Carcassonne, at its core, is a relatively simple. The goal of the game is to to score the most points through laying tiles on the table and placing your meeples on the tiles. From the picture on the right (from geekdo.com), the tiles have towns, roads, abbeys, and pastures. Carcassonne is kind of like a puzzle in that when you place a tile, you must match up the borders with each other (i.e. town-town, road-road, pasture-pasture). Once you place a tile, you can choose to place a meeple on the tile you just played - on the town, on a road, on an abbey, or laying down in the pasture. I won't go through all of the rules here, but when you complete a town, road, or abbey, you score a certain number of points. Here is an excerpt of a review I wrote on another site. It sums up my thoughts still. (Note: I wrote this when Nyla was 5 months old.)
What do we enjoy about Carcassonne?
*Game Length - Anytime you can knock out a game in no more than 45 minutes is excellent. Especially in our case. Our little 5-month old girl is not too keen on taking long naps, meaning that any game lasting longer than an hour or hour and a half will have a third player make it to the table - her. This is a great game to play during her naps or at night before we ourselves crash for the night.
*Set-up - Clear off table; place tiles in bag; get scoring track out; pass out the meeples. That's pretty much it. My wife doesn't care about clean up, since I always do that.
*Rules - Other than the farmer scoring system, which was a little confusing at first, the rules for this game are simple and easy to understand/teach. Lay a tile and place a meeple on that tile if no one has claimed that feature. Score and remove the meeple when the feature is finished (except for those farmers).
*Simplicity - While we do own Puerto Rico, Agricola, and other "heavier" games, sometimes we just want a nice game without a lot of strategy. Not to say there is no strategy in Carcassonne, because there clearly is. But at times we just want a game where we can carry on a conversation without getting bogged down with strategy.
*Variability/Replayability - Every game will produce a different tile layout. We enjoy laying the tiles and watching Carcassonne come together. Taking a step back at the end of the game and seeing what we have created is pretty neat.
What do we not like?
There's not a lot we dislike. The random tile draws can be annoying sometimes, but there are variants floating around here that can help mitigate that somewhat. Not to say that the randomness takes away from our experience, but, when you're looking for that one tile to complete a big city, it can be frustrating.
I have Carcassonne rated as a 9. It's a game I will never turn down a play of and will suggest as a good opener/ender when my brother comes over for a game night. It is a game that we will pull out just about every week. It's simple, elegant, and fun. And selfishly, I hope that in years to come my daughter will want to enjoy Carcassonne with us as well. Just not for the next couple years though. I'd prefer not to make a trip to the hosptial to retrieve any ingested meeples!
So there you go. I have also added a few expansions to the game that we throw in from time to time. All of them change the game in a certain and don't add too much length to it. Carcassonne is a fun game that doesn't take long to play and is easy to pick up. Highly recommended!