The Judge checks out a new version of one of the pillars of modern gaming… but does it sink or swim?
Ah, Carcassonne! Like an old friend, we welcome you back to the table. Yes, you have a few flaws, and some of your mechanisms seem a little clunky now, and your vast array of expansions makes you bloated and difficult… Ummmm… Tell me again why we still like you?
Carcassonne is often cited as a gateway game, in so much as its simple tile-laying mechanisms and jolly looking artwork provide a low barrier to entry for newer players into the hobby. There will be no overview of the base game here, as I would imagine most readers of this are at least familiar with the concept and if not – stop reading this, play a game of basic Carc and come back.
[Please take this time to go and have a quick game of Carcassonne should the mood take you. You'll enjoy it! - Michael]
Right, we’re all on the same page now. Hopefully you enjoyed placing your tiles to make long winding roads and sprawling cities. Hopefully you took pleasure from judicially playing your Meeples to capture points. And you almost certainly were disappointed when the game inevitably came down to the player who best understood and exploited the rather obtuse and unintuitive Farmer rules.
You see, Carc is great, but the points that the Farmers generate is almost always SUCH a big deal in the final scoring that it can make much of the game seem redundant. The expansions tweak this, and add more options, and many, many more ways to score – but in doing so, it adds extra complexity and cost to the base game which takes it away from being that gateway experience.
Enter Carcassonne: South Seas. Firstly, though the visual style is completely different (and the attractive tile art does capture that feeling of building a tropical paradise) we are comfortably in familiar territory here – though not in medieval France. Roads and pathways are built. Islands are constructed. Areas of water (instead of farms) feature Meeples happily backstroking along. The key difference – and massive improvement in my eye – is the scoring method.
So firstly, we’re gathering resources. Each finished road generates a number of shells indicated by iconography on the tiles. Finished islands offer bananas and there are fish in the water (obviously). Enclosed sea areas provide fish for the Meeple in that area. Also, any boat icon that is placed in the same water space instantly scores fish, and returns the Meeple as well.
At the end of your turn, you can ship those resources out by claiming a boat token (four of which are always face up on the table) for the points they offer. Churches (or cloisters) are replaced by market tiles which, when surrounded by other tiles, allow you to score a boat token of your choice. At the end of the game, you get 1 extra point per 3 resources that you are yet to spend.
And that’s it! Simple as that. No convoluted maths. No complex farmer scoring. Just total up the points on your boats and the highest score wins.
The pieces in South Seas are lovely. Beyond the aforementioned tiles, there are nice, tactile wooden shells, fish and bananas to grab when you claim the appropriate resources. Iconography is clear, simple and visible from the other side of the table. Everything is crafted to make it a pleasurable experience to play – and it is.
South Seas – part of the ongoing ‘Carcassonne Around The World’ series – reboots the original base game and would now be my ‘go-to’ perhaps even before Ticket to Ride, to introduce non or newer gamers to our lovely hobby, and for the grizzled veterans amongst us, this provides the best type of nostalgia. In fixing the scoring and diffusing Carc down to its purest elements, South Seas is a great time, in less than 40 minutes, that plays really well for between three and five players.
Designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrede and based on the multiple award winning original, Carcassonne: South Seas is available now! Get yourself a copy from Gameslore for £23, then be sure to follow Stuart “The Judge” Platt on Twitter as well!