For the purposes of this post, I am only discussing the base version of Carcassonne. No Inn’s, Dragons, Towers, or Messengers to be found.
Carcassonne features several ways to score. With the random nature of drawing tiles, players shouldn’t focus on just one way to acquire points. Setting yourself up with multiple cities, a long road, and a cloister are great ways to ensure that whatever tile you end up with, you can use it to better your positioning. With the placing of an early farmer, maybe your tile doesn’t help score an immediate need but it could help advance your field for final scoring. It also helps guide you to a clear goal: creating completed cities near your farmer.
Speaking of early farmers…
One of the biggest early decisions to be made in Carcassonne is when to play the first farmer? Is it played within the first couple tiles, gambling that the field will eventually grow into something much more or do you wait to see what the landscape is, gambling that you’ll still be able to take advantage before your opponent(s) does?
Now, this strategy has a different dynamic in a two-player game. If you jump out to a two- or three- farmer lead in a two-player game, you are now down that many meeples for the rest of the game. Maybe the opponent doesn’t score many (if any farms), but they are more able to secure scoring options thanks to their abundance of options. They can more easily take risks or tie up real estate as you nickel and dime your remaining meeples.
Farmers are important…but Cities are more important
Cities are the fastest and easiest way to gain a lot of points quickly in Carcassonne. A well-placed City or two can swing a game in a players favor.
Designate a meeple for quick scoring opportunities
You always need to have a meeple in reserve in Carcassonne on the off chance that you’re able to score something valuable when you draw a new tile. I recommend designating one meeple that is placed in situations where it will score immediately. It may be connecting a road or closing off a small City but whatever it is, those points will add up and it’s better that you get them than your opponent.
In connection with that, you can almost always use that last meeple on your last tile to either complete something or place a Farm down to score some points, so keep that in the back of your mind.
Use your meeples wisely
Similar to the last point, have a game plan for what your meeples will be doing. This doesn’t mean that you need to name them and force them to work a Farm, but it does mean you should delegate three for large projects (such as Farms, Cloisters, and larger Cities) and three meeples for smaller projects, like small Cities and roads.
Strand your opponents meeples
If the tile that you’re about to place offers no immediate benefit for you, take a moment to see if it will stall out your opponent(s). Maybe you branch out their City and make it sprawl more than they’ll be able to finish.
Finish your opponents plans
Okay, this sounds crazy. Why would you want to finish what your opponent(s) has started and give them points? Easy. You’re stopping their projects before they can get more points. They have a road that looks like it could grow in the near future? Plop a crossroads down and end that dream there. Did they just place on a City tile that has a lot of room for growth? Close that City out and ensure they only get four points instead of fourteen.
This will be more situational but if you feel like you’re at a disadvantage or need to stop a runaway opponent, try to muscle your way into their already established City. This can backfire as you can be cut off but if successful, you’ll at least keep the gap between you and your opponent the same. Now, if you can get a second meeple in that same City…that’s a game changer and will give you control (or third, whatever gives you the majority) but again, that’s harder to do as your plans are clear and your opponent(s) should be trying to stop you from doing that.
Speaking of joint projects…
Always be the one that does less work. Let the other player(s) contribute more tiles or finish the project in base Carcassonne. You’ll score the same amount of points and are better off using those turns where you’re not contributing to work elsewhere. However, if you notice nothing is being done to the project as your opponent(s) has the same idea, you have the option of completing it and returning everyone’s meeples or stranding the meeples. You’re basically playing meeple chicken but with the added insight that you’re not going to flinch.
Have fun. Carcassonne is a game first and foremost and it plays relatively quick. If you don’t do well the first time, try again! If your strategy worked too well and you crushed the competition, try something completely different the next time.