I’m a big fan of Carcassonne. If you’ve never played it before, Carcassonne is a tile placement game where players take turns placing random tiles adjacent to the tiles already in play. The tiles must be placed in such a way that it aligns with the features of the existing tiles. Whenever you place a tile, you can also choose to put one of your Followers onto that tile. You can either place your Followers on a Road, on a Cloister, in a City, or in a Field. Your Followers score you points whenever that feature is completed and/or when the game ends.
Carcassonne is a good game, and as is it’s a fun quick game that makes a great addition to any board game night. It’s simple enough that new players can get the hang of it quickly, yet deep enough that veterans can still find enjoyment after dozens of games. However, as good as it is, there’s one house rule I always play with when I play this game, which I refer to as the “All or Nothing” rule:
“All or Nothing: At the end of the game, players score 0 points for any incomplete Roads, Cities, and Cloisters.”
This means that you only score points from Roads, Cities, and Cloisters if you complete them. Fields, however, are unaffected by this rule and score points as normal at the end of the game. There are three main reasons why I love this house rule and reccomend you give it a try:
1) It adds decision making
In the normal version of Carcassonne, since you earn points even if something is incomplete, it’s usually a good idea to keep growing your Roads and Cities even if you know they are never going to be completed. But with this change, now you have to really think about whether or not completing a feature is possible, or if you should cut your losses and try to build something else. It adds this dynamic choice where you want to build large Roads and Cities to score lots of points, but if you let them get too big you risk getting nothing. It also lets you be more strategic with you Cloisters, since you may want to build them close to where your opponents are building so you have a better chance of finishing them.
2) It adds more counter play
Carcassone already has some element of counter play. For example, if you wanted to impede your opponents you could place tiles in such a way that it’s awkward for them to build long Roads, or to complete their Cities and Cloisters. But with this house rule you can also counter your opponents by instead adding to their Roads and Cities. After all, if they can’t complete it they get no points, so it might be the right strategy to make their Roads and Cities so big that they are difficult to complete. But there’s a risk, because if they manage to finish it they’ll score a bunch of extra points from the tiles you added on.
3) It feels more rewarding
It always felt weird to me that you score points for incomplete Roads, Cities, and Cloisters. I like being rewarded when I accomplish something, so getting points for leaving features unfinished feels like I’m getting points I didn’t earn. But now whenever I score points it feels like I deserve those points. So even though my final score with the house rule is typically lower than when I play the normal way, I feel much more proud of that score because I earned it.
Why does this matter?
I think it matters because when you’re playing any game there’s nothing stopping you from changing the rules. For board games in particular rule enforcement is up to the players, meaning that if you don’t want to enforce a rule the game isn’t going to stop you. As long as everyone at the table is on board with it you shouldn’t be afraid to try mixing it up. Is the game too easy? Maybe put in some extra obstacles or enemies. Is it too hard? Give yourselves extra health, extra cards, or extra turns. Is it too slow? Try having players do their turns simultaneously or cut down on the turn limit. Sure, some of the time you’ll make the game worse. Sometimes you’ll make it A LOT worse. But even if you make the game unplayable there aren’t any long term risks to testing out some variant rules. Worst case scenario you just go back to playing the normal way. But every once in a while you might find an even better way to play a game you love.