I received this as a Xmas present and have since received the Inns & Cathedrals and Builders and Tradesmen expansion packs. My partner and I are backgammon addicts and both in our early sixties, so perhaps not the usual age profile for Carcassonne but we have an honourable background in games-playing. I've also visited the enchanting Cite of Carcassonne twice.
Firstly, this game is nothing to do with the city itself although I suppose it is a convenient and famous mediaeval location to use. The parts have a quality feel about them - as they should at this price! The box seems to be accurate in it's suggestion of 45 minute playing time. This, we feel, is a nice duration - not too short or long. The instructions are decent but we were grateful to play our first game with two of our mature children who are experienced addicts (owning every expansion pack!). We have played one game on our own subsequently with little difficulty.
Our impression is of a decent but hardly ground-breaking game. The objective is to score points whilst taking it in turns to lay "tiles" to form a ground plan of towns, roads, monasteries and farms. Because the tiles are selected at random and laid one at a time there is little scope for tactics or strategy. There is little serious decision-making. At the end of both games, including the one with our experienced children, I was unable to say what had decided the outcome. What little skill there was seemed to surround placing figures on "farm" areas. In both of our games these placements seemed to decide the winners and the real indictment was that they were made early in the game when the players could not possibly have predicted the outcome. Aficionados will doubtless say that the subtleties will become more obvious as we play more and I accept that - but I still can't see the skill content rising much above 20%. Let's put it another way: my partner and I easily held their own with our experienced mentors, although they said they were playing the game "straight" and not using spoiling tactics with each other.
I've looked at the two expansion packs but not yet used them so we didn't try to run before we could walk. Nothing in them makes me feel that the skill factor is going to rise much (although playing time clearly will). There are extra tiles and extra ways of scoring and this may call for more decision-making but there is no new dimension to the game that I can see. I hope to be proved wrong.
Many things are really good. The playing time is sensible, it's well-made, the instructions are good, and it is undoubtedly novel to the Scrabble and Monopoly generation. But it's not brain food. The clue is in the 8+ age recommendation. Kids would be able to play at that age and sometimes beat the parents. As a family game, then, it's possibly very good indeed and I can envisage kids pestering their parents to play. As a game for adults I would have to say that it is over-hyped.
Value For Money is poor, I would say. This is an expensive game and the Expansion Packs much more so. For this kind of money I would be looking for a game that is more subtle, more exciting or more intellectually demanding. To those who would tell me that half a dozen expansion packs will reveal the hidden drama of the game, I would say that the basic game should be able to blow its own nose at this price.
I'm told it's a "Gateway Game" that introduces one to the German point-scoring games genre. Blimey!
My best advice to anyone would be to find someone else with a set and try it out. You might very well think it's the best thing since French baguettes but if you don't it's a fairly expensive mistake. We will carry on playing it occasionally, and maybe the expansion packs will bring the game to life, but I can't see it becoming addictive for us.