Lego Carcassonne

By Cal Henderson, March 6th 2011.

After seeing the Lego Catan doing the rounds a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd like to have a go at something similar. I've been playing a lot of Carcassonne on the iPhone recently (Hit me up for a game, I'm really bad: cal at iamcal.com) so that was the natural choice. The tiles are square, so that immediately made it much simpler.

I started out by downloading SR 3D Builder. I had played around with the LDraw tools a few years ago and they were pretty difficult to do anything useful with. While SR 3D is hardly intuitive, after a couple of hours of struggling with the sparse ESL documentation, I was able to start building. Since the road tiles have a centered road, I wanted an odd sized tile. I went with 9x9, since that gives me a good 4x4 area to play with for each corner. I created a black tile base to start with.

I wanted to make a playable set, where the pieces interlocked with each other. Since there are 3 unique sides in the game (field, road and city), I went with 3 different interlocks which would mean that only like-sides can be joined together. Since each tile is 9 units on a side and I can't use the center square (because it has to lie flat against its opposing tile) or the corner squares (they get tricky because they are shared by 2 edges), I had two groups of 3 squares to play with. Each of those 3 can be a peg or a hole, but the 2nd set of three needs to be a mirror of the first so it'll interlock. This gives 8 different possible combinations (or 27 if you allow leaving squares flat too), which is more than enough. I picked 3 simple patterns and built them onto the base plate in brown.

Once I'd created the edges, it was a simple matter of cloning the right edge pieces onto the base to construct each tile. The content of the tile then sits on top, using green for the fields, white for roads and tan/red for cities and cloisters.

By far the most time went into rendering the designed images. Turning the L3B designs (which are a simple text format that you can easily edit by hand) into pretty images can be done using POV-Ray, an open-source ray tracer. POV-Ray also uses a simple text language for input, known as POV files. To turn L3B files into POV files, you need L3P and L3PAO. Luckily, SR 3D installs the L3Draw toolkit, which includes both of these tools (and a bunch more), probably in C:\LDraw\.

L3PAO creates POV files, using the LDraw block data files. It can also use LGEO, another block data library which contains better block data for rendering. The LDraw tools already have LGEO, but I used the latest version for better results. Once you've generated the POV files, you can run a quick test render - it won't look great, but you can see your model.

I followed an old tutorial which covers importing a new color system and setting up better lighting.

For much improved radiosity lighting, you'll want to use MegaPOV. The latest version of MegaPOV (1.2.1) will not work with the latest version of POV-Ray (3.6.2), Once I downgraded to POV-Ray 3.6.1, it all worked fine.

I was unable to find the HDR lightprobes mentioned in the tutorial, but I located these alternatives. You need to drop the .hdr files into your POV-Ray/include folder for them to work. I couldn't get good results using them, but I'd love to hear tips.

Using a white sky sphere and a circular area light I was able to get some pretty good results, but there were a large number of specular defects (white and black single pixels) at the gaps between bricks. Anti aliasing fixes this, so rendering at twice the needed resolution and then down-sampling using a bicubic filter (Photoshop or PaintShopPro will do this) works great.

If you find the brick colors too shiny, you can manually change the color values. Black is color 0, so search in koyancolours.inc for the Color0 block and you'll see it points to lg_color_N06.inc. This file contains the texture definition, as described here. Play around with the textures until you get the look you want.

The source files for my tiles are on GitHub if you'd like to play with them or build on them. I have a few ideas for the meeples (the little dudes used as game pieces in Carcassonne) and for some of the game expansions. Using Lego Design-by-me, I should be able to order the full game at some point.

Update, March 6th, 4pm PST: I created a single tile in Lego's Digital Designer. The source file is available in the GitHub repo. The crossroads tile is priced at around $25, which would put the full 72-tiles game at around $2000 (the city tiles use a few more piece than the road ones). Ouch! Any ideas how you could build the set cheaper?

Update, March 7th: Based on a design by FredWallace in the comments, I've put together a smaller, simpler set of 7x7 tiles. They lack the interconnects, but they have an interesting layered look:

This set should be a lot cheaper to make. I also used the tan color (LDraw color 19), rather than dark tan in the original set. Not only does it look better, but these pieces also exist!

This scale makes it quite easy to make a nice little shield motif too. Might be a bit small to use minifigs as meeple though.


I love lego, board games and computers, but there's a billion things I don't know. If you spot any glaring mistakes or omissions, leave a comment or drop me an email and teach me: cal [at] iamcal.com

If anyone can figure out how to use groups in SR 3D, please let me know. I'm considering writing a simple tutorial on using it in general, since it was such a pain to get up and running. Let me know if that interests you.

The source code for the models can be found here on GitHub.

Copyright © 2011 Cal Henderson.

The text of this article is all rights reserved. No part of these publications shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise - without written permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review or academic work.

All source code in this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. That means you can copy it and use it (even commerically), but you can't sell it and you must use attribution.

55 people have commented

# March 6, 2011 - 3:00 pm PST
This is great. The interlocks are very clever, but I'm afraid they'll make it difficult to insert tiles in some configurations.
# March 6, 2011 - 3:04 pm PST
Yeah. Not really sure of a good way around that, aside from using interlocks that work when you drop the piece in vertically and that would mean having extra pieces beyond the tiles themselves. The trick is just to temporarily pull the rows apart to insert internal-corner tiles.

The thing I hate most when playing Catan, and Carcassonne to a lesser extent, is the way the tiles split apart during play. These should hold together nicely at the expense of easy placement for some configurations.
Moritz U.
# March 6, 2011 - 4:08 pm PST
Really neat! Please make the Design-by-Me set available for everyone. I'd love to build this :) (And it would make a really great present)
# March 6, 2011 - 4:12 pm PST
Moritz: I've put a single DBM tile in the GitHub repo, but it comes out too expensive at around $25 a tile. There must be a cheaper way.
Moritz U.
# March 6, 2011 - 4:55 pm PST
Cal: Sorry, didn't see this. We should start a campaign to bring lego to start selling this as a set :)
# March 6, 2011 - 7:03 pm PST
what about 3d printing it yourself?
if you don;t know the people who can help you make it work i can hook you up :D
# March 6, 2011 - 8:18 pm PST
Buying custom sets from Lego is pretty expensive, however there are cheaper ways to acquire the needed bricks. Check out Bricklink, or the Pick-A-Brick section at Lego stores.
# March 6, 2011 - 8:33 pm PST
Another vote for Bricklink.
# March 6, 2011 - 8:38 pm PST
The Hacker Dojo <a href="http://hackerdojo.com/">hackerdojo.com</a> has a couple 3D printers. Maybe print one out and see how it goes?
# March 6, 2011 - 11:53 pm PST
great work with SR3D. If you want more information about using groups, please email me.

Sergio (author of SR3DBuilder)
Tuxedo Mask
# March 7, 2011 - 12:17 am PST
It's very clever to key the interlocking edges like that. But unless I'm missing something, an actual game would be pretty awkward. To place a new tile onto a location which borders two (or more) tiles already on the map could not be accomplished by simply sliding the new tile into place. It may even require moving large portions of the map.
Frankie Roberto
# March 7, 2011 - 1:33 am PST
Hi Cal,

Love the design, and the idea (as both a fan of Lego and Carcassonne).

I wonder how big this set would end up being though? 9x9 is a fair bit bigger than the actual Carcassonne tiles (I don't know if you've got the physical set?).

I'd suggest trying to scale it down to 7x7 or even 5x5, to make it cheaper and more playable.

In terms of the interlock, if you were willing to sacrifice the the only-matching-sides-can-go-together feature, you could use a basic tongue-and-groove solution which might still hold the tiles together, and make it easier to slot pieces in (apart from where you have a completely surrounded hole, which would require taking-apart again).

Michael Thomas
# March 7, 2011 - 3:39 am PST
Hey Cal,

Nice article! I made the Lego Catan you linked.

It sounds like you had a pretty similar experience getting going with LDraw, SR3D, and POV-Ray as I did. I wanted to design a Lego version of Catan, but I also wanted to be able to see the design as close to what it might actually look like if I was to build it. It is quite the process from start to finish. And in the end, I also have considered writing a more detailed tutorial for SR3D, as well as possibly expanding on the POV-Ray side of things (I followed the same tutorial as you did for the rendering).

I am actually in the process of buying all the bricks to make the Catan board. I have been using bricklink ( <a href="http://www.bricklink.com/">www.bricklink.com</a> ) which a few people have already suggested. This route is a bit more effort and will usually require several separate purchases in order to get all the parts you need for one build. But, it is much cheaper than buying directly from LEGO, so it's worth it.

I'm glad my creation inspired you!
# March 7, 2011 - 7:47 am PST
It has been said before but Bricklink is the way to go.

I recently made a 48x48 LEGO mosaic. To have designed via the LEGO website or via the Designer would have cost me over $250. By using Bricklink I was able to make it for $80.

As you would be buying a lot of the same piece you would probably get a cheaper rate from some of the stores.

Also look into buying smooth tiles for the surface as they can sometimes be cheaper as well as more common colours for the interconnects.
# March 7, 2011 - 7:49 am PST
Awesome. Nice use of POV Ray; love that program.
# March 7, 2011 - 9:19 am PST
Sergio: Thanks for making SR3D! I might email you about helping to improve the documentation.

Tuxedo Mask: Yes. I spoke about that in the 2nd comment, above.

Frankie Roberto: Scaling it down would make it cheaper for sure. For connecting, you'd still need at least a 2-part system for all tiles to fit together. At 5x5 you wouldn't have space for 3 different edges either, unless one was completely flat or used the corners. Since there's no L shaped tile pieces, that might be impossible.

Michael Thomas: Thanks so much for making the Catan pictures public. Bricklink might be the way to go to get a full sized set.

I could also build without the bottom 2 layers or the connector edges to cut down on pieces needed, at least initially (so just the green top and a single brown layer to hold it together).

I've done some experiments with meeples, but nothing that looks really good yet. To get the sheilds perfect I'd need to hand-paint them; there's gray and red in the right patten, or a dragon design in the right colors, but not both together.
# March 7, 2011 - 10:23 am PST
Why don't just play the game on a baseplate, mostly covered with smooth tile, just leaving a few spots of studded plate sticking up? Then you could drop pieces in vertically, and they would lock in place, but still be easy to pull apart for clean-up. You could skip the complicated interlocking system altogether this way, since one of the defining characteristics of Lego is that they interlock without having to do anything fancy.

Also, how do you actually play 3D Carcassonne? Would you have to play with the cardboard set, draw your tile, then match it to the Lego version?
# March 7, 2011 - 10:52 am PST
My gut reaction is two-nib keys (x2 so 7x7 tiles) would get it done, with drop-in full-height slots for only 2 vertical layers before buildings.
# March 7, 2011 - 12:04 pm PST
The interlocks are clever, but would make actually playing the game a nuisance. In regular Carcassonne it's possible to insert a piece into a hole surrounded on all four sides - this would be a pain with this system.
# March 7, 2011 - 3:20 pm PST
Love it! I'm considering a 7x7 version myself, without any interlock system or baseplate to clip them too--I'll deal.

I tried 6*6 and I don't think it's possible without making terrible sacrifices (roads that don't line up since they;re not centered), and I think 5*5 would be too small for some of the many-featured pieces.

My 7*7 design relies on 8 2x3 pieces in a, well, swastika. Another layer of this, flipped, would make a strong base with a hole in the middle. I would then allow other parts to be up to one brick thick (1 plate for roads and field, up to 3 for cities and cloisters). This makes a less pretty, but maybe more-playable design.

Click my link for a tentative layout of pieces (shown in the same order as on the wikipedia page).
# March 7, 2011 - 3:41 pm PST
Spencer: It would mean having to split the board into 2 parts, insert the tiles, then join it back up. I'll make that sacrifice to avoid it falling apart all the time. But having a larger base that the tiles sit on also works, or just not having the bottom layer corner pieces, then manually putting 2x2 tile bricks between game tiles as you play.

FredWallace: I think 7x7 can work and your tiles look sensible. I used a different pattern at make 7x7 layers (the top layer is rotated 90 degrees): <a href="http://www.iamcal.com/images/7x7.png">www.iamcal.com/images/7x7.png</a>
# March 7, 2011 - 5:01 pm PST
Here's a link on imgur for those without facebook: <a href="http://i.imgur.com/dmJX2.png">i.imgur.com/dmJX2.png</a>
# March 7, 2011 - 5:18 pm PST
FredWallace: I've modeled your design in SR3D and I'm running a render now. I'll post it when it's done.
# March 8, 2011 - 1:04 am PST
I think you'll be able to reduce the cost by putting all the tiles in one file. That way, you'll be ordering parts in bulk
Michael Buffington
# March 8, 2011 - 11:49 am PST
I love this idea.

My first instinct when seeing the tile size was that the cost per tile was going to be pricey. This is an instinct well honed over the years as the Buffington household collection is now large enough to require a dedicated room.

I designed a few tiles based on a 4x4 foot print - these would cost less primarily because of the smaller size, but also because of the reduced complexity.

Here's a screenshot from Lego Digital Designer in "Universe" mode (which let's you use every Lego brick/color ever made instead of just the brick available from the "Design by me" catalog).

<a href="http://dl.dropbox.com/u/100876/Screenshots/lego_carcassone_4x4.png">dl.dropbox.com/u/100876/Screenshots/lego_carcassone_4x4.png</a>

I think the 4x4 format could work. Making the plates interlock is a bit much I think. With a few large base plates and some 1 stud plates on the corners of the 4x4 tiles you'd have a solid, shift-free game.

Also, ordering from Bricklink is the way to go. I've made several dozen purchases from other hobbyists and have always been satisfied. Even when buying used bricks the quality is typically pretty high on all levels. I highly recommend spending $50 somewhere just to see how the experience differs from retail.

In any case, I think I'll continue working on my 4x4 tiles and seeing what a full set would cost if sourced on Bricklink.
# March 8, 2011 - 11:56 am PST
I love this. I am surprised I have not seen this done before. It is a great concept. Added it to my site at <a href="http://www.heistcomicsandgames.com">www.heistcomicsandgames.com</a>.

I believe that moving down to a 7x7 would be viable and help a lot with the costs. And you would still be able to have the roads in the center. I can't wait to see what comes out of this. Thanks for sharing!
# March 8, 2011 - 12:20 pm PST
Michael Buffington: Using brick 3794 (Plate 1 x 2 with 1 stud) to center roads is very nice. Having a single base plate makes things a ton easier, though you still need 2 units of height to add the centering-plates. It's a shame there have never been 5x5 or 7x7 plates.
# March 8, 2011 - 7:02 pm PST
You are my f*cking hero! That looks AWESOME
# March 9, 2011 - 5:26 am PST
cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it is awesome!
# March 9, 2011 - 2:06 pm PST
Yet another variation - a tiny 3x3 version. This would be quite a bit harder to play, since the fields are no longer obvious. Quite a fun little challenge to get it all to stick together though :)

<a href="http://www.iamcal.com/articles/assets/3x3_800.png">www.iamcal.com/articles/assets/3x3_800.png</a>
# March 12, 2011 - 2:05 pm PST
Re your comment about the set possibly being too small for minifigs, I think the 7x7 would be fine - bear in mind only one follower can be placed on a tile, the only areas you might have problems are the small fields at the edge of tiles. 3x3 might be a tad small though! :-)
# March 12, 2011 - 3:32 pm PST
I've been working on and off on this for the last week, and here are my final plans. It looks like it would cost around $150 on bricklink.

<a href="http://i.imgur.com/JBEbu.png">i.imgur.com/JBEbu.png</a>

Yes, I made this in paint. I've used LDraw, but that seemed harder to me for this. Maybe I'll look into SR 3D Builder for future projects.

I'm excited about it, but I don't have the money to drop this instant. Now that I've made the plans though, it should be easy to come back to.

Anyone else can of course feel free to take my plans and build it themselves (I'd appreciate seeing the final product).

This can easily be condensed to 4 layers by not having height on the cities or cloisters and insetting the shields. It could be further condensed to only 3 layers by having the river and field/road be the same layer. 2 layers is improbable.
The Fifty Thousand
# March 12, 2011 - 4:53 pm PST
This is interesting, and I think he best one would be the 4x4s.
# March 12, 2011 - 7:46 pm PST
i have a idea to do the tile for cheat and + having a good idea for the interconect system to work by droping the piece i ust need to work on my idea a bit more
# March 16, 2011 - 10:10 pm PST
Nice one! This inspires me! I love LEGO, games, & computing!
Thomas Kolar
# March 18, 2011 - 12:00 pm PST
Hey, how about making the tiles one layer thicker and having two layers of interconnects? That way, a 5x5 design would allow 4 different states, one each for city, road, field and water. And by allowing flat edges, the number could be upped to 9 without loss of compatibility, or 8 if one interlocking piece should always exist (9 minus the one where both are flat).
Thomas Kolar
# March 18, 2011 - 12:38 pm PST
Oh, and completely forgot (thought I already wrote that earlier), awesome idea and beautiful design :)
# March 18, 2011 - 2:47 pm PST
Remembering that tiles need to be 'dropped' from above the playing plane, the interlocking edges you have could be adapted to allow insertion from the top, and some protruding piece from the tile to be used as a handle. This prevents the need to pull the tiles apart each time you want to insert into a corner (or worse, into the hole left by 8 surrounding tiles).
# March 19, 2011 - 10:44 pm PST
Please let me know how much the total cost is for the original 72 tiles, I would probably pay just about anything for a Lego Carcassonne set! :-)
Adam Eberbach
# April 13, 2011 - 9:00 pm PST
Does LEGO have magnet bricks at all? It would be great to use a magnet on each edge (ferrous piece 1/3 from the top of the right edge, magnet 2/3 from the top, repeat all the way around the tile) instead of any bricky jigsaw.
# April 14, 2011 - 7:33 pm PST
The only magnetic bricks (from trains) are too big to use here - they require a full brick (3 plates) height.
Adam Eberbach
# April 19, 2011 - 3:20 pm PST
I guess DIY then - small pieces of steel and small rare earth magnets glued inside the hollow of the bricks. Plenty of room if the base is made of 3-high bricks.
# May 11, 2011 - 2:29 pm PST
Wow Great idea. Great use of POV Ray.
# June 5, 2011 - 7:23 pm PST
I like LEGO when I was 7 years old. It's good to workout your mind to create a nice design. It helps to develop creative thinking.
# July 4, 2011 - 8:33 am PST
Awesome! I like Lego and also Carcasonne, what a cool combination!!!
# January 17, 2012 - 10:24 am PST
Lovely! keep going on carcassone game!
# March 12, 2012 - 6:03 pm PST
Very nice. I like the 7x7 tiles. Two comments:

- if you really want to get this design out to people, post it to LEGO's new CUUSOO site where, with enough public support, it will be made into an official LEGO set.

- Meeples for the 7x7 tiles could be done using the new LEGO games microfigs. They are 1x1 and come in a variety of colors.

Really nice work on the renders.

-Suz (designer of the first LEGO Catan set, some years ago)
# March 20, 2012 - 11:20 am PST
Let's make it real with CUUSOO!

<a href="http://lego.cuusoo.com/">lego.cuusoo.com</a>
# March 20, 2012 - 2:19 pm PST
Ooh, microfigs! That's a good idea

<a href="http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/Microfigure">lego.wikia.com/wiki/Microfigure</a>
# April 4, 2012 - 8:52 pm PST
If you want meeple you can use single coloured lego blocks with shield and such transfers bought from games workshop that should help with identification and not absolutely dwarf towns and cities. An added bonus is their ease of placement & removal being a single block and not a flat single tab on a single tab block.
<a href="mailto:|@|";>|@|<;/a> _
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# November 19, 2012 - 11:12 am PST
If anyone wants to post my design to Cuusoo, please do! I will almost certainly not find the time too, but I'd love to see this made.
# January 3, 2013 - 7:01 am PST
Why have interlocking at all?
You could use a grid under the tiles, not a huge board but a grid to make removing the pieces easier.
# February 26, 2013 - 1:50 pm PST
You can get a bunch of the super strong magnets even online at harbor freight. They're about 2 bucks for a dozen and they're a quarter of an inch in diameter. You could always lock the tops with Lego pieces. Has any one ever created a Monopoly board?
Nick Quaranto
# January 6, 2014 - 10:13 pm PST
Hey! I was inspired by this post to make a 5x5 tileset. Check it out!

<a href="http://quaran.to/blog/2014/01/06/5x5-lego-carcassone/">quaran.to/blog/2014/01/06/5x5-lego-carcassone</a>
Jual Lego
# March 28, 2014 - 1:41 am PST
Great Job.. That's a cool idea..

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