Z-Man has just released the Carcassonne Big Box 2017, with the game hitting the shelves of Friendly Local Game Stores within the next few weeks. Saying this, the Carcassonne Big Box 2017 cannot really be classed as a game. It’s more a bundle of an incredible game with 11, yes 11, expansions. Straight away you know the box will have a fair amount of content. Taking the lid off the huge box a lot of tiles greet onlookers, 188 in total. It isn’t just tiles normal meeples, Grande ones, pigs, builders, even a mage and a witch is in the box.
For those whom do not know of Carcassonne it is a family friendly tile placement game. Players take turns to place tiles that expand the map like board in front of them. In the base game tiles can feature a road segment, a section of a city, a combination of road and city parts or a monastery. On a turn a player takes a new tile from a shuffled draw pile and places it onto the table, adjacent to an already placed tile. The only condition it must continue all features of already placed tiles, so a road cannot be played onto an open field instead it must come off a road edge of a tile.
After playing a tile, the player can choose to add a meeple to a feature on a tile unless someone is already on the feature. Points are scored for completed features throughout the game and some points are awarded at the conclusion for incomplete features. Whomever has the highest points wins, resulting in a marvellous, yet simple, tile laying experience. Each expansion adds in something slight different to the experience from ferries to robbers, let’s have a look at each individually.
Abbey & Gardens
This dinky little expansion is included in the modern base game alongside another expansion The River I. After playing the base game, adding in the farmer and field rules, the next thing to try out are Abbeys. In the base game some of the tiles feature gardens. On only a handful of tiles these are otherwise there just for a visual flair. Abbeys turns gardens into point scoring features, when placing a tile with a garden a player can choose to place their Abbey onto the garden treating it like a monastery for scoring purposes. This just opens up a new way to get points and doesn’t really add any additional time to a game. Abbeys can only be placed on gardens or monasteries so they only have limited impact.
The River I
As mentioned this is the same river expansion that can be found in the latest base game box of Carcassonne. Most games when throwing a single mini expansion in I choose to include this. The river drastically changes the start of the game as it extends out letting the map shoot off in different ways. As this replaces the singular starting tile it doesn’t just break up fields it also gives a very different start to each game: variation which can freshen up the Carcassonne experience.
Some of these tiles have features such as parts of cities, roads and even a monastery. To me this highlights the randomness of the drawing of Carcassonne making it seem more than ever that lucky early draws can set players up for a win. After a few plays though people will bend and curve the river to make finishing some these early structures hard, so you could lose a meeple for the rest of the game. If The River II was also included in this big box it would have given players even more a choice of how to spice up the start of the game. Alas, it seemingly didn’t make the cut.
Inns & Cathedrals
This is the first full expansion to be included in the Carcassonne Big Box 2017. Inns and Cathedrals offer players a way to increase points scored for features, whilst having the ability to stop opponents from gaining points for an incomplete feature. When an Inn is included onto a road, no matter how many Inns are played, it doubles the points scored when the feature is complete: so, 2 points per road piece. When a city is completed with a Cathedral in it city tiles and shields are worth 3 points, instead of 2. Alas, these are not always good. Leave a city with a Cathedral or road with an Inn incomplete and they score no points at the end of the game.
The lure of potential bonus points is an offer many can’t refuse, especially the cathedral, though it can be a risky proposition. If they come up at the end of the game they are more commonly used to block opponents from scoring by making it hard or impossible to complete large point scoring cities/roads. Not all the tiles in this expansion feature Inns or Cathedrals. Out of the 18 new tiles only 6 feature Inns and there are only 2 Cathedrals in total. The rest of these tiles seem to be angled towards splitting up fields which changes they dynamic of how to use farmers.
Traders & Builders
This is the second full expansion included in the Carcassonne Big Box 2017. This adds in new mechanics, tiles and new player pieces. Who can say no to a pig shaped meeple? Or should that be pigple… Pigs are the easiest part of this expansion to understand as they are effectively farmers. If you already have a meeple on that field you can place the pig like a farmer when placing a tile. Pigs will just help keep or gain control of high scoring fields.
The builder part of the expansion sees players able to occasionally take two turns back to back. Note that this does disrupt the commonly used house rule of taking tiles early, as someone may be able to take two turns spoiling the draw order. Whenever you place a tile that continues a feature you already have a meeple on you can place your builder piece on it. In the future when you place another tile onto that feature you get to take another turn. Only one additional turn is possible, players cannot gain another turn by once again building on the feature on their bonus turn: balancing the feature somewhat when it comes to large sprawling roads or cities.
The builder is an interesting concept which if used consistently well by a player comes close to being overpowered. The only reason it’s not is that everyone has a builder, it is up to you to determine the optimal placement for it. A common tactic to try to make it hard for player to get their builder back. When a structure is completed with the builder in it, it is returned to the player. By extension, if it isn’t completed the builder remains there. This can change the dynamic of the game towards blocking opponents, though naturally for those nice players out there you are not forced to.
The third element of this expansion are three sets of good tokens. New tiles have matching icons, in city sections, of the three goods: Wine, Grain & Cloth. When played these are identical to normal cities it is only when a city is completed that they come into effect. Regardless of if you control the city, if you finish a city with trade good icons you claim the appropriate tokens. At the conclusion of the game whomever has the most of each good type gets 10 bonus points. This isn’t enough to make solely going for them always worthwhile but can see players occasionally finishing opponent’s cities to get the tokens.
If you’re a Carcassonne player whom enjoys watching the map grow out with little to no conflict then Flying machines may not be for you. For the rest of us, whom love to ninja in and steal cities or roads, this mini expansion adds in a new mechanic to exploit. 8 new tiles are added into the game with flying machines on them. When playing one of the new tiles you can place a meeple, instead of on a normal feature, onto the flying machine. These have a directional arrow on them, which dictates the direct the meeple is about to fly.
Determine the flight distance by rolling a 6-sided dice with 1, 2 and 3 on it twice. Whichever it ends on is how far the meeple flies. If there are any incomplete features, controlled by others or not, you can place the meeple there. This isn’t even just limited to roads and cities, it can also allow players to jump onto monasteries. Rules on fields are however unaffected. If there are no incomplete feature then the meeple is returned to the players pool. There certainly is a randomness and luck added in with this expansion so I often only include this expansion on its own when playing more for fun than for strategic, victorious fun.