Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals
Time: ~30 minutes
Times Played: ~20
Carcassonne, as a stand alone game, is already well-revered and one of the better games I’ve ever played. However, as my tastes expanded and I started playing more complex games, I continued to appreciate Carcassonne but saw it reaching the table less and less until it was just a footnote, lost to history.
Enter Inns & Cathedrals, the first expansion that can be paired with Carcassonne. I’m not going to cover the base game here. Please refer to my previous review of Carcassonne for that.
This expansion offers eighteen new tiles that can be mixed with the base game (and any future expansions as well). Besides the Cathedral itself, every other tile is unique and there is only one of them.
Of the eighteen new tiles, six of them feature an Inn situated on a lake, as shown:
Each Inn is located adjacent to a road (and occasionally a city wall). When a road contains one or more Inns, the entire value of each road tile is increased from one point to two points…but only if the segment is completed. Unlike the base game, if a road featuring an Inn is left uncompleted for endgame scoring purposes, the road is worth nothing. Players also do not get additional bonuses for having multiple Inns on a single road.
This small addition changes the strategy of scoring immensely. Roads were a clear third option behind Cities and Cloisters but now that you can score similar points with fewer tiles, they are in contention with Cloisters for the second best scoring during game scoring option (I’m ignoring Farms due to their end game scoring nature for this stance; more on Farms later).
The increased scoring potential of roads also shifted the placing strategies in our group. Before, adding to an additional road without placing on it was a viable strategy as it may have helped expand a Farm’s reach while at worst adding an additional point to an opposing player. Now, it could be adding two points or if you’re placing an Inn, doubling the entire road length. We see far fewer unclaimed roads being built beyond a length of two.
The other new dimension that has been added is the possibility of scoring nothing for not completing a road with an Inn. We have had many late game scenarios where roads are expanded with an Inn just to ensure that those three or four points are not scored. This dynamic is new to the Carcassonne world and an interesting risk/reward as it could blow up in your face.
There are also two Cathedral tiles that are unique as they can only have city connecting to each adjacent side. When a Cathedral is in a City, it increases the value of each City tile from two points to three points. This is also true for the banners in each City. Like Inns, this is only true though for completed Cities. If a City is not completed, the player(s) score zero points for the City.
The Cathedral tiles typically offer one of two ways to play. They’re either placed by a confident player and other players will try to find a way to shoehorn their way into the City or they’re used to utterly ruin an opponents City by making it a sprawling mess that’s nearly impossible to close in and complete.
This increased decision making really helps foster the player interaction that, while prevalent in the base game, needed a tweak for players that wanted to play their own way. The Cathedral tile will force players to act. Either they want in on the City that’s about to score some points or they want revenge for their City being ruined.
The additional point per tile makes Cathedrals desirable as players try to create grandiose Cities to take advantage of the new benefit. With a minimum of four additional tiles needed to complete a City with a Cathedral, many times players will take their chances building bigger and bigger City landscapes to make the placement worthwhile.
Besides the Inn and Cathedral tiles, there are also some unique tiles that are included that are not found in the base game. The best way to describe these tiles is to imagine what you wished existed after playing the base game five or so times. If you ever wished for a corner piece with a road or a Cloister with a road through it or a four-sided end City piece, these tiles will resonate with you. They help create a new experience with each game you play.
In addition to the landscape tiles, there are also new scoring tiles adding that help players keep track of their score as they pass fifty and one-hundred points. Base Carcassonne asks players to lay their meeple down as they cross the threshold but this is an easier way to ensure proper bookkeeping. A larger score track (or even one of the same size with thinner point slices) would have been better in my opinion.
Inns & Cathedrals also offers an additional meeple set, allowing a sixth player the opportunity to join the game. These meeples are grey in color. They can be used in the base game and offer no difference or advantage besides their color. I would not recommend playing the base Carcassonne with six (or more) players. At six players, only using the base tiles, you’re only getting twelve placements a game. It does not create a fun experience.
A new larger meeple is also provided for each existing color, which allows players to now place an eighth follower on the landscape tiles during the course of the game.
This larger meeple is identical to the standard meeple in all ideals except it counts as having a value of two meeples when trying to decide who owns what Farm, City, Road, etc.
The ability to count as two meeples is huge in Carcassonne, specifically when trying to gain control of an opposing City. The addition of the larger meeple creates a new depth of strategy as placing them too soon can waste their additional value whereas waiting too long might mean you’re out of contention for the place you want to break into. This doesn’t even bring into account the power of being the last player to have their large meeple to be placed, giving you unfettered access to the landscape ahead of you.
One aspect I have not touched on yet was the impact that this expansion has on Farms in Carcassonne. Many of our games come down to the Farms that players have laid out and Inns and Cathedrals influence this scoring metric in a few ways.
Using the large meeple as a farmer is a valid strategic decision as it all but guarantees the scoring of a Farm but it does mean that the larger meeple is now out of contention for the rest of the game. If a player can ensure the field they’re procuring will be worth a lot of points, then using the large meeple isn’t necessarily a bad play.
With the possibility of an increased point value for roads, Farms have taken an indirect hit as there typically aren’t as many connected plots of land as compared to base Carcassonne. As mentioned earlier, players don’t want to leave large stretches of road available for other players to add an Inn to and that impacts Farms as everything tends to be more stretched out now.
Comparing base Carcassonne to Inns & Cathedrals, players should typically have less Cities to score via Farms as well due to the Cathedral tiles. This expansion leads players to building larger Cities to benefit more from the Cathedral bonus. That means either one larger completed City to score (instead of four or five smaller ones) or an incomplete large City as the players were never able to wall it off, rendering the Farm useless.
This changes the game as players typically place Farmers earlier in the game but now, that may not be a feasible strategy and Farmers may not be placed until later in the game, if at all.
There’s also the option of players placing a Farmer early and only aiming to complete small Cities as they ignore the allure of the Cathedrals and aim to score the late game points that other players will either be ignoring or not have access to.
The unique tiles also impact farms, particularly the four-sided City tile. A player might place that tile and add a Farmer to it only for their opponents attempt to connect the four end pieces. It creates an indirect interaction between players that I really enjoy.
Base Carcassonne, with its seventy-two tiles, routinely takes us around twenty to twenty-five minutes to play. Adding eighteen tiles, which offer additional strategy, lengthens the game another five to ten minutes, if that. It’s the perfect amount of time for the level of complexity.
Inns & Cathedrals has become so ingrained in our playing of Carcassonne that we see it as an extension of the base game now. Many expansions add new modules or variants that can be interchanged in and out but this feels like it was designed along with the base game. If Carcassonne was a Kickstarter game, Inns & Cathedrals would be one of the first stretch goals as it slides so effortlessly into the play style. The expansion retains the simplicity of the base game while adding just a fraction more decision making.
While Inns & Cathedrals comes in its own box, the contents easily fit into the base box for easy storage and/or travel. We jettisoned the expansion box almost immediately as there was no reason to keep the contents separate.
So, what is there not to like about this expansion? Honestly? The only negative I have is the addition of the sixth player. I don’t think base Carcassonne plus Inns & Cathedrals offer enough tiles for the inclusion of a sixth player. I like having the new color but if I wanted to play with six, I would have to purchase a second box of the base game.
That’s my only negative about this expansion. I consider it must have for anyone who enjoys Carcassonne and/or wants more out of their experience. It feels like a true implementation of the base game. Inns & Cathedrals is one of the best expansions in board gaming.