The game: Carcassonne: Safari by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. The game was published by Hans im Glück in 2018. My copy is on loan from the Finnish publisher Lautapelit.fi.
I’m going to assume the reader is familiar with the basic Carcassonne.
Elevator pitch: A Carcassonne game set in the African savannah, where the scoring is not based on counting the tiles as usual, but on the number of different animals on the paths and bushes.
What’s in the box? Standard Carcassonne box holds typical components: a pile of tiles, some meeples and then some animal tiles, which are small circle quadrants.
The tiles are yellow, as fits the African savannah theme. The tiles are slightly busy with animal icons and other detail, so the meeples are slightly smaller than usual. The animal tiles are a bit smaller than I’d like, but they’re as big as they can be in order to fit on the tiles.
The game looks nice, and the components are practical enough.
What do you do in the game? Paths and bushes replace the roads and cities of standard Carcassonne. There are no farmers, and the cloisters are replaced by baobab trees. So far everything is as expected.
The scoring is different, though. When a path or a bush is finished, you don’t count the number of tiles, but instead the number of different animals on that element. First animal scores 1 point, the second 2 points and so on, so you get the standard 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 scoring scheme. Bushes also have birds, which always count as one extra point each, making the bushes more valuable than the paths.
Baobab trees do not score any points. Instead when you place a meeple to rest under a tree, you get two animal tiles. Then when the tree is surrounded by tiles, the meeple returns and you get two animal tiles more.
Animal tiles can be used to boost the scoring. Every time you complete something, you’re allowed to discard one animal tile and if it’s a new animal, it increases your score.
There are also park rangers, two car meeples, which are placed somewhere on the perimeter of the tiles. If you place a tile on the ranger, you score three points and get to place the car somewhere else.
If you don’t place a meeple on your turn, you have two bonus options. The first is to move one of the cars. The second is to start or extend a watering hole.
Remember how I said the animal tiles are circle quadrants? A watering hole is formed of four animal tiles placed in corners of four tiles, so that a full circle is formed. The player who starts it, owns the watering hole, but everybody can add to it, no matter where it is, and each new animal scores more points. The fourth animal completes the watering hole and the owner gets the meeple back with some bonus points.
In the end of the game, unfinished paths and bushes score one point per animal, no matter which animal it is, and each animal tile is worth one point.
Lucky or skillful? As usual with Carcassonne, the game may seem lucky, with the random draws of tiles and all, but a skilled player will win most of the games. You can rely on luck, or you can know the tile distribution by heart (or from the reference sheet) and know your chances. There’s an added random element of drawing the animal tiles, but that’s not a big deal.
Abstract or thematic? This is no simulation, but at least the savannah theme looks nice and makes some sense – after all, if you go on a safari, you do want to see as many different animals as possible.
Solitaire or interactive? Like other Carcassonne games, this can be soft and cuddly or very mean and cutthroat.
Players: 2–5. With fewer players, there’s less luck and more control, with more players there’s more chaos and more sharing of points and co-operative building.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 7+, which is a good baseline. Carcassonne: Safari isn’t a complicated game, but if you’re coming in cold without previous Carcassonne experience, there’s some learning to do. Once you get the hang of how the meeples are placed and scored, the rest is easy. The farmers are generally the hardest part of Carcassonne to understand, and they are missing here.
What’s to like: Nice variant of Carcassonne, some new twists in the scoring help keep the game fresh. Trying to keep a good inventory of animal tiles and balancing building watering holes and boosting scorings is an interesting challenge.
What’s not to like: This is just another Carcassonne, so if you’re not interested in Carcassonne, this game isn’t really doing anything that will change your mind.
My verdict: If you are a big fan of Carcassonne, you’re just going to get Safari, no matter what I say.
If you’re not at all familiar with Carcassonne, I would suggest starting with the original game unless the African theme is really significant for you for some reason; the original is the classic one, and for a good reason.
If you have the original, maybe expansion or two, and are thinking about expanding to these independent Carcassonne games, I’d say Safari is pretty much as good a choice as any other. The twists in the scoring are interesting and the game looks nice. However if you play only two-player games, then your first pick should be Carcassonne: The Castle.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Carcassonne: Safari gets Suggest from me.