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A Tactical Introduction to Expansion #2: Traders & Builders

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Here is another article I wrote for the Saskgames bi-monthly newsletter: It's the second in a series I started writing for them introducing each of the large/ boxed expansions for Carcassonne. The main point of each piece is to explain the rules but I also like to talk a little bit about some of the tactics for newer players. I don't imagine this will be nearly deep enough for most people here, but I thought I'd post it all the same in the hope that it might provoke some thought and further comments from others. So, any feedback or extra advice is very welcome... :) :(y)

Traders & Builders is the second large expansion for Carcassonne. It was originally released in 2003 and remains one of the largest expansions ever to be released for Carcassonne in terms of number of tiles included (24). This isn't all though, as the Builder and the Pig are both introduced to the game through this expansion, as is the concept of "trade tokens" which can make all the difference to the final scores. The combined effect of all these elements is that dumb luck becomes irrelevant since there's a lot more to think about in terms of a winning strategy than just drawing the most cloisters! The purpose of my writing this short column is to discuss the merits of the tactics which I've come to rely on most often, as well as to explain a bit more about how this expansion works for newer players or those who may be discovering it for the first time...

The builder is one of the most useful pieces of wood ever to be included in Carcassonne. You can add your builder to any feature (road or city) that has previously been claimed by you. It doesn't count towards ownership of that feature, but it does entitle you to take a bonus turn the next time you place a tile that extends your feature. This can help you to grow your roads or cities so that they become more valuable, but if you're in desperate need of a specific tile, using your builder to generate as many bonus turns as possible will give you a better chance of getting to the tile you need before your opponent draws it and places it elsewhere. In these cases, completing the feature containing your builder can be less important than drawing the tile you need for something else, so simply extending your feature into open space is a good idea as it keeps your options open and gives you plenty of opportunities to generate subsequent builder turns whilst giving you a point or two at the same time. And don't forget that if your opponent comes to depend on a certain tile to complete a feature or free up a trapped meeple, you need that tile just as much as they do purely to prevent it from going where your opponent most needs it!

It's often very hard to recognise when best to deploy your builder as some people are prepared to take more risks with them than others. On one hand, it's good to get him onto the board as early as possible so that you can start getting some extra turns and take control of the emerging landscape. On the other hand however, your builder is like a red rag to a bull to some players so you need to be very careful about getting him trapped in features that become impossible to complete. You can still generate bonus turns by extending features containing your builder even if they won't ever be completed, but once you reach the point that you can't add anything else to your builder feature he's not going to be doing very much for you for the rest of the game. Bear this in mind with your own builder as well as those belonging to your opponent(s) and do your best to keep yours busy but safe.

The pig is generally a lot less useful than your builder but can still generate you a decent handful of points provided that you don't forget to place him (which is surprisingly easily done). You can add your pig to any farm upon which you have already placed at least one farmer. It doesn't matter if somebody else already has more farmers than you on that farm but you won't usually want to do this as your pig doesn't count towards ownership of farms and will not win you any points if you don't also win the farm (either outright or an equal share in it). Farms are often fought over most ferociously in the closing stages of any game so it's rarely obvious where to place your pig until relatively late unless you tend to dominate the fields early on. Assuming you have a good opportunity to place your pig though, and place it on a farm that you eventually score from, the pig will generate one bonus point per city on the farm that it is a part of. Even in fairly small games this can often be 5 – 10 points for very little effort. One final tip: it's worth reminding yourself that pigs are worthless on farms where their owner has been outnumbered in terms of farmers. Don't be blinded by this, but if it's a big farm and you have the opportunity to do so, winning it outright will cancel out the effect of your opponent's pig. Just don't forget to place your own pig at the same time of course!

Most (but not all) of the tiles included with Traders & Builders contain some configuration of city segments, and most of these city segments contain a trade symbol: wine, wheat or silk. Regardless of who owns a city in terms of most meeples/ knights, the player that completes it wins a matching trade token for each symbol present in the city. At the end of the game, the player with the most trade tokens in each of the three different types wins 10 points per trade type. Ignoring the trade tokens is a great way to lose at Carcassonne as just one token of each of the three different trade types could be worth 30 bonus points at the end of the game (10 points for each trade type) if your opponent has none at all...

Trade token ownership needs to be at the back of your mind throughout your game, as it can sometimes be worth your while completing your opponent's cities for them if any trade tokens contained within will help you towards establishing a majority of trade tokens in any of the three types. It's also worth remembering that some trade tokens are more valuable than others based on how many of them there are. Silk is the most valuable as there are just 5 silk tokens; win 3 of these and you're guaranteed 10 points at the end of the game. There are 6 wheat tokens which make them worth fighting for too. Although you'd need 3 of these to be guaranteed 10 points at the end of the game, this could be negated if your opponent also has 3 since you would both have the majority and win 10 points each. Finally, there are 9 wine tokens which makes them quite common. Not so common that you can afford to simply ignore them, but it will become obvious during your game whether it's worth fighting for these based on how many your opponent has collected. 3 or 4 wine tokens is often enough to win the 10 bonus points as it's unlikely that all 9 will be claimed.

On a personal note, Traders & Builders is one of my favourite expansions and I think it adds just the right amount of extra depth to make games truly immersive without adding too much to the playing time. This said, The Princess & The Dragon is even bigger and adds a lot to the game too, but I'll go over this in much more detail next time...


Great write up Dan!

I believe the builder is the most useful piece.  It is hard to come back when it is trapped early.  My son uses the builder on roads almost exclusively.  His logic is "I get a crappy road piece, so I should get an extra tile."  I use it on cities almost exclusively.

What you didn't mention that makes a big difference to me at least is the number of roads that terminate in cities.  I think Inns and Cathedrals adds 4 such pieces, but Traders adds 13.  This really changes how farms are shaped.  Yesterday we played base game plus Inns and Cathedrals and the big farm scored 42 points!  I don't recall one in Traders and Builders scoring over 18 in any of our games.  I actually prefer the smaller 12 point enclosed farms to the final fight for the big farm. 

You have seen various championship matches that I have not.  Perhaps at higher levels, the roads terminating at cities don't affect farm gameplay as much as I think it does.

Amazing write up!

That’s a great write-up! I totally agree with everything posted! :)

Really enjoyed the write-up which has given me much food for thought - thanks.

Have you come across any players who have tried to conceal the trade goods icon with a meeple or builder?   I have seen it happen once or twice, particularly with the low-count commodities of Silk/Fabric and Wheat.

Does this follow the maxim "All's fair in love and war" or should I perhaps "make my excuses and leave"?


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