Carcassonne Strategies and Tips

When playing Carcassonne, you’d be forgiven if you dismissed there being any notion of strategy in Carcassonne. After all, each turn, you’ll draw a tile and you’ll either get what you need or don’t. While part of the game is dealing with randomness, there’s more to Carcassonne strategy than meets the eye.

Peel back the layers and there are ways to work around Carcassonne’s luck factor. And that aspect is what we’ll look at in detail so that you understand what it takes to play Carcassonne well.

Carcassonne Strategy Basics

Every board game you play comes with a set of foundational skills to master. And Carcassonne is no exception. So if I were to point out what basic skills to understand when playing Carcassonne, here’s what I would focus on:

  • Tracking a person’s actual score: Your opponents will have points on the scoreboard, but you need to think beyond that. You should look at their people placement to determine how many potential points they have lined up. After all, the scoreboard might show you having a 5 point lead. But that lead may be temporary if your opponent has a 20-point castle that can be scored if they add one more tile to complete it.
  • Manage your worker supply: Workers are how you score points. Unfortunately, your supply of workers is not infinite. That is why making sure your workers can help you maximize your score is critical. When you place your worker down, they’d better give you a short burst of points and come back to be used over and over to get more points. Or that worker better get you loads of points in the endgame.
  • Understanding that Carcassonne is an interactive board game: It’s tempting to play Carcassonne as a single-player game, but you need to disabuse yourself of that notion. In Carcassonne, you’re able to score points by placing tiles in a way that benefit you. But you should also think of ways to mess with your opponents by making one of their structures harder to finish. Remember, an unfinished structure will not score nearly as many points.

These are basic concepts that you’ll need to keep in mind. Once you’ve spent enough time playing around with these principles, it’s time to go into the actionable steps you can take. My goal is to help you understand the game in greater depth and refine your play so that victory is less about luck and more about how well you can use your tiles to maximum effect.

Carcassonne: Tips on what to do

Keep track of tiles

Carcassonne Tile Distribution

Initially, this feels like another strategy tip involving tedious bookkeeping. To an extent, it is. The better you are at it, the better you can build heuristics around understanding what structures can potentially be completed. You can use that information to decide whether to commit one of your workers to a castle or road or how to block an opponent and prevent them from finishing their structures. 

For example, if you’re about to place someone on a road, check to see whether all the pieces with a road-ending segment are already out. If they are, then that worker is sitting on an unfinished structure and will be stuck there for the rest of the game. Or if someone needs a specific 3-sided city tile with a road to complete that sprawling city, but all of those tiles are out, then you know they’ll be sitting on an incomplete city.

Having this knowledge helps you to get a feel for what you and other players might be able to finish and what options they have, which brings me to my next point.

Prevent other players from finishing structures

A good rule to follow in Carcassonne is if a move won’t net you points, then do a move to keep someone else from getting points. For example, if someone’s trying to build a big city to get lots of points, try to keep them from finishing it. 

The way in which you block them can take many forms. Using the placement below, you’ll see that there are 4 different tiles that can be used to finish up the city and give the red player a lot of points. 

One way to block is to narrow the number of viable tiles. For example, placing the below road creates a situation where only one tile can finish up the city. If you’ve placed it there, you’ve lowered the probability that your opponent will be able to complete their city. The only way they can is to draw that single specific tile.

The other way to block is to create more openings than previously existed. In the below example, there is currently one opening in the city. But if you decide to add the three-sided city tile to their city, you’ll have just created 2 openings that now need to be closed off, making the city completion effort much more difficult. Sure, you gave them one point in doing so, but better to surrender a point than letting them finish that massive metropolis.

Team up with other players who are behind to finish up structures

When you’re not blocking and trying your best to harass the leader, you should work with potential allies to help narrow the gap. Two heads are better than one and nowhere is that more true than when dealing with Carcassonne’s tile-drawing probabilities. The below image illustrates how an instance of teamwork might look.

In this hypothetical example, you’re playing a 3-player game of Carcassonne and red is in the lead. You (blue player) and green are behind and you just drew this 3-sided city tile. Sure, you can go off to build your own structure with it… or you can join together with green’s structure to build a superstructure. 

In doing so, you’ve now aligned your incentives to green’s incentives. You want this city to complete because doing so will get you closer to red. Green will want to have that same outcome for the exact same reason. Now, the two of you can work together to finish building that city to collect the points. And that is the key. Two people diligently focused on completing the same goal have a higher likelihood of drawing the tile needed to finish up the city. Teamwork allows the probabilities to tilt in your favor, making for a very fruitful endeavor.

Obviously, you shouldn’t cooperate with someone who is clearly winning. Teaming up works best when neither player is winning because completing a structure pushes both players closer to the lead.

Have one of your workers on every structure type

Carcassonne has three key features worth thinking about: roads, castles, and cloisters. But because the tile draw is random, you’ll want to mitigate the effects of that randomness. One of the best ways to do this is to spread out your workers across many types of structures. If you draw a city tile and you already have a worker in a city, you can add that new tile to your existing city, earning you a point. Same goes if you draw a road tile and already have a worker occupying a road. That makes each turn feel efficient because every tile you draw can be placed somewhere, thereby earning you points.

Carcassonne: Tips on what to avoid

Don’t let people steal your farms

Farms come in all sorts of shapes, but most farms tend to be big and score lots of points. Remember that one finished city yields 3 points and a big farming area filled with dinky cities is a goldmine. If you can figure out where all of the farms are going to be, try to break into those farming centers. This is doubly the case if you can dominate the farmland of the leader or your closest competitor.

By that same token, don’t forget to defend your farms. Someone sitting harmlessly in some corner of the board can become a force to be reckoned with if they manage to join that harmless farmer to a valuable piece of territory. In the example below, this green farmer was fairly harmless, garnering 3 points for the city. Let’s see what happens when a new piece gets added.

When the cloister piece gets added, it connects that green farmer to a vast field containing your blue farmer. Your blue farmer was already earning points by being next to many more cities and didn’t have to share. But now, the green farmer gets the points for these cities as well. Turning 3 points into 12 points is nothing to sneeze at and may make the difference between winning and losing. So it is vital that you defend your territory well so that no one else can steal a farmland region from under your nose.

Don’t have any unused workers by the end of the game

In another crucial part of the game, you need to have a strong utilization rate with your worker pieces. Any piece that is not on the board is not earning you points. 

This doesn’t mean you sprinkle all your guys across the tiles from the get-go. You need to keep some in reserve to be able to take advantage of good opportunities. But by and large, at the end of the game, every single piece you have should be on the board to to earn you points. They could be staking out new structures, engineering an opportunity to steal ownership of an opponent’s farm, or cooperatively sharing efforts to finish a structure. If they’re not out on the board by the end, you’ve lost out on some opportunity somewhere by not playing as optimally as you could.

Tell us what you think about the game!