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I've only just discovered Carcassonne (thanks to the iPhone app), but I keep losing (in 3-player games).

Which standard strategies are there? (game without extensions, 3-4 players).

One strategy per answer please.

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12 Answers

Strand your opponents Meeples

When you place a piece, of course try to make it advantageous to yourself. But if you can, place it to hinder your opponent. If he is trying to complete a city and you weren't able to figure out a way to share it, then place a tile next to the potential closing piece. This will limit his options. By slowing down the rate that his meeples return you will gain an advantage.

Often times, it is possible to leave an empty space that no tile can be placed in. If your opponent has an unfinished city or road that connects to that empty space then his meeple will not be returning to his hand and will generate a sub-standard score.

There are 2 main empty squares that cannot be filled using pieces from only the base set.

  1. There is no tile containing 1 road, 1 city, and 2 field sides.
  2. There is no tile containing 1 road, 2 city, and 1 field sides.

With a little practice it is pretty easy to get this to work against even moderately experienced players. I played a game online recently that followed this general sequence

  1. My opponent had a couple pieces towards a city
  2. I played a city tile with a meeple to try to encourage sharing the city.
  3. He played another city+meeple to defend and was able to connect his 2 before I could share
  4. I was able to complete my city while surrounding an empty square, making it unplayable.
  5. As a bonus, he also had an unfinished road running into the empty square.

My opponent had 3 meeples stranded and it we were only 1/3rd of the way through the game! He stood no chance to win the game at that point.

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It is a good strategy, but IMHO a little unsporting. Although I suppose in iPhone Quickplay you're not exactly out to make friends... –  tunaranch Oct 29 '10 at 7:04
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@tunaranch - I play all games to win. A few games/sports define sportsmanlike behavior, which I will then follow. But if they don't, I feel free to do what it takes –  Pat Ludwig Oct 29 '10 at 12:06
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Unsporting? You might as well say that taking your opponent's pieces in chess is unsporting. –  Robert Rossney Nov 4 '10 at 21:50
    
@RobertRossney someone did this in a group I was playing with an it left a sour taste in our mouths. –  Pureferret Oct 27 '12 at 18:52
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Put farmers on valuable farms

I find that if people are building smaller cities, then it's good to get farmers in early; you can monopolize the farms, and make a lot of points at the end. You need to be careful with this approach, as having your meeples locked up in farms means you can't use them later when you need them, but if there's a valuable enough farm to be had, then take it before someone else does.

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I would add to this that it's critical to be able to visualize the boundaries of a farm. Knowing how to share/steal someone else's farm (and protecting your own) can be worth a ton of points for little effort. –  Kristo Oct 29 '10 at 13:50
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Use Meeples Efficiently

They're your only resource for scoring points, and they're a renewable resource. A good starting point for your 7 meeples would be:

  • 3 for long-term goals: cloisters, farms, and large cities
  • 3 for short-term goals: roads and small cities
  • 1 in reserve for instant scoring

Obviously, you have to tailor this for the game situation you're in. The general idea is to avoid tying up too many meeples on things that won't net you many points. Smaller roads and cities are easier to complete - score the points and put your meeple to work somewhere else.

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Share in other people's structures

If you can persuade other players that you're working with them on a structure (usually a city), then you can get all the points for half the effort.*

For example, in a three player game, if you score 10 point for a city with opponent A and 10 points for a different city with opponent B, then you score 20 points in total, leaving them on 10 points each.


* It's possible to put in less than half the effort - just one tile could suffice.

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Place your meeples so you'll get them back quickly

Try to maximise your meeples throughput i.e. don't place them on tiles where you won't see them again until the end of the game. My tips:

  • Cities that you you can complete easily. Avoid having two meeples in cities where you'll need the same tile type to complete them (unless you're hoping to steal some city points from someone else)
  • The same with roads: it's rarely worth having 2 on the go at once, since you'll very likely only be developing 1 at a time
  • Monastries are great for the start of the game, not always so good at the midpoint if you won't get the meeple back, but can be useful again in the last few moves
  • Don't worry much about farmers for the first quarter of the game until a few cities have taken shape.
  • Always keep one meeple for quick "place and score" wins, like 4-point cities and short roads

The basic principle is you want each meeple to do as much work as possible rather than being stranded on incomplete towns, roads and monastaries or farming an area that will never be developed.

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In general, not a ton of strategy, mostly tactics. Just make sure you're doing the math on the "upside" of every move.

  1. How many points will you expect to earn with this move? How much of that will be because your opponents have helped out? (such as when you place a city caddy-cornered and try to join them later)

  2. Roughly how many moves are left in the game? That will guide you on how aggressive to be about placing pieces where you need subsequent pieces to complete a city/road/cathedral.

  3. When placing a piece where you need another piece next to it to complete it, measure the difficulty of completing that piece. In general, the number of pieces already surrounding that other spot, the harder it is to complete, and cities/roads are slightly harder to connect to than field. By the way, this calculation can also be used to place pieces to make things harder for your opponents.

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My strategy for Carcassonne has always been to build reasonably big cities. It means that other players are not scoring as many points by farming, as there are fewer cities, plus big cities are very rewarding. I do try to finish cities with a reasonable time left to play however, to ensure other players don't disrupt the building, which can result in limited scoring.

I found a very good write up of my strategy, quoted below.

Build Big and Complete: In general, it's a solid strategy to build and complete as many large structures as you can. Building up your segments fast and effectively, by avoiding time wasting tile placements that don't immediately benefit or protect your segments, is essential to both putting a healthy dose of points on the board and also to reclaiming your meeples in a timely manner. Of course, too much of a good thing may turn out to be detrimental to your success. Be careful not to get too ambitious when it comes to gargantuan constructions since you will eventually have to complete these monsters to gain the lions share of the points. If someone comes along and plays a tile that will prevent you from completing your work of art, or you simply run out of time and tiles, you'll score the minimum points with the end-of-game scoring rules. Additionally, your poor meeple(s) will be stranded in the segment the entire time it's being built as well. Being reasonable and knowing when it's time to cap off the segment will help you avoid the dangers of greedily (and unwisely) going wild with your building plans.

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Could you add a link to the quote's source? –  mafutrct Oct 27 '12 at 14:28
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Sabotage your opponents

One element that is a much bigger factor in the iPhone game than in real life is using your tiles to prevent an opponent from completing something they're working on. The iPhone game will show an "X" when no remaining tiles can be played in a given spot, and will show you all the remaining tiles yet unplayed.

You can use this to your advantage by placing a piece that will leave an opponent's city, road, or cloister unfinished, or leave a field unable to be connected to another.

In the tabletop game this is less common because you generally don't know precisely which tiles are left and you have to do the computation of whether there are any pieces playable in a given spot yourself instead of having the game do it for you.

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Draw good tiles

Obviously, this takes some luck, but there a few things you can do to improve your odds.

  • Work on a couple of projects requiring different tiles at the same time, e.g., a big city and a long road. This increases your chances that your next tile will be useful somewhere.

  • Know the tiles. You don't have to count cards, but you can help complete your cities by knowing the common tiles that will fill a given hole. More importantly, you need to know which tiles don't exist so you avoid leaving an impossible space.

  • Expand outward. It's easier to place tiles when your cities and roads aren't constantly bumping into other features.

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Merge

You cannot place a Meeple in a castle that is already occupied, be it your own, or another players. However, you can start a new castle nearby and attempt to merge it on a subsequent move. In this case, both players get the fill points for the castle (or road, or farm).

This is a great way of neutralising their points, but better still if you can merge 2 Meeples into a castle where your opponent has one. In this case, the player with more men in the castle gets the points.

The same applies to roads and farms - and it is with farms that this kind of play can be crucial.

(Advice originally via my regular Carcassonne opponent and mentor, @Pockless)

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Limit the size of opponents farms.

For instance, by building a road around it.

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Here is a summary of some of the techniques I use, and I've seen here that I think work well.

Use Meeples Efficiently

  • Put a meeple on a road and whenever you pick up a road piece, put it connecting that road, steer it away from others who might connect to it and away from the main board pieces. Everything else is for Cloisters and Cities.
  • Don't always put a piece down. You have a few things to consider first. How many cloisters are out yet? How many meeple do people have available and easily returned? Do you have cities to finish or cloisters to surround? Always work out the points you'll get from each option you have.

Build Farms late

People, in my experience rush to place farms down and sit on them only to have them snatched later in the game. Don't fall into this trap. You've just lost a piece you could put on a city or short road, and have returned in time to play as a farmer!

Don't underestimate Cities

Cities, if you can focus on them, and reap huge returns. These returns can swing the game, even when someone has played a farm heavy game!

Always leave a spare meeple for a cloister

There's nothing worse than drawing a cloister and not being able to put it down.

Place tiles carefully

Always keep in mind where you're trying to finish off a city a cloister or a road (remember point one?). Keep a track of yours and other's farms are and be wary of extending or joining farms

Do whatever the other's aren't

If the other players are engaged in farm wars, leave them be and focus on cities. No one picking up on farms? Get a few of those down. Try to stay ahead of the pack this way and they'll end up diluting the resources too far to compete with you.

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