Carcassonne provides a perfect mix of simplistic gameplay and deep strategy.
Carcassonne is a classic board game that has been a staple for board gamers across the globe for decades. It’s one of those games that you either love or hate. But, there is no denying it; Carcassonne is one of the most popular strategy games in the world. Players of all ages enjoy this classic tile-drafting game and its various versions have been translated into dozens of languages. If you are looking to improve your game, or help your friends learn basic strategies, this article should do the trick. Of course, we used an overly confident title to draw you in; we hope you forgive us for this. These days, posting outlandish claims in titles is the way of the online world.
This article will go over the most common strategies used in Carcassonne. Carcassonne involves drawing random tiles, which means there is a significant element of luck involved in gameplay, but this does not mean that certain strategies won't help improve your chances of winning. Take a look below and try some of these tactics in your next game. You'll be surprised at how your Carcassonne skill improves with these simple tips.
Use Your Followers Wisely
In Carcassonne, the follower is the most important (and only) resource that a player manages. Players are limited to only 7 for the entire game, and once a player commits their follower to a task, they are unable to retrieve them until that task is completed. Your ultimate skill level is found in your ability to know when to use followers, and how to maximize their use. Let's take a look at some follower strategies.
Farming (in the early game)
In the case of farming, followers are permanently assigned to that task the moment they are played, so playing farmers early in a game can be risky if the board does not show promise that the farmer's efforts will yield points in the end. Advanced players do sometimes play farmers early in a game, especially if the area they are playing them in shows several castle pieces (whether complete or not). Playing farmers early is a gamble, as it can be relatively easy for the opponent to work their followers (or shall I say farmers) into your farming zone after several turns of using their followers to score quick points by completing roads, monasteries and castles. Farming early may also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to scoring large castles or long roads, in the event that your opponent attempts to block or steal them. If you invest your followers into farming early on, you also run the risk of being shorthanded in the event that your opponent blocks one of your castles or roads by creating "dead squares", making it impossible to retrieve the followers from those projects.
Early farming is a prospect that may work out for you, but often can spell defeat. I would only suggest it if you are fully certain that it will be worth the investment, or in cases where your opponent cannot easily work followers into the zone. It may also be worth doing if the zone you intend to farm shows a massive amount of potential for castles, because it contains a high number of unfinished castle pieces within it. A single farmer early on may not be a bad investment, but be cautious about devoting too much to farming a zone early on. That almost always spells disaster.
When is the best time to farm?
So when is the best time to invest a farmer into a zone? I would advise novice players to always pay attention to lucrative farming zones, taking note of when these zones are becoming less accessible for new farmers to be worked in. If a profitable zone is being closed off by roads and castles, then it may be wise to stake your claim in that zone as soon as you are able. If a player invests multiple farmers into a lucrative zone, working your followers into the zone becomes even more challenging (requiring a larger follower investment). Overall, it is important that you develop an eye for the point value of a claimed or contested farming zone to determine if it is worth investing multiple farmers. Sometimes simply closing out some quick roads or small castles can make up the points difference for you, and prevent you from over investing in a challenging farming zone.
Also, it is wise not to be drawn into a bidding war for farming zones that you cannot easily gain the upper hand in, if you are short on followers compared to your opponent. A good, 9 to 12+ point farming zone with only one opposing follower in it is certainly worth matching farmers with your opponent in. But zones that the opponent has invested multiple followers into requires a hefty number of followers to match or steal. Often, in cases where the opponent has secured a zone with multiple followers, it is better to divert your strategy to other areas with the goal of scoring points to make up for the points they will score from controlling this zone.
Mix it up with followers
In Carcassonne, investing in too many castles, roads and monasteries can bog you down. It is not always necessary to put a follower in a new castle tile, or to claim every open road available on the developing map. Perhaps in the very beginning of the game, it is a good idea to claim a few early castles, roads and monasteries, but as the game progresses, it is advisable to be more careful in the projects you take on. I typically only have a couple of castles building at one time, and reserve other followers for quick, 2 or 3 piece ready-to-close castles as they become available (for some quick points that don't tie up followers).
As far as roads go, I usually keep one road building at a time (from a single piece), and place followers on lucrative roads as the opportunity presents itself (I would consider a lucrative road to be at least 2-3 tiles long). Also, to protect my roads, I prefer building them straight out from the map if possible, to make it especially difficult for my opponent to block or steal (as straight line roads without adjacent tiles require multiple road pieces to work into). Playing curve pieces on roads opens them up for stealing, and, in my opinion, are better used to snatch quick lucrative roads that are close to finishing, or to build out monasteries. Overall, I try to keep one to two followers available at all times, just in case a timely monastery tile comes up.
Speaking of monasteries, I rarely place followers on monasteries that I cannot support with at least 3 tiles at the time of placement. Placing a follower on a stranded monastery makes for a big commitment, and most likely will keep that follower out of play for a significant portion of the game (unless you draw lucky). Sometimes players will play their monasteries near opposing monasteries to leach off of their opponent's development. This is essentially a stealing move, as you will both gain points as either of you build your monasteries out. Weigh your options (as far as scoring goes) when you consider doing this.
It's important to work on as many different types of projects as you are able, given that you never know what type of tiles you will be drawing. Don't be afraid to begin a project in an area that you have yet to develop in, as long as you have some followers remaining after starting the project.
Understand Your Investments
It may have been easier just to sum up all of this follower placement talk by saying that the key to managing your followers is understanding your investments. Know that if you're running low on followers, and you get a nice shiny new monastery or castle tile that you don't really have a great spot for, creating a new project like this can be a long term investment for your precious remaining followers. It is OK to throw off a tile that does not serve your purposes, or better yet, try to use the otherwise useless tile to create havoc for your opponent's projects. Carcassonne is a game that focuses on ROI (return on investment).
A final note on this, you also want to make sure you exhaust your supply of followers by the end of the game so that you've maximized your scoring potential. So pay attention to the number of remaining tiles and look for the biggest scoring opportunities (which is often placing farmers near clusters of unclaimed castles). Many games that I have played have come down to the late game final placement of followers.
Play the Game that the Tiles Are Giving You
Perhaps this isn't earth shattering, but it is important that you follow the tiles when playing Carcassonne. If you are getting a lot of road tiles, maybe you need to invest more of your followers in roads? If you are getting some good castle tiles, put your followers in charge of them. Never pass up good plays because you have contributed to specific types of tiles earlier in the game. It is all about what brings you the biggest points at the end. Invest wisely, but do not be afraid to invest if the tiles are dictating a certain path.
Big Castles Make the Game Luck Based
Unless you build your castles in such a way that they are difficult to steal (which can be very difficult), building large castles often invites your opponent(s) into a zone battle that you may or may not win. If you lose such a zone battle, the points loss, and time investment can be devastating. There's no major advantage to having completed a large castle other than the ego boost, and follower investment. Two 8 point castles are worth the same as a single 16 point castle, but at the cost of a single additional follower, are easier to close, and require more investment from your opponent to steal (for a smaller points win). Large castles often require multiple followers to secure anyway.
I always try to keep my castles a reasonable size, and often work on two to three castles at a time to keep me from being tempted to build block-able/steal-able mega castles. In fact, each tile you place on your mega castle costs an invested turn, and while you are doing this, your opponent is (presumably) doing other things to score. It can be a major setback if your opponent works in a follower to rob you of your castle's points potential at the end of the project.
Many times, swooping into a large castle isn't that difficult. Some players may choose to work two followers into their larger castles to secure the points, which can be wise if they are managing their followers well, but is always a risk as your opponent could end up placing tiles to make the castle unclose-able, locking down your invested followers and leaving you with half the points haul.
Mega Church Row - High Risk, High Reward
Have you ever had a run of monasteries flow to your hand, turn after turn? It's very tempting to build these monasteries near each other, so that when you play a supporting tile for them, each of them benefit. This is a great and potent tactic for scoring big points fast, but can be very risky if your Mega Church Row is near incomplete castles. If you're building monasteries near each other in this way, all it takes is one nearby castle to be rendered unclose-able, and most, if not all of your monastery followers are locked out. This happens to me often, and usually happens when I draw a lot of monasteries early on while playing with the River Expansion. When Mega Church Row works, I usually win the game handily, but if my opponent(s) lock me out (especially early on), I almost always lose. Know this risk, and if the opportunity to build the Mega Church Row presents itself, choose to build away from incomplete castles if possible. You can still be locked out, but it is far less likely to happen.
Don't Start a Carcassonne Feud - Keep Your Cool
Carcassonne can be a therapeutic gaming experience. Building castles and roads in creative shapes, and making the perfect placement are all fun and rewarding exercises for your mind. But Carcassonne can be a rather brutal game at times as well, as your opponent is often looking for ways to block out or steal your road paths, or place tiles in such a way that you cannot finish your beautiful castle masterpieces.
Especially painful is the ole "nab the castle" trick, where you build up a large castle just to have your opponent swoop in at the end and block it, or worse yet, claim if for themselves. In a game where you invest so much into your projects that grow grander and grander by the turn, it can be heartbreaking when this happens. If you don't have a cool head on your shoulders, this can lead you to seeking revenge, which can mean playing poorly. You may seek to block out your opponent's castle, or in return steal their roads, ignoring much more advantageous plays that are available.
With Carcassonne, it is best to cut your losses when your opponent bests you in a zone war. Always keep an eye on what produces the most points for the investment. After all, the worse kind of revenge is ultimate victory.
Be a Heartless Dirtbag (When You Have To Be)
When playing Carcassonne, it can be easy for you to get lost in your own projects, ignoring what your opponent is building and doing. Playing better Carcassonne means paying attention to what everyone is doing, and influencing that to your advantage. Never play a tile without first seeing if the placement is as beneficial as it would be if played in a way to slow down, or lock out an opponent's projects. Also, never lock out an opponent's project if instead you could finish or contribute to a project that is of far more value to you (unless, your opponent has very few followers remaining). It's a delicate balance, playing to score versus playing to prevent your opponent from scoring. Only experience can help you fully develop an eye for this.
Using Crappy Tiles Like a Heartless Dirtbag
Sometimes you will draw tiles that simply do nothing to further your projects. It could be that you are heavily invested in many projects that the tile does not benefit, and you don't want to start another project given your limited remaining followers.
There are times that you draw that dreaded castle side-piece or center piece, which only seldom does well for you. Playing such a piece on a decent sized castle that you are about to close is often a terrible idea, as it creates more open sides for your opponent to work into, and prolongs your castle project.
You could "throw off" such undesirable pieces by placing them out of the way, and sometimes that's the only good option. But when drawing tiles that are less than useful, always ask yourself this question, "is there a way that I can screw over my opponent with this?". Before you play the tile off to the side, see if it could better be used to slow down the development of an opponent's road or castle. In some cases, if an opponent is about to close a decent sized castle, playing a castle piece that results in the castle needing further tile investment is a great way to slow your opponent down. In the late game, playing a single castle piece onto an opponent's castle that is on the verge of being closed may net them a single additional point, but knock them out of half of the total castle's points haul. Of course if they finish the castle in a much bigger way, that can backfire. In Carcassonne, there's always a chance things will backfire. You have to just learn how far to push the limits, and be at peace with the idea that luck can sometimes not favor you.
Also know that, among emotionally unstable opponents, playing like a dirtbag (blocking, stealing, and slowing down your opponent with tiles) can incite rage, and could start a feud. See the part above on this. But remember, if you can get into their head, they will make mistakes. This sort of win at all costs mentality may mean you lose opponents (and friends), but Carcassonne isn't a game for the weak, but those who are willing to "get back on the horse". I know this looks like a Cobra Kai approach to Carcassonne, but I'm here to make sure you are the best you can be. Harden you heart, and play them tiles like a savage when need be.
Final Thoughts & The True Secret to Carcassonne Greatness
So there you have it. Those are some strategies and tactics that are sure to upgrade your Carcassonne game. Will you win every time like the title suggests? Of course not. But you will get better.
There is one final thing that you need to do to improve, and this is perhaps the most important tip. If you have a gaming console or PC, buy Carcassonne and play it online against random opponents. We here at Toy and Tee are all about the board and card, but this is truly a suggestion that will upgrade your skill. For one thing, most people who are still playing Carcassonne online in this day and time are probably amazing at the game. You will run into a few noobies but overall this is the case. You will most likely get destroyed over and over too, but that's OK. That's how you learn, and improve. If you're facing tougher opponents, watch how they play. Watch what they do. Learn from them. At the end of the day, that's how you truly improve, by playing.
Connect With Us
We are going to build this fanverse over the course of the next several years, and we want to bring you along with us. We are all about including everyone, so if you're a Star Wars fan, Trekkie, Marvel, or DC fanatic, everyone is welcome to come along!
For content updates, special offers and discounts, be sure to subscribe!
- Jay C. Shepherd
- Content Creator
- Jay is a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and professional wrestling fan who loves all things 80's, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and of course, video games. He is one of the rare few that believes that one can be a Trekkie and Star Wars fan at the same time.