Note: Below is an entry I wrote for the induction of Carcassonne into the BGG Hall of Fame. Check out the Hall of Fame itself to read about the six other inductees in the 2010 class. For more information about the Hall of Fame, check out this forum thread.
Carcassonne is the ambassador of the modern Golden Age of board games. Carcassonne is the board game you should be introducing to anyone who asks what kind of board games you play and whether they’re like Monopoly. Carcassonne is the “gateway” game if there ever was one and the staple of any fledgling board game collection. Carcassonne is all that and it’s actually a great game too; one that experienced gamers ought to dust off and revisit.
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede burst onto the board gaming scene in 2000 with the release of Carcassonne. The game quickly went on to win the most important award in the industry - the Spiel des Jahres - in 2001, followed by the most important award to many serious hobbyists - the Deutscher Spiele Preis - a few months later. Wrede has followed up the game with a handful of additional designs (namely Downfall of Pompeii, Die Fugger, Mesopotamia, Anasazi, and a few others), but has devoted most of his subsequent releases to expansions and stand-alone spin-offs of Carcassonne. The family of Carcassonne games now bears over 20 expansions and 10 stand-alone spin-offs (some of which include designer credits by such luminaries as Karl-Heinz Schmiel and Reiner Knizia). Recently the game has even proliferated to a number of virtual implementations, including releases on the Xbox and the iPhone, in addition to the old faithful BrettspielWelt site.
People have gotten married over this game, cloned over this game, set world records over this game, and even traveled the globe for this game.
Carcassonne introduced the world to the iconic component known as the "meeple." These small wooden human-esque figures are the most recognizable piece in modern gaming and have been adapted for use in countless other games over the past decade. For more on the phenomenon of the meeple see this fantastic "Intelligence Report on Meeples" by Dave Lartigue. Obsession with meeples clearly runs rampant as people have sewed meeples, driven meeples, rained meeples, and even made snow meeples.
This game is a geek-culture phenomenon. It’s not only a game that people play, but a way of life that many proselytize. Carcassonne, without a board, is the defining board game of our time.