How Carcassonne Works

The French-Germanic Origins of Carcassonne

The fortified city of Carcassonne inspired a gaming revolution.
The fortified city of Carcassonne inspired a gaming revolution.

It would probably come as no surprise to you that a game like Carcassonne -- simple and without a hint of technology or modern characteristics -- was created hundreds of years ago on medieval battlefields and played for centuries without addition or change.

So prepare to be shocked when you learn that Carcassonne is about as old as your favorite Disney star. Originally published in 2000, the game was created by German designer Klaus Jurgen-Wrede. His inspiration was a trip to the south of France, where he studied the trail of the Albigensian Crusade (a religious war in the 13th century). Carcassonne -- a city in France that featured heavily in the Crusade -- is an extremely fortified city, surrounded by walls and dotted with castles.

"So the idea came on this journey, to develop a game, which imitates the growing of the cities and castles ... Then I tuned a little bit with the tiles: the balance of the quantity of city-parts, ways, crossings, so that an interesting game play could work," says Jurgen-Wrede [source: Brettspillguiden].

Carcassonne is considered a classic German-style game, a term that makes you picture a game board covered in bratwurst and lederhosen. But it just means that the game captures the strategy and style of play of a similar group of games made popular by German designers. Some of the things that set German board games (sometimes called "Eurogames") apart are [source: The Economist]:

  • an aversion to winning with luck
  • a serious advantage when real strategy is deployed
  • an economic focus
  • a desire to keep all the players in the game until the end

Germans got all game-crazy in the 19th century, with some speculating that the cheap nature of the entertainment helped its popularity spread [source: The Economist]. In 1995, Settlers of Catan (another German export) was released; as of 2012, 15 million game sets have been sold so far [source: Curry].

Board games may seem like only fun and (ahem) games, but there's actually a flourishing movement to study them seriously. The International Society of Board Game Studies, The International Board Game Study Association and scholarly journals like Games and Culture study the educational, sociological and psychological aspects of board games. These studies have found that board games both mirror cultural traditions and pass them on to newer generations [source: Whitehill].

But enough history -- Let's learn how to play the game!