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Carcassonne: what makes the simple-yet-strategic family board game so popular?

If you're looking for a great family board game which is both easy and challenging - and compact enough to take on holiday - Carcassonne ticks all the boxes.

By Jenny Wonnacott | Last updated Jul 20, 2023

Carcassonne board game

Overall star rating: 4.5/5

Price on writing: £28 | Buy now from John Lewis

This easy-to-understand yet pleasingly strategic game certainly deserves its place in the Mumsnet guide to the best family board games

Named (and designed) with the scenic French town of the same name in mind, Carcassonne has become a firm favourite in our board game-loving household over the last four years. Thanks to the compact size of the box and lack of too many components, we’ve taken it on many a family holiday where it’s been enjoyed by a range of players aged from five (with a bit of help) to 65. 

It’s quick to set up, simple to play, while also encouraging strategic thinking and basic problem-solving skills. It also comes with a mini-expansion option in the form of river tiles to keep things interesting. 

Beloved the world over, Carcassonne is mentioned many times on the Mumsnet forums as a great 'entry' option to the world of modern board games. So what is it about this simple game that makes it so popular?


Key specs

No. of players: 2-5 | Ages: 7+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Game duration: From 30 minutes | Set-up time: Under 5 minutes

What we love

  • Easy to understand and quick to set up

  • Appeals to the whole family

  • You essentially build the board so game-play is always different

  • Encourages strategic thinking

What to know

  • Younger players may find it a little complicated or become distracted if game-play goes on too long

Read next: Stave off boredom this summer with the best tablet for kids and the top-ranking travel games.

What Mumsnet users say

“It doesn’t take three hours, unlike a lot of other good board games. So you can fit in a quick game with the kids after tea without delaying bedtime. I love Carcassonne.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user VenusClapTrap)

“Carcassonne is simple enough that most people get an idea of what they are doing by their second or third turn, with very limited explanation. It's quite calm. You can play it very gently with younger children. But it can be thoroughly cut throat and very strategic. So is satisfying for more experienced players. You can even do both in the same game.” (Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Hazelnutlatteplease)


Game Play

Carcassonne requires 2-5 players and the aim of the game is to score the most points through establishing territory on a game board you build as you go. You always start with the same ‘starter tile’ and then take it in turns to draw tiles to try and build roads, cities, monasteries and fields (more if playing with an expansion kit).

Using your coloured ‘meeple’ counters, you claim roads, cities, monasteries and fields to score a varying number of points, which you keep track of on the scoreboard (see below). The game finishes when you run out of tiles to draw and tot up the points. 


Our verdict

As a family with a five year age gap between youngest and eldest, it’s always good to have a game where you can make things easier for the youngest player while keeping it challenging for the oldest. Carcassonne does just that. 

You win points by placing tiles to complete roads, cities, monasteries and (if using the expansion option) rivers. If you want to make life difficult for another player, there are a number of ways you can do so. Having said that, much of the outcome is down to the luck of the draw as much as strategy, so it’s not always a foregone conclusion that the most experienced player will win. You also essentially build the game board as you go, so it’s always a bit different every time you play.

Carcassonne is a fast-paced game and easy enough to steer it to a quick conclusion if you only have a short amount of time. 

It’s marketed as age 7+ which I think is probably about right. Our eldest only really got the hang of it around this age and although we’ve played it with the younger ones, they’ve needed quite a lot of help and a faster-paced game to keep them engaged.

Related: Discover the best books for eight-year-olds and the top-ranking LEGO sets.

"I love Carcassonne. It's super addictive - you'll have all the expansion packs before you know it!" - MrsBobBlackadder

Why is Carcassonne so popular?

I think the beauty of the game is in its simplicity and yet potential for varied outcomes. Unlike many board games, it’s a different game every time you play and there are many ways to make it more or less difficult depending on who is playing.

As Mumsnetter ojell points out, "It’s often seen as a ‘gateway’ game, i.e. a gentle introduction to the modern style of board games."

Read next: Find the best tech for your kids with our guides to the best phones for kids, best kids' camera and best kids' smartwatch.

Can a five-year-old play Carcassonne?

Without any support, probably not. With a bit of help, absolutely. It might depend on their attention span and mood a bit, but there’s no reason to say a five-year-old can’t join in a game of Carcassonne or team up with an older player. There is, however, a bespoke children’s version of the game called My First Carcassonne designed for children aged four and up.

Is Carcassonne fun with two players?

Yes, it becomes a much faster-paced game with just two players (and more cut-throat, depending on who you’re playing with!)

How long does a game of Carcassonne take?

At least 30 minutes up to an hour or more depending on the number of players and whether you are playing with any expansion kits.

Is Carcassonne base game good?

Yes - the ‘base game’ being the original, un-expanded version of Carcassonne. It’s easy to pick up, easy to pack away, doesn’t involve having to learn a complicated set of rules, can be played by up to five players and appeals to a wide range of players. The illustrations are beautiful and it doesn’t matter too much if you lose the odd tile or ‘meeple’, making it ideal to include alongside your favourite travel games when going on holiday.

A worthy inclusion in our round-up of the best family board games.

Read next: Looking for more toy inspiration for kids of all ages? Don't miss our bespoke guides to the best toys for four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds and ten-year-olds.

About the author

Mum-of-three Jenny Wonnacott is a Content Editor for Mumsnet, specialising in writing, editing and optimising pregnancy care and child play content pages.

Before joining the content team at Mumsnet, Jenny worked as a journalist for newspapers, radio, TV and b2b trades magazines for over a decade. She is also a bestselling sci-fi author (writing as J M Briscoe) and parenting blogger.

As a parent of three primary school-aged children, Jenny is passionate about making Mumsetters' lives easier through rigorous research of all items recommended in buyers' guides and reviews such as this one, as well as sourcing expert advice on all things pregnancy and child play related.

About Mumsnet Reviews

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