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There are a ton of different expansions for the Carcassonne base game. What are some of the differences between them?

  • What does each one add to the game?
  • How does each one change the strategy and gameplay?
  • What new rules and tiles does each one add?
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Not voting to close as a duplicate, but for additonal reference: boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/1085/… –  Kristo Jan 31 '11 at 14:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Abbey & Mayor

Introduces 6 "joker" abbey tiles. Six Mayor meeples, one for each player. Twelve new landscape tiles. Six wagon pieces, one for each player. And six barns, one for each player.

Wagons allow you to move from a road to an open city tile if you complete the road. This allows you to claim something new without using an extra turn.

The Mayor meeple can only be used on a city tile, and counts for an extra follower for every shield found on a city tile.

The six Abbey tiles allow you to fill a gap between a cross of tiles. It has to be surrounded from top, bottom, left, and right (diagonal is not necessary).

The barns allow you claim a farm on any corner where 4 green fields connect. Any farmers present on the farms at this point will get returned to their owners, and normal scoring rules will apply. The barn will remain, however, and score 4 points for each city at game end.

I think Abbey & Mayor has the most impact of all the expansion packs.

One of challenges of Carcassone was farming. Farming was a critical component to winning. But committing too many farmers, and getting into a farm-war early on, was quite expensive. You would lose many of your meeples until game end, which prevents you from using them at a critical junction later in the game. Striking the right balance between farming and other objectives was critical.

The barn invalidates this and allows you to be more reckless in the beginning to get a "point rush" until your farmers are eventually returned to you, freeing them up for other uses. Personally I'm not a fan of this feature; it places far too much emphasis on luck, and being the first to connect a barn is the most advantageous. This alters the beginning of the game where it's a race to farm and place a barn.

The Mayor meeple changes game fundamentals too. For every shield the Mayor meeple counts as an extra follower. This does make for interesting cut-throat gameplay. The game becomes far more aggressive where everyone is actively trying to steal others' cities.

This is also something I'm not pleased with. I feel, over all, the Abbey & Mayor shifts the balance of the game to a far more aggressive posture, and this could be annoying to some as they will rarely be left alone and must respond to aggression on every turn instead of trying to play their game.

Finally, the "joker" card, or Abbey tile, I feel is a cheap "get out of jail" card for the player, and invalidates some of your strategy if you like blocking your opponents while you work on your own objectives.

I am extremely competitive but I feel the game already has a fantastic balance with other expansions (Inns & Cathedrals, Builders & Traders) and this expansion just tips it a bit too far. My friends like this and as such I play this expansion very often.

Inns & Cathedrals

Introduces 18 new landscape tiles, and six large followers. The new tiles include two special cathedral tiles.

The landscape tiles now include Inns, which, if the road gets completed, let you score two points for each tile instead of one. This is a nice feature as it adds more value to road tiles, and shifts some of the emphasis from city building to road building. These tiles come with the added risk of, if they're not completed, not receiving any points for them. I think this is a nice feature in terms of risk/reward. It's very cool to watch others trying to join your long road that has an Inn for a share of the spoils!

Cathedrals applies the same concept to city building. The reward in this case is three points for each completed city tile, and no points for an incomplete city. This is fascinating because you can use cathedral tiles offensively to prevent opponents from earning points on their cities.

The large follower, which counts for two followers, is also intriguing since it presents you with a chance to steal your opponents points by taking over their cities, farms, or roads. You now have an incentive to be aggressive, whereas in the original Carcassone such insidious plotting required more careful planning and an extra turn to place two followers.

If you include Abbey & Mayor such strategies are somewhat mitigated since the Mayor will likely trump a large follower (the Mayor can only be used on a city tile). The Abbey, or "joker" card, will go some way to allow a player to complete their feature even if you strived to make this task difficult.

Traders & Builders

Introduces 24 more landscape tiles. Twenty trade good tokens (9 barrels, 6 grain, and 5 cloth). Six pig meeples, and six builder meeples.

The pig meeple is a great addition. It allows your to earn 1 additional point for every city connected to a farm. You must already have a farmer on the farm in order to place the pig.

The builder meeple is a fantastic addition and changes the gameplay substantially. You can add your builder to any city or road with a follower. On your next turn, if you can add to your city or road, you get an extra turn immediately for a maximum of two turns.

This is great because it adds an element of risk that plays into the largest part of the expansion: The trade goods. Each of the new added tiles has an icon denoting a trade good. The player who closes a city, irrespective of the owner, gets to keep whatever trade good tokens are denoted on the city tiles. If you close a city with two tiles that have barrels on them, for example, you get two barrel tokens. This is exciting because having a builder on a city gives you an extra turn that increases your chances of completing your city and gaining the tokens.

Whoever has the most of each token by game end earns 10 points for each type. If you have the most barrel and cloth tokens you gain an additional 20 points to your total.

This adds an incentive to close your opponents cities if you deem it beneficial to you, or damaging to your most threatening opponents. Closing a city with trade goods could deny your opponents points, or/and help you earn more points, or match their number of trade good tokens, thus invalidating their advantage. A lot of thought can be applied to how you manage this feature of the game.

I haven't played any of the other expansions, but I know of Tower, River II, Count, King & Cult, Princess & Dragon, Wheel of Fortune. I will give Tower a try this week and update my answer.

That said, of all of those I think the Count sounds most fascinating and will likely change gameplay drastically. It includes a separate set of pre-numbered tiles that must be assembled to create a castle. Your followers presence in the castle now and other events that take place on this castle now influence gameplay and scoring.

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Upvoted for not only being an excellent answer, but also restricting yourself to the three BEST Carcassonne expansions. These are the ones that everyone should know about! –  thesunneversets Jan 31 '11 at 6:09
    
@thesunneversets, thanks! I completely agree with you there. I have a few more in the box that I would like to try including The Count. I bought the big box over a year ago, but haven't played anything outside of those three. –  Mohamad Feb 2 '11 at 18:15

Most of the expansions have already been covered in the other answers, but I feel The Count warrants a little extra commentary.

The most significant impact this expansion has is it gives players a strong incentive to complete other players' features (cities, roads, cloisters)--Whenever you play a tile that grants points to another player, you have the option of putting a follower in the big city ("Carcassonne" proper), which can then be brought in as a sort of reinforcement to earn you points on another feature later.

IMO, this one rounds out the strategy of the game the best, since it really speeds up game play and keeps the points rolling in more regularly. I probably play with it 4 out of 5 games I play.

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I really should try playing with the Count some time soon, I have owned it for months and years after all! My group tends to find Carcassonne to have too many "annoying" and "fiddly" rules in the first place, so it might be a hard sell, but I'm going to have to try. –  thesunneversets Feb 2 '11 at 17:08
    
It is a bit "experts only", and works best with a crowd of regulars. It was popular when I was going to "board games at the pub" every week. –  Мסž Apr 30 '11 at 7:49

This is a pretty vast question, as there must be at least a dozen expansions for Carcassonne now, ranging in style from the pretty logical to the completely whimsical (hello Catapult). I'm afraid that I don't own ALL the expansions to Carcassone - if anyone here does, I salute them - so I can't give a truly definitive answer, so I'll give a brief description of what I think the various expansions in my old Big Box add. And that should definitely be a good starting point.

The River is a small and pretty nonessential expansion. Essentially it provides a new introductory phase to the game: instead of plunging the players right into the thick of random tile draw, they get a dozen fairly gentle and non-confrontational tiles to ease them into things. This is probably good if you're playing with beginners; as a Carcassonne veteran I can't say I would really miss it. I guess the main difference it makes is forcibly opening up the board the beginning, instead of starting players off all in the same area.... creating a play environment that's less instantly competitive.

Inns & Cathedrals introduces Inns and Cathedrals, of course, but its main contribution is really the Big Follower, which makes for a much MORE cutthroat and competitive game. Without the Big Follower it's really quite hard to muscle in on someone's city and steal all their points from under their nose. With him it's a constant threat. The inns and cathedrals add tiles to the game that basically double the value of roads or cities if you complete them... or give you nothing if you don't complete. This kind of thing obviously appeals to gambling types... and also people who love to sabotage the overly ambitious projects of others! I personally think the Inns tend to have a fairly minor impact on the game, but the Cathedrals are crucial - if one or more players start constructing a vast urban megalopolis that stands to gain them dozens of points, the chance to build a Cathedral and reduce all their plans to nothing - or possibly give them an insuperable lead, if you've underestimated their skills! - adds so much extra tension and strategy to the game.

Traders & Builders is another seemingly small expansion that in fact adds a ton of interest and options to the game. Traders give players a strong incentive to complete each other's cities - something that would be ridiculous in the basic game. The pig, like the inns, I can take or leave - it enables a few more points to be earned on top of a farmer dominated strategy, as long as you can maintain control of your vast pasture, that is! Builders though are massive - with a builder in play you can get two turns for the price of one every time you expand a city or a road with a builder on it. This is such a major effect that everyone has to try their damnedest to keep their builder in action - while trying to shut down other people's builders at the earliest opportunity! As you can probably tell by now, I really like expansions that increase the potential for interaction and aggressive competition in Carcassonne. Some people (my wife for instance!) hate games that feel too competitive - if you'd rather just work away on your Carcassonne game in one corner of the board, while the other players leave you to it, then you should take any recommendations by me with a pinch of salt...

I'm going to get a bit less verbose from here on in, because for me, the "ideal" Carcassonne setup is Inns, Cathedrals, Traders and Builders, with or without the River. However my box does also contain:

The Princess & The Dragon, which will appeal strongly to those who like a storytelling component to the game. This expansion, for me, feels less tactical and more about the "coolness" appeal of a giant red dragon rampaging over the board eating meeples. (I do really love the sheer size of the dragon meeple!)

The Tower always struck me as a pretty bad expansion, and I believe it's been retired from more recent editions of the Big Box than mine. Basically you're building high towers over the board: the higher your followers are, the further they can "reach" to kidnap and hold to ransom opposing followers. This always seemed really abstract and counterintuitive to me; it didn't seem to work especially well in the two player game that I tried it in, though it might be more fun in a many-player game. The expansion also contained a completely non-essential Tower component in which you can stack your game tiles, which I resented (presumably) being charged extra for!

Of the other expansions: I own "The Count", but have actually never played with it, as it seems to have a really complicated game of political manoeuvring and oneupmanship in it, and quite often I want to play Carcassonne because it's fairly simple and elegant! One expansion that I don't own and have played with only once, but which I was favourably impressed with, was "Abbey & Mayor". In particular I remember it introduced Abbey tiles which can be used to fill in difficult gaps... independently of whether cruel players have boxed you in with near-impossible demands on the final tile to complete your city! This is obviously a huge change and one that no one can afford to ignore; I love expansions that are that game-changing.

Additionally, there was also something (Barns I think?) which enabled farms to be scored, and farmers to return to people's hands before the end of the game, which has similar ground-breaking implications on potential strategies for the game. The next Carcassonne expansion I buy will definitely be this one.


One final word how the expansions change the game: all of them contain a few or quite a lot of new tiles, which are much more complex than ones found in the basic set. In the basic set, you can "trap" people's followers pretty effectively by making it impossible for them to find the right tile to complete their city. Once you add in a few expansions, there are enough truly wacky tiles out there that, no matter what crazy limitations you place on a space, there's probably something out there that can fill it. (Or an Abbey!) The expansions therefore add an element of randomness to proceedings in that you can never be sure if a city is doomed or if you will draw into the perfect mad piece to finish it. Some might not like that element of luck but I think most quite enjoy the possibility that, against all the odds and the machinations of the other players, the gods may smile and deliver that one-tile-in-a-hundred into their lap :D

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I found the towers to be much as you say. Even with 6 players the kidnapping just added a negative element that took focus away from constructive building. The dragon can go that way, but it also helps encourage people to build away from the centre which is good. So I've retired the tower expansion but use the dragon for more social games or with people who've not seen it. –  Мסž Apr 30 '11 at 7:47

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