Carcassonne is a fabulous board game published by Hans im Gluck (German) and Rio Grande (English) in 2000. The game facilitates two to five players and was designed by newcomer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It's very clever and seems to already be destined to become a classic board game.
The game is already becoming quite popular, having won first place at the prestigous Deutscher SpielePreis 2001 game competition and, even more impressively, the 2001 Spiel des Jahres award for the best new strategy board game of the year. These awards don't come lightly and provide demonstration as to the elegance and strategic acumen of this game.
The game is set in the southern French city of Carcassonne in medieval times. The countryside there is famous for its mix of medieval and Roman fortifications. This game builds upon that, allowing you to slowly explore the countryside by adding tiles to the board as it grows and claiming territory as your own.
The game itself has very little equipment. It consists of 72 tiles, each depicting a combination of roads, cities, churches, and grasslands, and 40 small wooden pieces, eight in five different colors. The game starts off with the same tile each time; the other 71 tiles are turned face down and shuffled.
Each player, on his or her turn, draws a tile and plays it adjacent to any of the tiles already played, as long as it continues any roads or walls from the already laid tiles. The artwork on the tiles is pleasant and simple; it's very simple to see where roads and walls should continue and where they stop.
Each player also can place one of their seven (the eighth is used for scorekeeping purposes) pieces on the board, either on a cloister, in a city, on a road, or in a field. Depending on where the piece is placed, it becomes a monk, a knight, a thief, or a farmer, respectively. One needs to be careful not to place their pieces too early because other, more valuable places might open up; waiting around, though, usually means that the good spots are taken.
Once the game is over, each piece placed by each player receives a point value, mostly based on the land features (roads, cities, and cloisters) that are near the piece and where exactly the piece is placed. Add up the points, and the one with the most points wins.
Games usually take fifteen to thirty minutes. The turns themselves don't take long; most of the time is spent as players carefully consider their moves, as a good strategy game should be.
This game also deserves some notice because it is an exceptionally good two player game. It's quickly earned a place in the regular rotation of games that my significant other and myself play regularly alongside Acquire, Twixt, chess, Magic: the Gathering, and go, which is saying a lot; our standards are quite high and we've discarded many, many games along the way. It plays just as well with more players, although the subtle strategies change quite a lot; you can't wait around nearly as long to place your pieces, so you have to take more gambles.
Another fine feature of the game is that all the equipment you need literally fits in a Ziploc bag; it's perfect for a trip where you might have some time to burn but not much space to fit in a game. The box looks larger than this when you purchase it, but the board itself is composed of 72 small tiles, easily packed away.
If you enjoy this game, or are looking for something similar, other games you might enjoy include Acquire and Settlers of Catan. Carcassonne is available at many better hobby shops around the United States and the United Kingdom, usually for $20 American or less.