Carcassonne


Carcassonne (2000) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

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Version reviewed

English edition 2014

Introduction

Carcassonne is a beautifully deep game that blossoms out from very simple mechanics. We gave it 4.5 stars in our review because we believe everyone should play it. But the question in this part of the site is – *can* everyone play it? Let’s find out.

Visual Impairments

Instantly we meet our old nemesis – the game has a palette problem. No matter your category of colour blindness, you’ll find visual distinctiveness limited. If you’ve got tritanopia, then good luck telling the blue meeples from the green meeples:

Meeple Pile

Sexy, but not easily to visually discriminate.

There’s also a meaty thematic implication to playing colour-blind, because the landscape you build changes radically in tone:

Colour Blind Landscape

That’s a pretty bleak, barren landscape.

Those with Protanopia or Deuteranopia are going to be playing Carcassonne: Blasted Lands edition. People playing with tritanopia are going to be building these medieval cities on some kind of weird alien landscape. This isn’t a problem, not really, but it has an impact. Depending on your particular bent of thought, it might even be a benefit – Carcassonne: Dark Sun edition is something I might very well have bought had it been an option.

Picking meeples out of the map when you have colour-blindness too can be difficult:

Colour Blind Meeples on Map

Is that your city or mine?

As can simply telling who is who on the scoring chart:

Scoring chart

If I can’t work out which meeple is mine, can I get the points for all of them?

But the meeples are the only part of the game that is actually inaccessible due to colour choice, and if you have the necessary eight (seven plus one for scoring) meeples of another colour available to you it’s possible to swap them in without game impact. Some expansions come with more unusual meeples, such as ‘the queen’ and a pig. For those, you’d need to substitute some other kind of token. Truth be told, you could pretty easily make use of anything from dice to monopoly tokens to represent your workers in Carcassonne, so there are easy workarounds. If you want to play it with the meeples provided though, you’re going to find it difficult at larger player counts. Overall recommended though.

For other categories of visual impairment, it’s more difficult to be positive. Due to the nature of the game, the map will tend to sprawl. Individual tiles are reasonably well defined, but also tend to come with a fair bit of visual clutter. Some of this is related to advanced game play options such as playing with the abbot mini-expansion, but some of it is just visual fluff. The key elements you need are the shape of cities, the direction of roads, and the presence of monasteries. All of that is reasonably easy to pick out.

When you’re making your play, the only thing that you need to do is pick a single tile from the stack and choose where to play it. But that’s where the problem lies:

A sprawling map

Suburban Sprawl

That’s a lot of possibilities for where that tile can go, and only some of them are valid. More than this, only some of them are strategically valuable – you don’t want to place your tile in the first place it will fit, you want to place it somewhere it’ll contribute to your end goals. That’s harder to do – you need to be able to take in the big picture of the board, and then drill down into the key elements that would be important. It’s not impossible to do with the support of visual aids, but you do need to be prepared to add on a fair chunk of time for this visual check. It’s also not something that can be easily memorised since the map is ever shifting – if there are two players, then it’s reasonably feasible to keep updated based on what the last player did. If you’re playing with more, the sites you identified earlier probably aren’t going to be quite so plum when your turn comes around again.

The place where meeples are placed too is significant – it can be difficult to see the distinction between a thief (on a road) and a farmer (on the field adjacent to the road). The game adopts a convention of laying meeples on their back or on their side to represent farmers, but there’s no denying that certain regions of the board may become busy and thus difficult to pick out at a distance.

At the end of the game, scoring farmers can be difficult – we’d recommend having a single person designated as scorer to alleviate the visual scanning pressure that this would otherwise put on individual players.

We would tentatively recommend Carcassonne for those with visual impairments, provided their impairments can be compensated for with the use of supporting aids. Otherwise, Carcassonne is a game in which the ability to visually parse game state is too important, and one in which it’s not really feasible to make use of a helper given the nature of the evolving play state.

Cognitive Accessibility

The cognitive accessibility of Carcassonne is directly related to how competitive everyone is being, so we’ve got a spectrum of comments here depending on why you’re playing the game. The rules of Carcassonne are very simple – anyone can play the game, although some help with scoring may be required especially when it comes time to tot up the farmers. That’s not just difficult for those with visual impairments, but also in terms of the cognitive processing that comes with dealing with fields, adjacency, and overlap of farmer territory. Memory as a whole doesn’t play a big part in the game, except in terms of remembering what you were hoping to achieve with historical meeple placement. It’s more about being fluid enough to react to the board that’s in front of you. The only place this isn’t true is in tile management. There are charts you can freely download that show the composition of the stack. You could make this available during play to support those that want to better manage that part of their strategy.

If you’re dealing with players that have severe cognitive impairments, we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re playing competitively – there’s just too much you need to invest in long term planning and the short term execution of that strategy. However, you could house-rule a satisfying variant where either scoring is removed, or is collaborative. Carcassonne modifies nicely into a co-operative game of map-building, where everyone gains points for building a well formed landscape. If you were willing to remove the versus aspect, we’d be very happy to recommend it for those with severe cognitive impairments.

For those with mild cognitive impairments, there are only a few points of cognitive complexity in the rules – aside from the scoring of farmers, there are conditionals based on who can be placed on a feature based on prior occupancy, and who takes control of the points in the event of competition. ‘Tile awareness’ too many be an issue, since assessing how many of the tiles you likely need are still in the stack requires a fair bit of ongoing consideration. None of this need be a deal-breaker, of course, and again the game lends itself well to house-ruling away some of the complexity (indeed, over the years Carcassonne has had many of its more finicky rough edges knocked away through gradual erosion). You could always award points to everyone on a feature, or let people place meeples on already claimed features and then award points to the person with the most.

Overall, we strongly recommend Carcassonne in the memory impairment category. For other cognitive impairments, we’re rating it as a B+ – for severe impairments it may not be very accessible out of the box, but if you’re willing to house-rule away the competition feel free to mentally knock that B+ up to an A.

Emotiveness

There is little direct competition in Carcassonne – like many of the early eurogames, competition is indirectly through the exploitation of shared resources. However, there are a few areas in which direct challenge rears its head. The first is in the linking up of otherwise non-contiguous game features, at which point it’s possible with careful placement for a player to ‘steal’ a feature away from someone else. That can be frustrating if it’s an especially large and valuable feature.

The largest frustration of the game comes with the inevitably of leaving features incomplete – as a natural consequence of map building, some areas are going to end up eventually being left blank because the tiles needed to complete them have already been placed. That can aggravate certain kinds of mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The map itself is never going to be fully completed – it’s always going to be raggedy at the edges, no matter the amount of effort that’s expended into making it ordered. For those that may have a deep-seated need for closure at a game’s termination, the game is not ideal.

As mentioned in the cognitive section above, there is a collaborative variant that can be played if these would be significant problems – the variant also alleviates, to an extent, issues of closure because it incentivises the co-operative completion of game features. Everyone will be working to plug gaps, rather than strategically disadvantage their opponents.

We strongly recommend Carcassonne in this category.

Physical Accessibility

I don’t think you could play this game easily if you have physical impairments whilst also simultaneously demonstrating agency. The board is non-contiguous, which is great for offering sprawling play. However, it’s a nightmare for tile placement. Often, a tile must be played in adjacency to between three and eight other tiles, and being able to fine position it in the gap that’s left is an act of significant physical dexterity. More than this, unless someone is very diligent about the placing of tiles there’s a kind of alignment shockwave that propagates along the board, leaving everything *slightly* unaligned. You sometimes need to reposition a number of tiles more precisely as a result of your placement.

If you suffer from tremors or occasional spasms, a single moment of unfortunate timing can put the entire board out of alignment – it’ll rarely change the game state, but it will make the next tiles more inconvenient to place for everyone. It’s a compounding problem that gets worse the longer the game goes on. Unlike Suburbia, you can’t just provide spacing between tiles without major game impact – there are just too many, and alignment of features is just too core to valid placement.

There’s also a problem of the scale of the map, which as we saw above has a tendency to sprawl. Being able to physically position yourself in the location most advantageous to play is almost mandatory, and may require reaching over the board, standing up, or orbit-ting it to the place that’s most comfortable. Often you’ll find that the place you initially considered is invalid for some reason or another, and have to repeat the process until you find a suitable home for your tile. This is a feature of many tile-based games, but especially pronounced in Carcassonne given the sheer number of tiles you’ll play in a game and the strategic heft of each of them.

That said, there is nothing specifically about the game that *requires* a player to be the one that physically places the tile if intention can be clearly communicated. But hang on to that thought – we’ll be returning to it in the intersectional analysis.

We’re going to give it a tentative recommendation here, but that’s contingent on having available a helper to handle meepleand tile placement on your behalf.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

I have no serious issues here – the box art is gender balanced, although again only shows white faces. As with our Sheriff of Nottingham review, you might be willing to excuse this on the grounds of theme – the game is after all about building medieval city states in the Carcassonne region of France.

There are some minor terminology issues – the manual I have for example refers to ‘highwayman’ rather than ‘thief’ (this changes from version to version of the game), and specifically ‘monks’ for the cloisters. Again, theme is easily invoked to justify both of these things, and if they bother you it’s no big deal to house-rule terminology. Cloisters can contain ‘clerics’, or just choose between ‘monk’ and ‘nun’ depending on your own preferences. Abbots become ‘abbess’ if you’re playing with that mini-expansion. Highwaymen become thieves, or bandits. It doesn’t matter much – you won’t be consulting the manual very often anyway once you’ve picked up the rules.

The rest of the game has no issues regarding inclusivity – the art style is thoroughly appropriate, and the theme is sufficiently inoffensive to encompass almost everyone. I’m not saying that if you tried you couldn’t find a reason to object (Do you know how they treated peasants back in those days???) but I’m just saying you’d be the worst kind of tedious killjoy if you made the attempt.

Cost wise, the game is a bargain – you don’t get many things in the box, but those things will give you many hours of pleasure even with just the vanilla game itself. If you get one of the editions with the River provided for free, it’s even better.

Communication

There are no communication issues with the game. If you wanted to play it silently while staring hateful daggers at the person that just blocked off your last valid city square, go right ahead. But…

Intersectional Issues

For those with communication *and* physical impairments, playing Carcassonne may be a significant chore. It’s playable if you can physically position tiles but not communicate, and if you can communicate but not physically position tiles. If you can’t do either, it would become very difficult and fraught to enact a player’s wishes. Depending on the exact nature of this intersection, we’d be wary about recommending the game.

Similarly for those with visual and physical impairments, it becomes much more difficult to interpret the landscape of the game map. Given how far it tends to sprawl, it’s going to be tricky to visually explore it in the necessary detail if you can’t also move yourself around it. Similarly, the issues of tile and meeple positioning are multiplied when this compound situation is considered. Whether or not this is true for any given individual would, again, depend on the precise nature of the way in which these impairments intersect – but consider this an additional note of wariness in our recommendation.

Carcassonne scales well from two players to five, and there’s no fundamental reason why players should not feel free to drop in and out as needed. It’s also a very brisk game, provided there are no compensatory regimes taking up additional turn time. Even if you drop below the two player threshold, it’s fun just to complete features. You can be in and out in a perfectly rounded 30-45 minutes – it doesn’t require the kind of deep investment of time that would inevitably exacerbate physical distress.

There are no hidden hands, randomness, or required time constraints that would create the usual intersectional issues we’ve discussed in the past. While the board is large, it’s not very complex – there is though some minor symbology on the tiles, relating to coats of arms in cities and gardens (if playing with the abbot). None of it is core, and it’s all reasonably easy to understand from context.

Conclusion

Did Carcassonne come out of this well? Let’s find out by pulling its various entries out of tombola to see if they’ve won the raffle prize:

Colour Blindness B-
Visual Impairment C-
Emotiveness A-
Fluid Intelligence B+
Memory A
Physical C-
Socioeconomic A-
Communication A

Oo, didn’t it do well, ladies and gentlemen? Give it a round of a applause as we throw this up on the radar chart:

Radar chart

Not too bad, Carassonne.

It certainly has its flaws – the oversights with colour-blindness are by this point dully predictable, and the nature of tile-laying games of this nature make physical and visual accessibility a challenge. Overall though, we feel confident in recommending this game to almost everyone – with provisos, with caveats, but those also come with the reminder that we gave this thing 4.5 stars. If you can play it, you’d be doing yourself a disservice *not* to play it.


If you like what we're doing with Meeple Like Us, please consider liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and sharing our content on Reddit and your own social networks. Drop us a comment too in the discussion section below! We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!