Carcassonne

Players: 2-5
Ages: 7 and up
Cost: ~$30 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Spatial reasoning, probability, addition
Questions to Ask
    Where can you place that tile?
    How can you use that tile to make my life harder?

Among board game folks, Carcassonne is known as a gateway game. The gameplay is very simple to pick up, the game plays well with 2 or more people, and people of all ages can play.

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I was introduced to the game by my friends the Schmarpenters (names have been changed to protect the nerdy). We didn't play with kids the first time around. But the game, which involved no reading and very basic math, felt like a perfect fit for some parent-child math conversation.

So I picked up my own copy and, sure enough, my son loves what he calls "The Castle Game." My older daughter, who is 4, has even enjoyed playing with the tiles, although she's still a couple years from playing the game in full.

I think Carcassonne is going to be a mainstay in the Haines household for quite some time.

How to Play

Carcassonne is a tile-laying game where you build a map of interlocking cities, roads, and fields. You earn points in the game by creating, claiming, and then completing a city or road.

Each turn, you draw a tile and place it on the board, connecting it to at least one existing tile that shares its features. If you draw a tile with city walls, you can connect that tile to an existing tile that also contains a city. If you draw a tile that contains a road, you can connect it to an existing road on the board.

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Once you've placed your tile, you can "claim" any of the features on that tile by placing a figure (known as a meeple) on that feature. Want to claim a road? Place your figure on the road! Once that road is completed, you'll earn points for each tile that holds a part of the road.

The rules are a bit more complex than I'm letting on in this write-up, but the basic gameplay is the same each turn: Draw a tile, place it, claim a feature, try to earn points.

The game ends when all the tiles have been placed, at which point each player earns some points for their partially completed features. The player with the most points wins.

For a fuller description of how to play, be sure to check out this video below!

Where's the Math?

Carcassone is a great game for younger kids because it is primarily a visual game, so even if your kid isn't perfect at strategically placing their figures to earn points, they'll still get a lot our of the game.

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Placing the tiles is a geometric challenge in and of itself. Children must pay attention to the features on each side of each tile in order to find a good spot for their tile. Don't be surprised if you see your child placing a tile in one location, only to realize that it cuts off a road or a city in a way that is against the rules. As they continue to play the game, their sense of spatial reasoning will grow sharper. 

Claiming territory involves its own math. Your child may claim a city, then begin to build it larger and larger as the game goes on. This is a risky move: if the game ends before they can complete the city walls, they'll be stuck with only half the points they would have otherwise won! So players must balance their desire for territory with a sense of how many rounds they have until the game ends.

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And, of course, every completed feature such as a road or a city must be counted and then scored; that's where the addition comes in! My son has started getting used to counting by 2s as he counts up the points for his completed cities. Then he adds on to his current score to figure out his new score.

Carcassonne, like many well-balanced strategy games, does not overly rely on a single mathematical idea. Rather, the game incorporates several distinct structures to make a fun, challenging game that is fundamentally mathematical.

Questions to Ask

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The best question to ask a new player is "Where can you place your tile?" Simply getting your child to look for options will help them improve their spatial reasoning. Once they know all their options, then they can start to analyze the strategic value of each choice.

Carcassonne is a great way to introduce your children to the idea of strategic sabotage in games. I don't purposefully sabotage my kids while playing, but I certainly give them the chance to sabotage me! That's why I like to ask "Where could you put your tile that would really mess me up?"

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Maybe they can block a city I'm building, or make it impossible for me to complete a road that I need to finish before the game ends. In any case, giving them a window into the more devious side of the game will help them become multifaceted strategic thinkers.

And, of course, you can't go wrong with the old standby question: "What tile do you hope to draw?" If you can get your child to think strategically before and after they draw a tile, you've doubled the amount of mathematical thinking they do each turn!

Carcassonne is a game that continues to be strategically interesting to me, despite having played it over and over. It's a great addition to any game library, especially if you have kids on the younger side who can age into the deeper strategies of the game. Check it out!

Click here to buy Carcassonne on Amazon