Mar 11, 2015

[Games] Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals

One does not simply own the base set of Carcassonne for long. As brilliantly versatile and dynamic the base game is, the folks behind the game have managed to release a wide variety of interesting and creative expansions over the years that radically alter the nature of play with every new release. It has made for a pretty colorful play environment, to say the least.

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals was the first expansion ever released in the series and the general format sort of defined the nature of such releases moving forward. And while the game is unable to stand alone, it's still quite the entertaining experience that nicely tweaks the core game experience with some new bells and whistles.

In hindsight, this is hardly the greatest expansion of the game and we often overlook it when figuring out what to play. Plus there's the fact that some of the new tiles added to the game are pretty tricky to use and thus don't get quite as utilized. But that doesn't take away from the value of the game and the fun it still adds to any Carcassonne game.

Carcasonne: Inns & Cathedrals (originally released as Carcassonne: The Expansion), is the first official expansion of the game. It still requires the base set to play and comes with an additional set of Followers (meeple) in order to support a 6th player.

First, this expansion introduces the Large Follower, which is a slightly bigger version of the classic meeple figure. This Follower counts as two regular followers, which becomes important when multiple players are contesting a particular feature. By design, it promotes more competitive play, and I only say this since I know some players who go through the game never attempting to context control over a feature. The Larger Follower gives you an interesting tool to use to break ties and really force your way into particularly large cities.

Then there's the seemingly simply mechanic of the inn by the road. When you complete a road with at least one segment featuring the inn, then the road now scores 2 points per segment instead of one. However if you do not complete the road, you do not score any points no matter how many segments long it is.

Lastly there's the Cathedral, which is a special city tile that must be surrounded by city tiles on all four sides. When you complete a city with a Cathedral, you score an additional point per tile and per shield / pennant in that completed city. But similar to the inn by the road, failing to complete the city means that you score nothing.

As a bonus, the game includes additional scoring markers, which help you track scores for games that go into the 100 points range, which happens a heck of a lot more once you involve more expansions.

Now this game pretty much became the model for many expansions - introducing new tile mechanics and introducing at least one new piece into the game. Sometimes it's a piece that everyone gets like the Large Follower. Often times it's just a unique figure that changes the game dynamic somehow and people just have to deal with the effects. And beyond that they include new tile designs, which sort of help players build those features that always seem difficult to complete, like when a road is pointed at an incomplete city or thereabouts.

Both the Inn and the Cathedral seem like big gambles, and I totally understand how players tend to avoid them, especially the Cathedral. I've seem some cheap-scoring roads with inns, but not everyone utilizes them. On the flipside, the fact that they often get underestimated can make them pretty valuable and I've seen some surprise upsets because someone managed to effectively use a Cathedral in the latter stages of the game. And I'm not even talking about a mere 5-segment city but some pretty expansive ones with some major depth to them.

The Large Follower can be pretty brutal in the hands of an aggressive style player. It's hard enough to fend off another player trying to share points with you for a city that is in the process of being completed, but adding in the Large Follower really messes things up, but in a good way. Then Large Followers become really important when it comes to control of the farms in the later stages. It makes for really good strategic options, but it can also end friendships depending one how well someone can maneuver the tiles in his or her favor.

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals opens the door to new play options and became the pioneer for later expansions beyond this first game. And as much as this expansion isn't quite a favorite, it's still a fun twist to the play experience and one that nicely compliments other expansions. Thus the expansion gets 3.5 Large Followers out of a possible 5.

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