The Best Carcassonne Expansion in 2020

As a kid, I used to play Carcassonne all the time. I forgot about it, untill I recently decided to try it again. It was a lot of fun. Carcassonne has a bit of everything: player interaction, problem-solving, conflict, strategy, and it’s easy to learn. No wonder many people love the game. And although Carcassonne the base game is fun on it’s own, over the years 10 big expansions and almost 20 mini-expansions are added to the game. To help you choose between expansions, we ranked the big expansions from best to worst.

  • New strategies
  • Makes farmers better
  • Builder token speeds up the game

Traders & Builders is in our opinion the best Carcassonne expansion. It fixes some of the problems of the base game. More importantly, the new goods-tokens make room for a lot of new strategy.

What does it fix?

In the Carcassonne base game, a good placed farmer can score you a lot of points. However, farmer meeples are not returned your supply, but rather stay in place untill the end of the game. For this reason, many players go for cities and monastries, instead of placing a farmer early game. Traders & Builders introduces pigs that fixes this. Instead of scoring 3 points per finished city, farmers with pigs on their lands score 4 points per finished city. This extra point per city adds up quickly and makes placing farmers more attractive.

What does it add?

In Traders & Builders a totally new scoring feature is added: goods. Some of the city tiles depict wine barrels, grain or cloth. Whenever you score a city with one of the depicted goods, you get one of the corresponding tokens. At the end of the game, whoever has the most of each tokens scores extra points. This new feature adds a new level of competition, introduces a new way to gain victory points and opens the way to new strategies.

The expansion also adds Builders that allow players a second turn. This is a nice new feature, that speeds up the game, but also adds a little more randomness into the game.

  • Adds a 6th player
  • Makes roads better
  • More competition

Inns and Cathedrals is the first official Carcassonne expansion and we think it is the second best. It fits seamlessly into the Carcassonne base game. The expansions introduces Inns, Cathedrals and large meeples, and adds a new color for a 6th player.

What does it fix?

In the Carcassonne base game, roads are not that good. It is often more better to place your meeple in the city, or make it a farmer then go for the roads. Inns make roads much betterInns are placed adjacent to a road and double the amount of scoring you get from that road. That is, each finished road tile is now worth 2 points instead of 1.

What does it add?

Cathedrals are placed within a city and rewards the person(s) that wins the city with 3 points per tile instead of 2 points per tile. The introduction of cathedrals increases the competition element of the game. Blocking your oppontent’s city is even more lucrative than in the base game.

Every player gets one large meeple. This large meeple counts as 2 regular meeples and is used just like the regular meeples. In our experience, large meeples are mostly used for farm-wars in the end game.

What we love about Inns & Cathedrals is that it completely captures the spirit of the base game and adds some better features to it. Inns & Cathedrals is somewhat basic, but fits seemlessly into the Carcassonne base game. 

  • Barns make farmers tremendously better

Abbey & Mayor is one of the more elaborate Carcassonne expansions. It introduces four new modules that change the game quite a lot.

What does it fix?

The most striking feature of Abbey & Mayor are Barns. Barns fix the farmer-problem: the fact that farmers do not go back to the supply. After building a barn, all farmers in the area are immediately scored and returned to the supply. Barns make farmers incredibly better. Barns themselves can also be played very strategically; since all farmers – including your opponent’s – are returned to the supply, you can ‘scare-off’ your opponent’s farmers and take over control over fields.

What does it add?

Abbey & Mayor adds Abbeys, Mayors and Wagons to the game. Abbeys are wildcarts and can be placed anywhere to complete a feature and mayors can be worth multiple meeples.

Wagons are more interesting. Wagons can be placed on features like regular meeples. However, once that feature is finished, the wagon moves to an adjacent tile that has an unfinished feature.

The farmer mechanism of the Barns are the reason we rank Abbey & Mayor the third best expansion. Although it does not seem like a big intervention, it has a huge effect on the game mechanics and let Carcassonne almost feel like a new game. Therefore we recommend this expansion especially to Carcassonne veterans, that want to try out totally different farmer-strategies.

  • New auction makes it more strategic
  • Two-tile cities are less bad

What does it fix?

In a normal game of Carcassonne it happens sometimes that you don’t really know what to do and then build a two-tile city. In Bridges, Castles & Bazaars you can turn the two-tile city into a castle. When a feature on an adjacent tile is scored (monastry, road or city), the castle scores the same amount of points as well. Castles makes two-tile cities much more interesting.

Roads get slightly better with Bridges that allow a player to place brigde over a field tile, making roads longer.

What does it add?

A radical new feature of Bridges, Castles & Bazaars are Bazaars. Once a Bazaar tile is placed an auction starts. Players bid their own victory points on the tiles. Although the auction disrupts the momentum of the game a bit, it ultimately makes the game more strategic. You can choose the next tile you want to play and have to decide how much you think it’s worth (or how much you think it’s worth to others). I really like this extra strategic element.

  • Great game fixes

What does it fix?

With Hills & Sheep fields can also be occupied by shepherds. Shepherds grow flocks of sheep, worth victory points. Shepherds make fields also interesting in the early and mid game.

A tiny flaw of Carcassonne is the absence of tie-breakers. If two players have an equal amount of meeples on a feature, they both score points. Hills are basically tie-breakers: whoever has a hill gets all the points of that feature.

What we often encouter in a game of Carcassonne is that monastries are a little underwhelming. Yes, finished monastries are worth a lot, but finishing it can be a lengthy process. Vineyards make monastries a little more lucrative, by adding a 3 point bonus to a monastry in it’s neighbourhood.

What does it add?

The features of Hills & Sheep seem to be game-fixes, rather than new elements or modules in themselves. That said, these fixes are quite good. Therefore we surely recommend this expansion. But advice to play this one together with other expansions.

  • Really new mechanics
  • More dynamic
  • Best for kids

If you want Carcassonne to be a more fast-paced and dynamic game, The Princess & the Dragon is the expansion for you. It is not the best expansion, but most certainly changes the game a lot. Due to the changes this expansion is a really good expansion for kids.

What does it fix?

Veteran Carcassonne players who sometimes wish Carcassonne would be more dynamic should consider paying The Princess & the Dragon. This expansion introduces new meeples to the game that have the ability to remove other meeples: the Dragon and the Princess. A Princess can drive a meeple out of a city. The Dragon roams over the board, removing all meeples it finds in its way. This new removal mechanic drastically changes the game. Because meeples are in constant danger of being removed, strategies become more and more short-term focussed. This is a good or bad thing, depending on your preferences.  

What does it add?

The Princess & the Dragon adds many extra tiles to the game and of course Princesses and a dragon. Also fairies and magic portals are introduced.

The fairy offers protection against the dragon and gives extra points. The magic portal tiles let the player place a meeple on any unfinished feature in the game. The magic portals increase the amount of luck in the game a lot.

Honorable Mentions

We do not cover every expansion in our list above. That does not mean the other expansions are all bad. We want to give a quick shout-out to the Carcassonne expansions we did not include in our ranking.

We admit, this is not an expansion. However we strongly recommend you to purchase an organizer if you have mant Carcassonne expansions. It saves a lot of time when you don’t to scramble for the right tiles and meeples all the time.

In The Tower players have new ways to trap their opponent’s meeples. No more trying to block a city or monastry, but you can trap a meeple in, or more precisely on top of, your tower.

Under The Big Top has a circus theme and quite a few new features. We did not really feel the theme, but the extra mechanics, most notably the circus tiles, are really interesting. 

The Catapult contains a real catapult that shoots at the game. Although this is one of the most hilarious features we have ever seen in a game, we think it just doesn’t make sense.

In Count, King & Robber some features are added that bring more competition to completing (large) cities and roads. However, some of the new features are a bit too complex, but great for experienced players.

How To Choose The Best Carcassonne Expansion?

There are several factors that make an expansion stand out. We share three characteristics that make an expansion a good expansion. 

It makes the game better, not a different game

Expansions should improve the base game, not completely change it. In general, we buy an expansion of a game, because we like the base game. Expansions should add features or fixes to the base game, and not change the basic structure of the game too much.

Fixes base game flaws

Although the Carcassonne base game is a very good game, it is not perfect. Therefore we do appreciate it if an expansion fixes some of the flaws of the original game. 

Adds extra strategy to the game

Here at Boardgametheories we love strategy. Expansions that add extra layers of strategy to a game is a big yes for us.