Carcassonne is a classic game, and many times the first hobby game many people play. There have been many expansions to the original Carcassonne and a few unique versions. South seas is the first in the line of Carcassonne Around the World.
I expect the highest quality components from Carcassonne and I wasn’t disappointed with South Seas. The tiles and, meeples, and ware tokens are all of the highest quality. The artwork is beautiful! I love the islands and the water.
There are 73 sea tiles including the start tile. It is easy to tell apart from the other tiles because the back is much more decorative with the flowers. The tiles have islands with bananas, the bridges with shells, sea zones with fish and fishing boats, and the market.
I was surprised at first when I didn’t see a scoreboard when I first opened the box. Then I realized that there are also 24 ship tokens used for scoring. The show different wares and points to show what must be delivered for scoring points. The other tokens included are the 19 Fishing Boat tokens. These are used for the sea zones to show depletion of the fish.
My favorite part of the components was the wooden tokens. There are so many with this version of Carcassonne! Of course, as expected, there are 20 Islander Meeples, four in each of the five player colors. They are a little different in shape than the original meeples. Also included are 60 ware tokens. There are 10 large and 10 small of each ware. The small tokens are worth 1 and the large token are worth 3. The tokens are in the shapes of shells, fish, and bananas.
Set up is very easy in Carcassone. Mix the ship tokens and make a draw tile. Then you will need to draw four and place them face up on the table. Next, mix up all the tiles, except for the Start Tile and create several draw piles. The start tile should be put into the middle of the table. Give each player his or her four Islander Meeples, in their color. Place out the ware tokens in separate tiles by type and players are ready to begin.
Anyone who has already played Carcassonne will be very familiar with the South Seas. The first player will be the youngest player and play proceeds clockwise around the table. The player draws one sea tile and places it. They must follow placement rules; it must connect, much like a puzzle piece, to a previously placed tile. The sides that touch must continue any pre-existing island, bridge or sea zone. Players can help and discuss where the new tile can be placed. When a tile cannot be placed, it is removed and the player draws a new tile.
After placing the tile the player can place 1 Islander Meeple on the tile or they can retrieve 1 previously placed islander and place it back in their supply if they have zero islanders in their supply. When they place a Islander Meeple they must choose where to place it on the tile. When placed on the bridge the meeple is a shell collector, it is a merchant on the market, a fisherman is laid down in a sea zone, and on an islander they become a banana picker. The meeple cannot be placed on a bridge, sea zone, or island if it is connected to one that contains one or more islanders.
When the newly placed tile contains 1 or more completed areas or a fishing boat is added to an occupied sea zone an evaluation occurs and wares and / or ships are awarded.
Unlike the original Carcassonne, when a feature is completed, it does not score points. Instead it gives wares. A completed market awards a ship. A bridge is complete when each end has a termination point. For each shell symbol on the bridge the player receives one shell. An island is completed when all the borders are complete and there are no gaps. For each banana symbol on the island the player receives one banana ware. When 8 sea tiles surround a Market, it is complete. The player gains the ship token with the highest value and does not need to give any wares. If there is not one single highest value ship they player may take the ship of their choice. The last region is the sea zone. There are two ways to trigger a sea zone. When it is completely enclosed or when a sea tile with a fishing boat is placed in an occupied sea zone. When a ship triggers the sea zone the player will need to cover one of the groups of two fish in the sea zone with the fishing boat tokens. If there is not a two fish group then cover one fish.
After the region(s) have been evaluated all islanders on the region are returned to the players supply, even the fishermen in a region triggered by a Fishing Boat.
After evaluating the tiles the player may deliver wares to one face up ship and score the points shown on the ship. The player delivers the wares shown on the ships sail and taken the ship.
There are two ways for the game to end. When the last tile is placed or the last ship has been acquired. Then there is one final evaluation of incomplete bridge, islands, and sea regions; markets do not score. The incomplete regions are give wares as if they have been completed.
Players then total their points. They receive one point for each 3 remaining wares. It does not matter if they are different types. They also score points for their ship tiles. The player with the most points wins.
Since the first time I played it, I have always loved Carcassonne. It was one of the first hobby games and it has been a favorite ever since. There may be an overwhelming number of variations and expansions for Carcassonne, but South Seas stands out and brings some refreshing additions. Fans, old and new, will not be disappointed.
As expected, the quality of South Seas is outstanding. The tiles are thick and flat and the artwork beautiful and clear. The graphic design allows for easy game play, and leaves few questions. The rulebook is well written and contains lots of examples. I really like when rulebooks do this since it clears up any misconceptions or misreads players may have. The rulebook also tells experienced players what can be skipped and what they need to focus on to understand the new additions.
Compared to the original Carcassonne, South Seas, seems to be a deeper, more strategic game. I say this because of the shifting objectives of the Ships, the new scoring, and the fact that players only have four meeples. The basics are the same. Roads, cities, farms, and cloisters are translated to bridges, islands, fishing zones, and markets. Players cannot rely on the their tried-and-true methods and treat these the same as the original. In the games I played, markets are risky. It isn’t always easy to completely surround them and depending on when they are finished the reward may not be great. After all that work you may end up with only a three-point ship. Also, the entire time the meeple sat on the market, it wasn’t gathering any other resources.
In the original, farms can sometimes be confusing for new players. I even leave them out for some new players first few games. Fishing Zones are essential in South Seas, but they are also simpler (number of fish = number of wares), more tempting, and ever changing. I like the two ways they can produce wares. I try to be aware of placing a fisherman in a good area. I like the depletion that happens with the fish as well. The more an area is evaluated, the less fish there will be there. I find this makes for a more dynamic board. There are a lot of fishing boats and zones are regularly scored. A zone claimed by one player may be soon open to another. There just may not be as many fish.
The little fishing boat tokens can be a bit fiddly for some players. They do not bother me. The ships stayed in place on the board but they are very small. If you don’t like them, take the advice of other players and use a wooden disk to cover the fish.
Again, I was surprised when there was no scoreboard and was a bit confused at first. How were we going to keep track of the score? That said, I really enjoyed the new scoring in South Seas. I think people who enjoy Carcassonne with enjoy this departure, which feels familiar, but adds just enough to keep you interested. It becomes a resource management game as you gather wares and try to optimize your options. We played with hidden scoring by turning over the ships once they were obtained. If you don’t like this just play with the ships point side up so other can see. I found it refreshing to not exactly know my opponents score.
Having a diversity of resources is also very important. One game I had a lot of bananas, but that was all, it seemed. My opponent had less total resources but had a greater variety. He was able to quickly score ships and it wasn’t long before I felt I was falling behind. I had to get out of the mindset that islands (aka cities) were the best way to score points. I also realized that having the biggest island wasn’t always going to be a good thing. Some of the pieces don’t have resources and without resources all they do is make the island bigger or the road longer. Having a balanced strategy is rewarded. Players need to be aware of their meeples and best options for each tile. They also need to keep an eye on the ships. They have to choose between keeping resources to gain larger point ships or using less resource for lower point ships.
I enjoyed South Seas as a two-player game and think it would do well with three or four players. It’s quick but down time for evaluations and choosing ships may make the game not work as well with more players. Players also may not finish a region each turn and it will take longer to build up wares and be able to collect ships.
Carcassonne South Seas keeps enough familiar components from the original yet adds enough to be a breath of fresh air. Its beautiful components, strategic game play, and shifting goals will entice new players and Carcassonne fans. Those who once loved this game but have strayed may be drawn back with South Seas. I am pleased with the first in the Around the World line and look forward to what further adventures await on this journey.
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artists: Harold Lieske, Dennis Lohausen, Christof Tisch, Filosofia Édition, Hans im Glück Verlags-GmbH, Lautapelit.fi
Publishers: Z-Mann Games, 999 Games, Devir,
Game Length: 35 minutes
Ages: 6 and up