It’s a while now since we as a family finally picked up a copy of Carcassonne and found our selves completely hooked on this immersive tile laying game. One of the wonderful things about Carcassonne though is that whilst the standard base game is a thing of beauty in itself the various expansions and mini-expansions that are also available take it forward in whole different dimensions. Literally in the case of The Tower expansion.
Carcassonne Base Game
Rewinding a little bit – let’s start with a few words about Carcassonne itself for any readers who are unfamiliar with it. The basics of the game is that players lay tiles to build up a map of a medieval landscape, with the name of the game coming from the French Medieval Fortified Town of Carcassonne. Each square tile in the base game may have on it a road, part of a city, a monastery or just green fields. When you lay a tile it has to have a side adjacent to an already laid tile and you have to make sure that all features line up correctly.
Players also have meeples; little wooden playing pieces resembling people. After you have laid a tile you may be able to add a meeple in a specific role on one of the features on your tile with the aim of scoring points as the game progresses or at the end of the game. Meeples might be positioned on roads, in cities, in a monastery or on a field and different points are allocated to each depending on how a feature is either completed or how it is at the end of the game.
Mini-Expansions in the Carcassonne Base Game
Some of the Carcassonne expansions introduce different meeples as is seen with the mini-expansion that comes with the base game in the form of an Abbot meeple who can be placed (and removed) from Monastery or Garden tiles. Also included in the base game is a second mini-expansion: The River. The river tiles are played at the start of the game and give some added variety to the medieval landscape that you build.
Other Carcassonne Expansions
In addition to the base game there are a number of Carcassonne Expansions which all always require the base game to play them. These expansions can be played alone, or joined together with other expansions to make an even larger game. We’ve slowly started collecting expansions when we see them on special offer, or by buying them as gifts for each other. So far we have: 1. Inns and Cathedrals, 2. Traders and Builders and 5. Abbey and Mayor, but it is expansion number 4 The Tower which I received for my recent birthday that I want to share here.
Introducing The Tower
The Tower expansion contains two key things, the first of which being more of a playing aid than a key part of the game itself. A large cardboard tower is the need for The Tower’s box to be a different shape to make of the other Carcassonne expansions, and it gives an alternative way for players to pick up tiles to lay rather than just using piles on the table or a cloth bag. We’ve found that this works really well for a two player game, but if there are more of you it can sometimes be a bit more tricky to reach it depending where on the table it is, or having to pass it round players when it is their turn.
The second part of the expansion is what you need to play: 18 land tiles with tower foundations on them, and 30 wooden tower floors. The tiles all work in the same way as regular Carcassonne tiles and just all feature a space for a tower to sit on them. The wooden tower floors are shaped so that they can be stacked on top of each other to form a stable tower, and also so that a meeple can stand on top of the tower without falling off.
The number of players in your game determines how many tower floors each player receives at the start. The tower tiles are then shuffled in with the other Carcassonne tiles and play commences as usual.
When a player draws a new tower base land tile they can lay it inn exactly the same way as they would other tiles in the game. Once laid they have a choice as to what to do next.
Players can just place a meeple on one of the features on their tile as they would normally do, or there are three different things that they can do with the tower tiles.
Firstly they could place a tower floor on ANY tower base tile that has already been played. It doesn’t have to be the one that has just been played. They could instead place a tower floor on any existing open tower in the landscape. There is no limit to how tall a tower can be in Carcassonne. Finally they could place a meeple on top of any existing tower, closing that tower.
Whilst this all may sound very straightforward you may be wondering what the purpose of the towers is. Towers enable you to capture meeples, adding a whole new dimension to the game of Carcassonne. Whenever you place a tower floor you may capture one meeple from surrounding tiles. The height of the tower that you have built on determines which tiles you can capture a meeple from. If the tower is only one floor high you can capture a meeple from the tower tile itself, or from one tile in any direction horizontal or vertical, not diagonal. If the tower is three floors high you can capture a mettle from the tower tile itself, or from three tiles in any direction horizontal or vertical.
It’s also worth pointing out here that you can capture your own meeples as well as those belonging to there players. Particularly useful if you have one that is no longer serving a purpose and that you want to return to the game to be useful and score you some points.
Meeples on Towers
Once a tower has a meeple on top of it, it is classed as closed, meaning that players can no longer place more tower floors on it. However, that’s not necessarily the end of the tower, as a player can capture a meeple on top of a tower if they build floors on another one within striking distance.
When two players have captured meeples belonging to each other you have to exchange them immediately and then those meeples go back into your stock to be played again as the game continues. If you don’t have a meeple to exchange with, but you want one of yours back you can buy it back with points. Each meeple costs you three points and so you remove three points from you, and add them to the player that you are buying the meeple back from. If you do not have at least three points then you can’t buy your meeple back.
The Tower and other expansions
In the way that all Carcassonne expansions are beautifully designed to work with each other, there is a whole page of the rule booklet explaining how you combine expansions and with details of which meeple types can and can’t be placed on a tower, and which ones you can and can’t capture from the board. There are also other wonderful lines in there about dragons being able to eat meeples on towers and how a fairy does not protect a meeple from capture. It almost makes me want to get the Princess and Dragon expansion just so I can quote rules like this at the start of a game!
What we thought of The Tower
Oh how this expansion has changed our game! I think that so far The Tower has to be my favourite Carcassonne expansion. The ability to disrupt another player’s game is actually huge. It doesn’t just mean you can stop other players gaining points, but it really makes you think about where to risk placing your meeples so that they are not in danger. With just a handful of games under our belt so far we are yet to combine it with other expansions, but again I think the impact will be great. You have to be so much more strategic in how you play and think ahead about what might happen further on in the game. It’s made me re-think how I play and breathed new life into the game yet again.
Buying the Carcassonne The Tower Expansion
With more and more toy and book shops selling the Carcassonne base game you have to look a bit further to find the expansion packs. Specialist game shops often have a great selection, but otherwise many independent shops sell online, or you can pick them up online easily enough from Amazon. Just be careful when ordering from there that you ensure you are getting the correct language version of the expansion. An English version of The Tower is available here.
Disclaimer: All products mentioned in this post have been purchased with my own money. The links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you go via them and make any purchase I receive a small commission, but it costs you no more than if you’d arrived there under your own steam. All commissions are very gratefully received. Thank you.