So you’ve mastered building cities and roads, and even a few churches here and there. You’ve even attracted tourists with your beautiful cathedrals, enough to support a number of lakeside inns scattered across the countryside. But now that’s not enough; the name of the game is progress, man! And what better way to speed up progress than to hire more workers to build your cities and roads faster. On top of that, why don’t you build an economy of trade with the outside world?
Carcassonne: Traders and Builders is an expansion for Carcassonne (if that wasn’t clear) that adds new ways to score points, new tiles, and a way to build more tiles more quickly. But is this new era of prosperity worth claiming?
What it adds:
Traders and Builders plays the same way as the base game of Carcassonne; however, It adds new layers and elements of strategy that really knock the whole thing about. This expansion adds 4 new gameplay elements: the Pig, the Builder, Trade Goods, and of course new tiles.
The Pig and the Builder are both new types of meeples, and each player has only 1 of each. These meeples are added to structures that ALREADY have normal meeples placed on them (unlike normal meeples which CANNOT be placed on a structure that already has a meeple on it). For the record, when I say “structures” I am using it as a general term to refer to farms, cloisters, roads, and cities, because there is no all-inclusive term in the rulebooks.
The Pig must be placed on a Farm (that already has a farmer) and adds 1 point per city to the value of that Farm. The Builder can be placed on Cities or Roads (again, that already have meeples of their color), and it allows players to play two tiles in one turn.
The Trade Goods are represented by icons of Wine, Grain, and Silk on certain city tiles. When a city containing these icons is completed, the player who placed the last tile – even if they didn’t have a meeple in that city – gets to collect 1 matching token per icon. At the end of the game the player with the most tokens for each type of good gets 10 points, with ties giving all tied players the full 10 points. So you could score 30 points at the end of the game if you do a good job completing cities with trade goods in them.
The new tiles, besides having the Trade Goods icons on them, offer new ways to fill weird holes in the map, as well as divide up cities and farms, making it easier to protect your structures from other players trying to steal or share points.
Finally, T&B comes with an extremely helpful fabric bag, to mix up all your tiles. It makes it easy to keep the random draw and pass the tiles around the board for easy access – as well as hiding any blemishes or discoloration that might allow any sneaky hands to grab specific tiles.(It’s worth noting that T&B supports 6 players, with Builders and Pigs in all 6 colors – but you will need Inns and Cathedrals to actually get the standard meeples for the 6th player).
So, is it fun?
Lets just say it right out: Traders & Builders is pretty much an essential expansion. The added layers bring new life into the game – Carcassonne does tend to get a bit stale after repeated plays – and now, whenever I play Carcassonne I definitely want Traders & Builders to be there.
In truth, there is one thing I don’t actually find all that appealing: the Pigs. Farms are already volatile enough, and making them worth 4 pts per city is a bit overkill. On the other hand, Farms are much more likely to be divided up and only touch 2 or 3 completed cities, and the Pig can only affect one Farm, so there’s that. (Side note: there appears to be a misprint in the instructions. While instructions in the base game of Carcassonne indicate that farms are worth 3 points per completed city, Traders & Builders claims that Pigs make farms worth “5 points instead of 4 for each completed city.” I’m assuming that someone just made a typo somewhere, and count the Pigs as adding 1 point, thus making farms worth 4 points per completed City, NOT 5, which would just be insane).
The tiles alone are practically worth the price of admission. One of the biggest annoyances with Carcasonne is how Farms tend to dominate; or I should say “the Farm tends to dominate.” In the base game it is just too easy to circumvent all the blocks and turn the board into one ridiculously huge farm, and a war between a couple players for control of it. Sure, staying out of the war and maintaining a solid supply of meeples to control everything else can score you quite a boatload of points, but in my experience it usually ends up that the player who controls the Farm wins the game. With expansions – Inns&Cathedrals helps but Traders and Builders really divides it up – you can actually defend your farms, cut off corners, and keep things more even the whole time.
The builder is almost a necessity once you add in the new tiles; just to keep the game moving with all those extra tiles, it helps to have players playing multiple tiles at once. It tends to finish off structures more quickly and just keep people on their toes. I also like the layer of strategy it adds – which structure do you add the builder to? It’s better if you can keep the builder structure active as long as possible, so as not to waste turns with him not on the table, but you could end up failing to complete a city or giving up better opportunities in order to do so.
But the core of this addition lies in the Trade Goods. For now it actually becomes more strategic to place tiles on your opponent’s structures, without having to try and steal or share them. Especially if you can keep their cities small – they may score 8 points from your tile placement, but if you nab a bunch of valuable Trade tiles, you can get up to 30 points from those. It also results in structures being more divided up – either from opponents finishing off each others cities, or just finishing a city early to claim the trade goods instead of maximizing the city size. It forces more choices, more sacrifices, and more tension.
The tough thing with this expansion – which is not all that unexpected – is that it’s not really a good idea to throw it in if you have newbies. It adds a lot more layers and a lot more confusing things to do. Unlike Inns and Cathedrals which adds very little complication, Traders and Builders can be tricky even for relatively experienced players. It definitely adds a new learning curve that would allow an experienced player to leave a newbie far, far in the dust. Unfortunately that means it doesn’t get to the table as often as I’d like; so many times we have one or two new players, or it’s been so long since we’ve played that people want to stick with the basic game.
So there you have it. Traders and Builders is an excellent addition; definitely worth adding if you already like Carcassonne, and it may even entice those who feel “meh” about the base game. (It probably won’t turn haters around, though). It adds new layers of strategy, requires a lot more give and take, and divides up the field a lot more evenly, usually preventing any super-cities or super-farms. It provides a tense and exciting experience, and it’s hard to go back to the basic game once you’ve added it in. Just keep in mind that it’s not really for newbies, as it can be a little overwhelming.