turns depending on who starts. With seven meeples to play with you can afford to place one meeple every five turns if you never expect to get any of them back, which is too long to wait. Consequently it becomes very important to think carefully about what you claim in terms of how easily completed or blocked it is and whether it's worth the risk for the number of points it might generate. Even with only one opponent trying to make life difficult for you in this respect, meeple management is a very important part of the game.

In a 4-player game however, the first three players to place a tile will have 18 turns (the last player will have 17). This means you can afford to place a meeple every two and a half turns assuming you never get any of them back. This makes meeple management far less significant and as such it becomes less a question of "should I place a meeple?" and more about "where should I place a meeple?"

2) "The early farmer wins the field"
In a 4-player game the level of control you have is diminished to the point that far fewer features will be completed, especially cities. Nobody wants to see anyone other than themselves complete a decent sized city as a boost like this could easily make or break a game for everyone involved. This isn't the end of the world as suitably sized cities can still generate some significant points even in their state of incompleteness, but it does mean farms will often be less valuable simply because there will be fewer completed cities around. If a farm serving even just two or three cities happens to spring up and you have the opportunity to claim it then in most cases it will be worth doing so, especially since the number of opportunities you will have to claim it is also greatly reduced.

If a large farm serving five or more cities develops you will almost certainly need to have a share in it to stay in the game. The easiest way to ensure that this is the case is to be the first to claim it while it's still small and then concentrate on growing it. If an already claimed farm begins to develop elsewhere then do everything you can to get points from this too. You don't need to win it outright as it's OK to share points most of the time (see 4), but the sooner you try to get onto it, the easier it will be. So act quickly.

This tip can be summarised in two words: "farm early".

3) "Less is more"
4-player games are generally lower scoring than 2-player games for several reasons. The most significant of these is that each player only gets to place one in every four tiles (25% as opposed to 50%) which decreases the likelihood of completing certain types of feature such as cities. So your chances of being able to place the tile you desperately need to complete some feature are cut in half whilst the number of people trying to stop you from placing it goes up threefold! For this reason you should keep things small if you expect to complete them, and build them such that they can be easily expanded if you don't. Furthermore, think very carefully about any cloisters you may be lucky enough to draw as these are easy points if you're prepared to sacrifice a meeple for what will more than likely end up being the rest of the game.

In my experience, a good winning score in a competitive 2-player game of Carcassonne is probably around the 120 - 140 mark. In a 4-player game it's closer to 70 - 80. Accepting that easy points are far more valuable in the 4-player game is key to improving your chances of winning if this means that you're less likely to leave points behind for other players to pick up. Similarly, completing features is usually a good idea even if you don't have any meeples left with which to claim any points from them as it stops others from using that feature to generate points for themselves. The only thing to watch out for in this respect is that you're not giving away points either by increasing the size of an opponent's farm or completing a feature adjacent to an opponent's cloister (and hence giving away a point to them).

4) "Fingers in pies"
In a 2-player game, a shared feature will be mostly pointless as you and your opponent will both get the same number of points for it and nobody really benefits. In a 4-player game however, a feature shared by two players is still very much worth completing for both players as it can help them to build a lead over the other two players. If you can share just one feature with each of your opponents individually then the points generated will more than likely help to put you significantly ahead of all of them at the end of the game.

5) "The questionable importance of blocking"
In a 2-player game it's easy to keep yourself to yourself and concentrate on your own stuff while your opponent does the same; there's enough space to keep things relatively friendly (if you want to). This simply isn't possible in a 4-player game as the landscape quickly becomes very overcrowded and features that you wouldn't normally expect to see claimed will often be claimed anyway. As a result of this, blocking your opponents' meeples becomes significantly easier and it isn't uncommon to trap one or more meeples belonging to more than one opponent with the same tile.

However, as controversial as this may sound, I would contend that blocking is a less important strategy in the 4-player game as your opponents are less dependent on getting their meeples back for use elsewhere as they would be in a 2-player game (see point 1). Another reason though is that the points generated by the trapped meeples will still have a significant impact on the final scores, by virtue of the fact that the game will be lower scoring anyway since all points will be shared between four players (rather than two). This means points are generally more valuable (see 3), which is another reason to think carefully before using a tile to help set up a block/ trap if it could be used to generate more points for yourself elsewhere.

Obviously there are exceptions to this, like if every other player has a meeple in a large city. If this happens you need to do everything you can to stop that city from being completed (or get yourself into it) but this is more to stop them from scoring points than it is to reduce their future scoring potential by trapping their meeples.

6) "Help the weak to beat the strong"
Keep a close eye on who is winning or which other players might stand the best chance of finishing ahead of you once the final scores have been calculated. Targeting them by trying to prevent them from completing their features is all very well and good, but helping other players to win control of certain valuable features away from them is another good way to stay ahead of the competition.

Thanks in advance for any further tips/ comments!  :(y)


I think you mised out the most basic tip for a 4 player game

FIRST  - find 3 other players.

Agreed in all points! Couldn't say better!
Just little addition to 4th item - try to block with benefit for yourself, for example, place a city tile, with one side it traps opponents' followers and from the other side you claim a new city/road.
Try not to leave unclaimed city segments, specially little ones: they are quite easy to complete with valuable 4 points.
And one more - if you are out of followers (very unlikely, but still), try to complete unclaimed features (except cities on opponents' farms) with the purpose not to give this opportunity to your opponents.

@Gerry - hopefully that won’t be a problem as there should be plenty of willing opponents at the championship next year. Until then, finding people to play against could be tricky though. Human people anyway. I can easily play against three AI opponents at once any time I like either on JCZ or the app on my phone. Although it’s typically lower for most AI opponents, the individual skill level isn’t so relevant in 4-player games as these are more about the interactions between players and how best to benefit from what’s available.

@MrNumbers - thanks for the tip! Your point about reducing scoring opportunities for other players by completing features even if I don’t have anything to claim them with is a good one, but I think this is equally valid in games with any number of players. This did make me think of something else though, and that is to keep a close eye on who is winning or which other player stands the best chance of beating me in the final scoring. Targeting them by trying to prevent them from completing their features is all very well and good, but helping other players to win control of features from them is another good way to stay ahead of the competition.

Silly question: Do you have to be a UK citizen to participate at these championships?


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