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CARCASSONNE is the game that keeps on giving. Since it's original launch around 2000 it has grown like wildfire, in fact Boardgamegeek.com displays (at time of writing) exactly 100 listings for Carcassonne as stand-alone games, expansions, mini editions etc; not many games reach such dizzy heights. I think it is safe to say it is a modern day classic and author/designer Klaus Jurgen Wrede must be extremely proud (and creative) to be able to get as much mileage from what is one of the simplest game mechanics ever - Draw a Tile, Play a Tile; in essence that's all there is to the mechanism. Of course there is more to the actual game than just the mechanic, and as each new stand-alone edition is published (by Hans im Gluck) so the system perpetually changes while virtually staying the same; it's all in the scoring.

 

CARCASSONNE SAFARI consists mainly of tiles along with a number of other game pieces. There are 72 square tiles that are very similar, but not quite the same, as the Landscape tiles in every edition or version of Carcassonne, plus there are 50 small 'animal' tiles in wedge shapes. The remainder of the pieces are the 10 Meeples, 1 Human shaped and one Elephant shaped for each of the 2-5 players in their chosen colour.

The Landscape tiles are illustrated fairly similarly and differently from tiles in other games. Whereas Carcassonne games with buildings have Roads, Monasteries, Plains, Villages and Forests etc, along with occasional people, fish or other animals, Carcassonne Safari has no people, no buildings, no Villages and so on. It has animal tracks (for roads), Baobab Trees (monasteries), Savannah (plains) plus Animals and Birds, all of which add up to making this a Carcassonne game that I would have no trouble at all recommending. 

Having played Carcassonne since I first saw it at Spiel Essen nearly 20 years ago my friends and I have introduced our own in-house changes to proceedings. For examples: many games that we played got bogged down by the Draw One Play One rule so we came up with a couple of different game mechanics that kept the essence of Carcassonne but gave players more options and control. Thus we either have a tile randomly dealt to each player at the start of the game and then in their turn they draw a tile from the stack so that they have two tiles to choose from each turn, or we deal three tiles to each player at the beginning of the game, then on their turn they play one then draw to make their hand up to 3 again. So now we have three ways to play Carcassonne, all of them fun, all of them within the basic objective and all using the same way to score points - we have only tinkered with the player option possibilities just enough so that it's like having three games instead of one.

I haven't played every version of Carcassonne so the triple-sized Start Tile in Carcassonne Safari may have been used before, but this is the first time I have encountered it, and I have to say it is an improvement that in its own way is quite similar as far as results go as our options; extra tiles in hand give extra options as do extra spaces to play against. Just a thought but if you use one of our ideas for Carcassonne Safari the options, especially to begin with, are significantly magnified. I should also say that we haven't used our ideas with Carcassonne Safari as we have seen no need to yet - it is quite different from the basic Carcassonne and the Draw One Play One mechanic works well.

This game introduces two new pieces (well one new piece twice) that bring with them a different aspect to the tile laying possibilities - two wooden pieces in the shape of white Safari Jeeps. These begin in designated spaces above and below the Start Tile but they are not blocking those spaces from laying tiles in them, in fact by moving the Jeeps you may gain a bonus, another clever addition to the Carcassonne world.

There are some subtle but fun differences from the regular Carcassonne games. For instance you can play a Meeple on an Animal Track (as you would on a Road) but when it is completed you do not count the length of the Track by Tiles, you count the number of different animals on it and score points according to a Chart; 1/1  2/3  3/6 etc and you can up the animal types to the next score if you can discard an Animal Token (wedge shaped tile) that shows an animal not on the path.

 

These Animal Tokens can also be played onto a corner of a Savannah Tile to begin a Watering Hole and place a Meeple on it, scoring points when all four corners have Animal Tokens on them. This is an excellent addition to the game and fits beautifully in with the desert theme. Desert Bushes can be completed and scored but unlike Forests or towns in regular play you again do not count the number of tiles, only the number of different animals but this time you include any Birds which count as one point per bird. Baobab Trees, when occupied, score when they are completely surrounded by tiles in all 8 spaces around them (like Monasteries). Baobab trees can also give players two random wedge shaped Animal Tokens as long as the player doesn't place a meeple on them when playing the tile. A nice bit of give and take.

 

There is so much going on in CARCASSONNE SAFARI, so many options, so many opportunities, and yet the game isn't slow or drawn out and it plays fast but not furious, it is strategic yet also fun, it is for core gamers and family games players, plus it is easy to introduce to new players and get them playing and enjoying it very quickly. I will happily say that this is just about the best game I have played in the Carcassonne genre, it is that good, and for €18.00 - €30.00 (prices seen online) it is even better than being 'that good'.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015