Game review: Carcassonne South Seas

The Carcassonne series has been around for a long time, first published in 2000, and it’s long been a favorite of mine, including being the first serious game that I bought when we got an iPad two years ago. I don’t have all of the expansions, but I have found that, overall, I don’t care for expansions (Flash Point being the notable exception).

So what is South Seas? It’s largely what you’d expect, instead of land-based things to build (cities, roads, monasteries) you’re building little islands from which you harvest bananas, lagoons that provide fish, walkways that let you gather sea shells, and markets. Experienced players of classic Carcassonne should have little trouble making the transition.

What makes this game unique is the scoring method. In the classic version, you score points by completing cities or roads, in this version that’s just the first step. To score points in this game, you must supply ships, and each ship is worth points. For example, a 3-point ship might want two fish and a banana. If you have those goods on-hand at the end of your turn, you can trade them for that ship. Bananas are harvested from completed islands, much like completed cities in the classic. Sea shells are gathered from walkways, analogous to classic roads. Fish are different. Fishermen are played like farmers, with the typical hard work to infiltrate someone else’s lagoon, but they’re reusable! Walkway tiles will have water, but they may also have one or two fish, or maybe a boat. As you build a lagoon, the number of fish icons is the number of fish that you harvest when the lagoon is (a) completed (completely encircled by walkways) or (b) a ship appears. At that point it’s harvested, you recover your fisherman, and a fishing boat icon covers one two-fish icon, or a one-fish if a two is not available. Thus the lagoons deplete over time but are reusable.

One interesting change is that you can remove fishermen at any time to recover a meeple if you need to.

The markets in this game are the monasteries in the classic: play a merchant meeple and fill in the eight tiles around it, when completed you get the highest value of the four ships sitting out, so it could be strategically advantageous to hold off completing your market to get a higher value ship. The first time my wife and I played this was pretty unusual in that I got the first market fairly early, and it was so late before the following market tiles appeared that it wasn’t worth the effort to try to complete them. That’s random distribution for ya.

The end-game is just like the classic version: when the last tile is played, everything is scored. Award goods for partially-completed features, total up the points for the ships that you collected, then get an additional point for every three goods (per type) that you have on hand.

I picked this game up from Dave & Patty at The Game Depot in Tempe, AZ back in March and finally got a chance to play it last week with my wife. The observatory was shut-down due to weather, so she had time. We had lots of fun playing it, it works quite well for two people and it should be fine for more. This will probably bump Tsuro from our ‘traveling milk crate of doom’ that lives in the back of my car.

So basically, it adds sort of a Cataan-like resource gathering aspect that is key to the scoring mechanism. I thought it was a nice improvement to the classic design. It’s similar to the classic’s expansion where you add hops and wheat and such to cities, but I prefer how it is expressed in South Seas to how it works in the classic.

Definitely recommended. I’m curious to see what expansions they might have in mind for it.

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