Carcassonne is a game where I wonder where if it really started out as innocently as one might think. It’s a game about placing tiles to construct pictures, essentially, with tactics, strategy, tile-counting underlying that to tickle the mechanical monkeys. It’s fun and clearly has staying power, given the variety of expansions and variations published since the first set hit in 2000. Some of those expansions make less sense than others. The Catapult, for example.
For a while, I thought Carcassonne: The Castle fell towards the “gzuh?” end of the spectrum. The regular game plays just fine with two. Why would one need a variation that can only play two? Having played The Castle twice now, I can see the attraction of how the variation plays, but it’s more like a quirky, specialized implement rather than the sturdy workhorse that is Carcassonne: good once in a while in specific circumstances, but not a go-to option.
The biggest difference between The Castle and Carcassonne is space available for building. The Castle starts with a play space defined by the walls of the castle, cardboard strips that fit together like puzzle pieces, that also doubles as the scoring track. That means some of the typical features in Carcassonne, like the long road off the edge of the table, or an endless series of “football cities,” don’t work at all. And, just to make life more difficult, two kinds of features, towers and houses, don’t complete on their own. Those features have be bounded by other tiles to finish. You’re not only short on space, but you need to make features work together in a synergy you don’t find out in the countryside.
I don’t know. On some level, a Carcassonne game is a Carcassonne game. Draw tiles, place meeples, complete patterns. The Castle has its wrinkles, like the bonus tiles you might get if you score a certain number of points in the game, or trying to make sure you finish off features while leaving yourself room to keep building new ones, but in the end, it’s Carcassonne with some new gimmicks.
I find myself feeling the same way about the torrent of small expansions for the original game, adding trade goods and abbeys and mayors and barns and wagons and pigs and whatever else might conceivably have existed in medieval France. So long as the game play centers around Carcassonne‘s strengths: pattern-building, multiple options of how to place a tile and the cute parochial art, I’ll be fine with most variations.