Carcassonne: An Overview of the Different Expansions [Gateway Game Series]

Carcassonne is a tile-laying game designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede where 2-5 players take turns placing tiles on the table. The objective is to build roads, cities, monasteries, and place meeples to earn the most victory points.

The base game has become one of the most popular board games in the world and is often cited as the perfect introduction to modern board games. However, you may eventually wish to explore one or more of its many expansions after playing the base game for some time. And since Carcassonne has so many of them, it may be hard to know where you should start.

This article will help guide you through the 10 of the major Carcassonne expansions out there and break down which of those expansions I think are worth adding to your shelves to level up your tile-laying, meeple placing experience.

Top 3 Carcassonne Expansion Recommendations

1. Inns and Cathedrals (Expansion 1) (Most Popular)

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals Expansion Box

Inn Tiles: 2x Points to Roads

Are you tired of roads yielding so few points? Not any more. Inn tiles double the value of adjacent roads tiles. The only catch is that it’s all or nothing; fail to finish the road, and you get no points.

Cathedral Tiles: 50% to cities

Do you want to build bigger and better cities? Cathedral tiles add 50% to the worth of a city. But with the increased points at stake comes increased competition, as players want to stake their share in the beautiful piece of architecture that is being constructed and share in the bountiful rewards. But should the city fail to be completed, like inns, the whole thing is worthless, and players will rue the day they ever invested in such an enterprise.

Big Meeple: Super Hero

With so many points at stake, it only makes sense to have some help with the increased competition. This is where the “big meeple” piece proves a valuable addition to the game and is possibly my favorite part of the expansion. Worth two meeples, he makes it that much easier for you to sabotage someone else’s project… or protect your own. But be careful! You only have one, and the last thing you want is to get him tied up in an unprofitable enterprise.

Overall Theme: Build & Battle

With so much to offer and yet remaining so simple, it is no wonder that Inns and Cathedrals remains one is the most popular Carcassonne expansions.

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Carcassonne Inns & Cathedrals Expansion - Tile-Laying Medieval Board Game, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Min Playtime by Z-Man Games
  • EXPAND YOUR CARCASSONNE EXPERIENCE: Enhance the award-winning tile-laying game with new strategies and scoring opportunities.
  • IMPOSING CATHEDRALS AND HUMBLE INNS: Build cathedrals to increase city value and inns to double road thief value for thrilling gameplay twists.
  • BEWARE OF INCOMPLETE FEATURES: Strategy is key - incomplete features using inns or cathedrals score no points at the game's end.
  • INTRODUCING LARGE MEEPLES: Get large meeple followers worth two normal ones for even more tactical choices.
  • PLAY WITH SIX PLAYERS: Components included to accommodate up to six players, adding variety and excitement to the classic game.

2. Traders and Builders (Expansion 2) (Editor’s Choice)

Carcassonne: Traders & Builders Expansion Box

Pig: Increase Field Production by 33%

The pig is a simple way to generate more points from a field. Place him in a field in which you already have a farmer, and at the end of the game, gain one extra point per city in that field when you score points. But you only have one, so choose your field wisely.

Builder: More turns please?

Do you want to speed up your building? Or are there times during Carcassonne when you wish you had that extra turn? That is where the builder helps. You can do just that by placing him on a road or city in which you already have a meeple. Because then, when you add a tile to that feature, you may immediately take a second turn. In this way, if used wisely, the builder has the potential to give you those extra turns in the game you need; but on the flip side, your opponents have one too!

Trade Goods: Increased City Competition

This Carcassonne expansion includes city tiles with a Wine, Wheat, or Cloth icon. When a player completes a city with trade icons visible, the player gets the equivalent token, even if they didn’t win the city. As a result, it is sometimes worth completing a city for someone else if you can gain the trade icons from it—resulting in increased competition over cities. Then at the end of the game, the player with the most tokens in each category gets 10 points. In case of a tie, each tying player gains 10 points.

Overall Theme: Expand & Earn

Although this expansion also focuses on roads and fields, Traders and Builders‘ main contribution is adding an exciting and new dynamic to city building. And everyone knows that the cities make Carcassonne such a beloved game!

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Carcassonne Traders & Builders Board Game EXPANSION - New Strategies Await! Medieval Tile-Laying Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • ENHANCE YOUR CARCASSONNE GAMEPLAY: Expand the beloved base game with fresh features for even more strategic fun.
  • BUILDER FOLLOWER: Accelerate construction by placing an additional tile right after adding a Land tile occupied by your builder.
  • PIG FOLLOWERS AND GOODS TOKENS: Unlock new scoring opportunities with the pig, boosting farmer value, and earn Goods tokens for completing cities with Goods icons.
  • COMPETE FOR BONUS POINTS: Aim for the most Goods tokens and secure bonus points at the game's conclusion.
  • INCREASED STRATEGY AND REPLAYABILITY: Enjoy heightened strategic depth and replayability with the introduction of new elements.

3. Bridges, Castles & Bazaars (Expansion 8) (Top 3)

Carcassonne: Bridges, Castles and Bazaars Expansion Box

Bridges

Sometimes when building roads, you just need to build over an already existing structure, which makes bridges so handy. You can use them to span cities, cloisters, and roads, as long as the bridge connects with two field sides of a tile (i.e., can’t end in the middle of a city). With three (two if you are playing 5-6 people) at your disposal, you don’t need to be afraid of using them either.

Castles

Finally, something that gives more attention to those two-tile-cities! When you complete a two-tile city, you can either get the 4 points or place a castle with a meeple on it instead. If you choose to place a meeple on it, then for the next completed feature in the immediate vicinity, you get its equivalent in points as well as the one who completed it.

But if you think this is an easy way to share in the profits of a big nearby city, you must remember that all someone has to do is complete a two-tile road next to your Castle first, and you will get the points from that instead. You can’t choose what to wait for, and once used, a castle cannot be used again. However, you do have 3 of them (two if 5-6 players).

Bazaars

Possibly the most unique idea from these three Carcassonne expansions, Bazaars allow players to bid for tiles to play. There are eight bazaar tiles, and a tile is drawn for each player whenever one is played. Players then take turns auctioning off the tiles, which players bid for in points. If a player bids three points, for example, and wins the tile, that player then goes down three points, and the auctioneer moves up three points. Once a player wins a tile, they can no longer bid on the remaining tiles. Play continues until all tiles have been auctioned off.

This certainly adds an exciting and engaging element to the game. The only potential downside is that it can make the game last much longer depending on how competitive the auctioning is.

Overall Theme: Getting Ahead

The main focus of Bridges, Castles & Bazaars is to provide players with more opportunities to get ahead of the competition—whether through building roads in previously impossible places, indirectly sharing in the profits of a city you didn’t even work towards, or winning that key Carcassonne tile you needed.

Carcassonne Bridges, Castles & Bazaars Board Game EXPANSION - New Paths and Auctions Await! Medieval Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 50 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • EXPAND YOUR CARCASSONNE: Embark on a new journey with the eighth expansion, Bridges, Castles & Bazaars, for the classic Carcassonne series.
  • BUILD BRIDGES AND CONNECT PATHS: Overcome obstacles with bridge pieces, connecting roads to create fresh paths and open up exciting new possibilities.
  • TRANSFORM CITIES INTO CASTLES: Strategically transform modest cities into majestic castles, shaping the future of the realm and earning points from neighboring features.
  • UNVEIL THE BAZAAR: Enter the exotic bazaar and engage in auctions, bidding points to claim coveted tiles and outwit your opponents.
  • EXPAND WITH 12 NEW LAND TILES: With 12 new land tiles, expand the world of Carcassonne even further and enhance your gameplay experience.

Other Expansions

The following expansions for Carcassonne are worth being aware of but, in my opinion, aren’t quite up to snuff compared to the three I’ve already mentioned. Still, if the changes to the base game catch your attention, they may be worth considering.

The Princess and the Dragon (Expansion 3)

Carcassonne: The Princess & The Dragon Expansion Box

Overall Theme: Chaos & Magic Portals

Quick Summary of the Expansion

When you have about 25 tiles of dragons, volcanoes, and unfriendly princesses, destruction, and chaos are inevitable! Tiles trigger the dragon to roam the board devouring any meeples it comes across. Volcanoes move the dragon quickly from one location to the next, so you never know where it will happen. And when the princess tile is added to a city, the player who played it can remove a meeple of their choice from that city.

Though not all is doom and gloom, the fairy starts the game off the board but can soon play an integral part in the game, both by protecting players’ meeples and giving its current owner additional points at the beginning of turns. And then there are magic portal tiles that allow you to place a follower on any previously placed tile, providing it is not part of a completed feature. Amazing, right?

Critical Review

Other than the top 3 Carcassonne expansions mentioned earlier, this is the next best. It completely changes the dynamic of the game but in a good way. You can’t be secure in any project until it is actually finished and you have collected your points. This expansion brings uncertainty and intrigue to the game like a few other expansions.

The only negative thing I can think of is that it may be too cutthroat for some, but I leave this to personal opinion. There are times when you will want to play Princess and Dragons, and there are times you may wish to play something more friendly.

Buy on Boardlandia

The Tower (Expansion 4)

Carcassonne: The Tower Expansion Box

Overall Theme: Seize & Hold

Quick Summary

The Tower is a smaller expansion of 18 tiles and 30 tower pieces with one focus. Towers allow you to seize nearby followers as prisoners and hold them for ransom. And as the height of a tower grows, so does its range of influence over the surrounding neighborhood.

Critical Review

Though an interesting concept, The Tower doesn’t add much to the game in terms of play value. And though you might enjoy this expansion, it certainly should not be the first one you get; the other Carcassonne expansions are so much better and offer you so much more.

Carcassonne The Tower Board Game EXPANSION - Reach for the Skies in a New Dimension! Medieval Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • BUILD TOWERS INTO THE SKY: Elevate your Carcassonne gameplay with The Tower expansion, introducing vertical strategy and interaction.
  • DIRECT STRATEGIC INTERACTION: Construct towers to oversee your opponents' meeples and gain new actions as your towers grow taller.
  • SUPPLEMENT YOUR COLLECTION: Enhance your Carcassonne experience with eighteen Land tiles and thirty tower floors that introduce innovative gameplay dynamics.
  • CAPTURE AND RANSOM: Disrupt your opponents' strategies by capturing their followers atop your towering structures and holding them for ransom
  • TILE TOWER ACCESSORY: Keep your play area organized with the included Tile Tower accessory, ensuring easy access to your tiles.

Abbey and Mayor (Expansion 5)

Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor Expansion Box

Overall Theme: Influence & Prosperity

Quick Summary

This Carcassonne expansion comes with three new figures for each player. The Mayor can be placed in a city, and when the city is scored, he counts as one follower per pennant. Then you have a wagon as a follower that, if used, can move from a completed feature to an unfinished feature nearby, and you have a barn that helps you gain control over farmland by recalling farmers and securing fields.

The inclusion of the Abbey tile in your hand will thrill all cloister lovers. You will also find that it proves helpful in filling those awkward holes that sometimes fill your board. As long as all four sides of the Abbey tile (the corners are not included; just edges) are surrounded by present tiles on the board, you can place it down as a cloister and claim it; it doesn’t matter what runs into it.

Critical Review

This expansion has a lot to offer to your game. In my opinion, the wagon and barn are the best additions. The Mayor is hit and miss, as he can either be overpowered or worthless, depending on the city, and overall, I didn’t find the idea of a meeple based off of tenants appealing. But he is one of those pieces that you will either love him or hate him.

My overall verdict on Abbey and Mayor is that it is a worthwhile expansion to own, but others are better to add to your collection first.

Carcassonne Abbey & Mayor Board Game EXPANSION - Unleash New Strategies and Characters! Medieval Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • RETURN TO CARCASSONNE: Rediscover the world of Carcassonne with the Abbey & Mayor expansion, introducing new characters and dynamic gameplay elements.
  • EXPAND YOUR OPTIONS: Gain the upper hand with a new type of tile and three new pieces that allow for cunning strategies and increased options.
  • PLUG HOLES, SECURE CITIES, GATHER POINTS: Fill empty spaces with Abbey tiles, leverage mayors to control cities, and use wagons to swiftly gather points across features.
  • BARN ENHANCEMENT: Enhance the value of fields with barns, strategically placing your followers to maximize your score.
  • VARIETY UNLEASHED: Twelve Land tiles add a new layer of variety, ensuring every game offers fresh challenges and opportunities.

Count, King, & Robber (Expansion 6)

Carcassonne: Count, King, & Robber Expansion Box

Overall Theme: New People & New Influences

Quick Summary

This expansion compiles a variety of themes, the most complicated being the Count of Carcassonne. The Count of Carcassonne starts in the city of Carcassonne, which is made up of 12 tiles and divided into four quarters. Throughout the game, you can place followers in one of the quarters: the Castle (cities), the Market (farms), the Blacksmith (roads), and the Cathedral (cloisters). You can then use these followers later in the game to win key battles over completed features and score their points.

There is also a king tile which is given to the player who completed the largest city (worth 1 VP per completed city at the end of the game) and a robber baron tile which is given to the player who completed the longest road (worth 1 VP per completed road at the end of the game).

Shrine tiles (cultists) challenge monks on neighboring abbeys. Complete your shrine before them, and they get no points.

Lastly, you have The River II (4 tiles), which can be used at the setup of your game.

Critical Review

Overall, I’m unimpressed with this Carcassonne expansion. The Count of Carcassonne is too complicated for how little play value it returns. The king and robber baron tiles are interesting but don’t make the gameplay any more enjoyable than it already was. The only real value I see from this extension is the shrine tiles and the river. So though not a terrible expansion, other Carcassonne expansions are much better.

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Carcassonne Count, King & Robber Board Game EXPANSION - New Characters, Strategies, and Landscapes! Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • ENHANCE YOUR CARCASSONNE: Elevate your Carcassonne experience with the Count, King & Robber expansion, featuring new characters and dynamic strategies.
  • RULE WITH THE KING OR ROBBER: Will you command the largest city as the King or control the longest road as the Robber? The choice is yours.
  • EPIC LANDSCAPES: Explore exciting new landscapes with twenty-two additional tiles, providing fresh strategic opportunities and thrilling gameplay.
  • MANIPULATE THE COUNT: Strategically use the Count to protect your features from rival players, adding a layer of intrigue to your decisions.
  • BUILD SHRINES, CLAIM VICTORY: Complete Shrines to limit the influence of Monasteries and secure your path to victory in the Carcassonne world.

The Catapult (Expansion 7)

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get my hands on The Catapult expansion as it is no longer in print. But as I understand, most people disliked this expansion.

Description

This expansion adds a dexterity game to Carcassonne. A catapult round consists of players attempting to launch special tokens using the wooden catapults. There are four catapult actions determined by special tokens. Knockout tokens attempt to knock meeples off the board; Seduction tokens attempt to exchange meeples; Target tiles attempt to land on the faire tiles; Catch tokens get caught to earn points.

Hills & Sheep (Expansion 9)

Carcassonne: Hills & Sheep Expansion Box

Overall Theme: Settle Down & Pioneer

Quick Summary

Shepherd your flock and see it grow, but fail to return them to the stables in time, and you may lose them to the wolf. You start the game with one shepherd, which may be placed on a field during your turn. Once the shepherd is placed, you draw a sheep token from a bag of twenty tiles. Each turn after that, you add a tile to that field you get to draw another sheep token. You may sell your flock at any time. But beware! There are two wolf tiles; should one be drawn, you lose your entire flock. Sadness!

You also have eight tiles with vineyards, which, if placed bordering a monastery, add three points to its overall value if completed.

Finally, if you place and occupy a hill tile, the tiebreak goes to you when scoring points.

Critical Review

Like Inns and Cathedrals, this is a simple expansion–perhaps too simple. The best aspect of this expansion is the shepherd. It’s hard not to get caught up in your little flock and feel the pain when the wolf tile is drawn. Where this expansion is weak is in its vineyards and hill tiles. The hill tiles don’t prove as helpful as one initially thinks, and the vineyards are often unable to be paired with an Abbey. But though this expansion won’t give you as much as many other expansions, it is still an enjoyable addition.

Carcassonne Hills & Sheep Board Game EXPANSION - Manage Flocks, Cultivate Vineyards, and Craft Hills! Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • EXPAND YOUR CARCASSONNE: Elevate your Carcassonne experience with the Hills & Sheep expansion, introducing lush landscapes, sheep management, vineyards, and more.
  • SHEPHERD YOUR FLOCK: Take on the role of a shepherd as you oversee and grow your flock of sheep in the sprawling fields outside Carcassonne's city walls.
  • CULTIVATE VINEYARDS: Foster a thriving vineyard around a monastery, reaping bonus points and enhancing your strategic advantage.
  • BUILD HILLS FOR ADVANTAGE: Strategically construct hills to break ties in your favor and claim victory, utilizing the high ground to plan your winning moves.
  • EXPAND WITH 18 NEW LAND TILES: Discover new possibilities in the ever-expanding world of Carcassonne with 18 fresh land tiles, adding depth and variety to your gameplay.

Under The Big Top (Expansion 10)

Carcassonne: Under the Big Top Expansion Box

Overall Theme: Follow the Fun

Quick Summary

This is probably the most unified expansion out there, with every element centralized around the circus. The circus travels around the board, giving points to those who have come to dwell near it. Players can stack up acrobats and gain 5 points per acrobat once the pyramid is complete. And when the Ringmaster scores points for a feature, he also scores points for the circuses and acrobats near it.

Critical Review

This expansion falls short in many ways. For one, Under the Big Top adds a dynamic that is irrelevant to how the base game is played. Carcassonne is supposed to be about creating cities, building roads, settling farmers, founding monasteries—venturing out into the unknowns! But this expansion has reduced the game to chasing after a circus.

Secondly, this expansion combines poorly with other expansions because the Ringmaster does best when you play with a few tiles; otherwise, he acts just like an ordinary follower for all practical purposes.

The acrobats also prove to be a poor investment of your followers, as it may take a great while to get your precious follower back.

Carcassonne Under the Big Top Board Game EXPANSION - Thrilling Circus Adventures Await! Medieval Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • EXPERIENCE THE CIRCUS THRILLS: Dive into a world of excitement with Carcassonne's Under the Big Top expansion), infusing your game with the magic and wonder of the circus.
  • EXPAND WITH 20 NEW LAND TILES: Discover a new landscape filled with twenty fresh Land tiles, each offering unique opportunities for strategic gameplay.
  • ATTRACT CROWDS WITH NEW FOLLOWER TYPES: Introduce two new follower types to your game, enticing people from afar to witness your mesmerizing menagerie and awe-inspiring performances.
  • CREATE MENAGERIES AND PERFORM FEATS: Build captivating attractions and showcase death-defying acts to draw in the crowds and seize the chance to score big points.
  • UNLEASH THRILLING ADVENTURES: Just like the daring circus performers, embrace the risks and seize the opportunities presented by the Under the Big Top expansion for Carcassonne.

Where to Go From Here

As I have stated throughout this post, any of the following three are great expansions to add to your Carcassonne board game: Inns & Cathedrals; Traders & Builders; Bridges, Castles & Bazaars. And depending on your style, you may also enjoy Princess & Dragon, Abbey & Mayor, or Hills & Sheep. The rest are probably better if you are a die-hard Carcassonne fan and must have every expansion, looking for extra variety, or if the mechanics seem to vibe with you 🙂

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Carcassonne Board Game (BASE GAME) | Board Game for Adults and Family | Strategy Board Game | Medieval Adventure Board Game | Ages 7 and up | 2-5 Players | Made by Z-Man Games
  • INTRODUCTION TO STRATEGY: Experience the timeless allure of "Carcassonne," a classic board game that welcomes players into the world of modern strategy games.
  • SIMPLE YET ENGAGING: With intuitive rules—place tiles, deploy meeples, score points—this game offers accessibility for newcomers while captivating seasoned players.
  • BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATIONS: Immerse yourself in the game's enchanting world through beautifully illustrated tiles and iconic components.
  • REDESIGNED RULEBOOK: Learning the game is effortless with a completely revamped rulebook, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable experience for players of all levels.
  • EXPANDABLE FUN: Discover endless possibilities with the introduction of The Abbot mini-expansion and a new version of The River, adding layers of excitement to each playthrough.

Lastly, I just want to point out that if you don’t already own the Carcassonne base game, there is a “Big Box” version which includes the following expansions/mini-expansions (for which the individual expansion boxes usually included several), and may serve as a better starting off point:

  • Inns & Cathedrals
  • Traders & Builders
  • The Abbot
  • The River
  • The Flying Machines
  • The Ferries
  • The Messengers
  • The Gold Mines
  • Mage & Witch
  • The Robbers
  • The Crop Circles

Carcassonne Board Game Big Box Edition (2017) - Explore a World of Variety and Strategy! Includes Base Game + 11 Expansions, Ages 7+, 2-6 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Z-Man Games
  • DIVE INTO A VIBRANT COUNTRYSIDE: Immerse yourself in a diverse world of cities, monasteries, roads, fields, and more in the Carcassonne Big Box Edition (2017).
  • COMPREHENSIVE STARTER SET: Experience the 2001 Spiel des Jahres winner with the perfect blend of original gameplay and eleven expansions, catering to both new and veteran players.
  • UNLEASH YOUR STRATEGIC SKILLS: Deploy your knights, monks, thieves, and farmers alongside unique meeples like abbots and mages to expand your influence and earn maximum points.
  • EXPLORE WITH OVER 150 TILES AND 80 MEEPLES: With a treasure trove of more than 150 landscape tiles and 80 distinct meeples, embark on endless adventures in the world of Carcassonne.
  • CUSTOMIZABLE EXPERIENCE: Mix and match the expansions in your own unique combinations to ensure each game brings a fresh and exciting experience.


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