Carcassonne: Traders & Builders
Time: ~35 minutes
Times Played: ~25
It adds twenty-four new landscape tiles to the Carcassonne game, each type of tile only represented once. In addition to the new tiles, cardboard trade Goods are tied to twenty of those tiles. There are twenty total tokens: five Silk chits, six Wheat chits, and nine Beer chits.
The City tiles with the corresponding good help flesh out the Trader aspect of the game title. When a player completes a City, they will receive one Good token per matching icon in the City. No matter who is scoring the City, the player to complete the City receives the trade Good(s). This is also true for Cities that are completed yet unclaimed.
During endgame scoring, ten points will be awarded to the player that possesses the majority of each trade Good. Ties give all players that tied ten points.
Traders & Builders introduces the mechanic of set collection to Carcassonne. It adds another level of strategy as now players need to be aware of how many Goods remain, who is controlling the most Goods, and what Cities can be completed to ensure that you get the Good(s).
That last point opens up several interesting possibilities for players. Do you complete an opponents City for them to ensure you receive the Good? Would you still do that if it could close your non-Good City? Do you try and make your City larger with a Good tile knowing that it may be completed before it’s your turn again?
Those ten points at the end of game can be game-changing as well. In our recorded history of playing Carcassonne (which admittedly, only covers less than twenty plays), most games are decided by twenty points or less. With thirty points up for grabs, that creates a huge incentive for my group to challenge one another for the Good tokens as they may push players to first.
The inclusion of the Good tokens creates another interesting dynamic as they tend to be completed quicker, which can lead to more Farms to score. I have also seen the inverse where players will purposefully make those Cities larger so the tokens are tied up and never truly introduced to the players as the City is not completed.
In addition to the tiles with Good icons, there are also four unique tiles. Two feature bridges that allow roads to intersect without ending and another features a Cloister with roads coming from three ends.
They might appear at first glance to not provide anything of note besides some new ways to interact with base Carcassonne features, but that’s not the case. These four tiles offer additional ways to split Fields into smaller landscapes and can really cut into another players usage of their Pig (mentioned shortly).
The expansion introduces two new meeple types as well, both available for each of the six colors (with grey being introduced in the Inns & Cathedrals expansion). First, the Builder.
The Builder is available from the beginning of the game for each player. To be used, when a player adds a tile to an existing road or City that they have a meeple on, they can place the Builder on that newly placed tile. In a later turn, when the player adds to that road or City, they are immediately granted an additional turn, as they will grab a second tile at random and play it anywhere they can. The ability does not stack so adding a second road in the same turn does not grant you a third consecutive turn. When the feature is completed, the Builder is returned to the players pile to be used again.
This means that the player can place a tile that completes a feature, returns the Builder to their hand, places their bonus tile and then adds the Builder to that newly placed tile (if possible).
The impact of the Builder is rather big on the game of Carcassonne. Players can easily math out how many turns they will get during the course of a game as the game ends when all the tiles are placed. With the ability to perform back-to-back turns now, players can hopefully increase their Cities and scoring opportunities at a greater pace than average. Coupled with the Trader aspect, players could possibly complete two Cities with Goods before their opponent(s) take their turn. That could result in a huge swing.
The downside of this is that the Builder does not offer any additional scoring so increasing a feature you have doesn’t necessarily help you procure an advantageous gain on your opponent(s). The randomization of the tile draw means players can’t really plan ahead as to what they’re going to pull. It’s a risk/reward but so is every draw in Carcassonne so my belief is that you might as well mitigate those odds by drawing as often as you can.
This introduces another form of player interaction as players will now have another reason to complete opponents features as having multiple turns will prove detrimental.
The Builder is an easy addition to implement and if needed, could be utilized without using the rest of the expansion.
The other meeple addition is of the Pig. The Pig exists outside the title expansions and each player begins the game with the Pig of their player color. When a player adds a tile that expands a Field they already control, they can place the Pig on that active tile.
The Pig will increase the amount of each City scored by that Farm by one point, making the Cities go from three endgame points to four. The Pig can only provide the additional point if the Farm scores.
The addition of the Pig is similar to the addition of Inns & Cathedrals, as it increases Farms in the same way that Inns increased completed Roads and Cathedrals increased completed Cities. They’re easy to learn about and utilize as they’re a one-off placement and almost all tiles have the ability to place a Farmer (or Pig).
Pigs are risky for a couple of reasons. One being that you now need to ensure that you control the Field so you can capture that additional point per City and two being that you have now painted a target on your back as players know exactly what you’re attempting to do and have the rest of the game to try to thwart you since the Pig cannot move.
The biggest edition to Traders & Builders is the addition of the Cloth Bag, which players can use to mix and draw their tiles. It fits the tiles from multiple expansions and allows players the ability to shuffle them within the bag.
This is a great inclusion as it tidies up the game area and allows for easy storage and randomization compared to leaving tiles in the box or shuffling them about on the table. It also helps that while all the tiles have similar back designs, the colors tend to be slightly off-hue and experienced players can easily notice which tiles come from which set.
The bag is also the color of the base game box and features a screen printing of Carcassonne that is a nice little thematic touch.
I think, and have no scientific evidence to back up this claim, that games are slightly quicker with the bag than when choosing from a pile on the table. Players tend to grab-and-go with the bag whereas they try to select the “perfect” tile from the pile, even though they have no idea what awaits them on the other side.
The bag also allows all tiles to easily store in the base game box. If you want to separate them, you’ll have to go through the bag to filter the tiles but I find this to be a great way to store and transport the game and expansion(s).
So what’s wrong with it?
Traders & Builders is the more “complicated” expansion for Carcassonne when compared to Inns & Cathedrals. It’s the first time that I truly believe a good player will distance themselves from an average or bad one. I typically exclude this expansion when teaching first-time players (unlike my auto-inclusion of Inns & Cathedrals). Traders & Builders offers a lot of new decision making that could prove challenging for players not familiar with the intricacies of Carcassonne. Experienced players can easily run away with the game due to the Traders addition and their knowledge of City completion and relative point values.
Like base Carcassonne (and its expansions), the random draw of the tiles can sway the game in one players favor or away from ones. A player could have a perfect draw where they are completing Cities left and right, denying their opponent(s) of any opportunity to grab some Good tokens.
The randomness, while prevalent in other versions of Carcassonne, particularly sucks here as it took what was a rather tight game and opened it up to a luck-dependent tile grab. If there’s an equal distribution, I find Traders & Builders to be a great expansion and a must-include for me but since that’s something that can’t be decided upon before the game begins, it’s always a gamble.
When it works, I find this expansion to be another quintessential addition to the Carcassonne universe but it’s definitely the clear number two to Inns & Cathedrals due to the gaminess of the randomization. I do feel like it helps take a gateway game to the next level and makes Carcassonne something that will appeal to more heavy gamers. Traders & Builders doesn’t make Carcassonne a heavy game by any stretch but it is a clear step up from what players were used to.
Another pitfall is that this expansion can add some considerable time to the base game due to the influx of new tiles and the new strategies that are implemented. Carcassonne became popular due to the simplified game play and the quick play time and Traders & Builders challenges both of those notions.
While an additional ten to fifteen minutes isn’t the end of the world, you do start to run into territory where you wonder if playing a different game that takes that time is more worthy than playing Carcassonne with this and/or more expansions.
I think it’s worth it but that won’t be for everyone. I could easily see this expansion pushing play time to an hour for some groups.
I enjoy the increased strategy and decision-making that Traders & Builders introduces to the Carcassonne world and think it meshes well with previous expansions, particularly Inns & Cathedrals due to the importance of roads. Both are always included in our Carcassonne gaming unless playing with a brand new player.