Carcassonne Safari by Z-Man Games – Review

What makes Safari fun is the same thing as the other Carcassonne games, seeing a world come together tile by tile and watching how player choices influence that world.

Theme and What is it?

Sit back and relax (as much as you can while being surrounded by wild animals) and enjoy your safari. As you move along the animal trails, make sure to keep an eye out for the animals in their natural habitats. You will move through grasslands and brush as you watch majestic creatures roam right next to you. The whole experience will be extremely rewarding and will be something you will always remember. 
Carcassonne Safari is a tile laying game for 2-5 players.

Gameplay Mechanics

Carcassonne Safari is played just like the original Carcassonne with additional rules and ways to score points. Safari is a tile laying game. On their turn, each player draws and lays a tile.  Each tile is placed in a position on the game area that continues the art that shows on existing tiles. An example is if the tile in your hand has a trail on it, and there is a trail already laid out on the board, then you can lay your tile next to it to continue the trail. Your tile must continue the trail and not dead end the trail; brush must continue brush, that sort of thing. After placing a tile, that player can lay a meeple on any new feature on the tile they just laid as long as that feature has not already been claimed by another player.
Along the trails and in the brush are various Savannah animals. Once a trail or brush is completed, then the score is based on how many different types of animals are either next to (trails) or in (brush) the completed feature. Each player has watering hole tokens with animals on them that can be added to a feature to increase the animal count if the water token animal is one not found next to or in the feature. 
The watering hole tokens also allow for a new way to score points. Players can set the tokens in the corners of grasslands. Everyone can then add to this watering hole if they have a token that has a different animal than what is already at the hole. Each tile added scores more points and, when it is completed, the person who started the watering hole gets a bonus.
Play continues until all tiles have been placed. The winner is the player with the highest score.

Initial Impressions

 We are huge fans of the original Carcassonne. That is one of my kids’ favorite games. We were very excited to try out Safari. It did not disappoint.
Safari feels right at home. The similar mechanics to the original made learning the game very easy. But even with the similarities there are some new, interesting things about the game. The scoring is different and the watering hole tokens were a fresh addition.

Game Build Quality

There is not too much as far as components go. The tiles are nice and made of heavy cardboard. The tokens are the same. The scoring meeples are elephants. That was fun to see. I was hoping that the player meeples would be themed to match the safari element, but they are basic Carcassonne meeples. That isn’t a complaint, just a wish.

Artistic Direction

The artwork stays true to the original Carcassonne in its uniformity. The safari flavor is well done and is a great skin over the original’s theme. There is not much variety but that is what is expected from Carcassonne games. That is why they can fit together so seamlessly. For me, the safari theme tied the game together and made it feel fresh while still feeling familiar.

Fun Factor

What makes Safari fun is the same thing as the other Carcassonne games, seeing a world come together tile by tile and watching how player choices influence that world. Games like these tend to feel relaxed while still having a competitiveness to them. It is just so much fun to watch what is being created and to see how your next move will shape everyone else’s decisions. 
I really like the scoring in Safari. It retains elements of the original but rewards players for smaller features as long as they have enough animals on or in the feature. Original Carcassonne can have huge sprawling cities as players try to complete the largest city possible before tiles run out. There is no point doing that in Safari. Once you have the number of animals you want on a trail or in the bush, you complete it and move on to the next.

Age Range & Weight

Carcassonne Safari is recommended for 7+. My seven-year-old loves Carcassonne and he hopped right in and played Safari without any issues. It took him a few turns to realize the scoring had a different dynamic, but once he figured that out he was keeping up with the rest of us.

As long as a young player is familiar with the basics of tile laying they should not have any issues jumping right into Safari.

Conclusions

Safari was a great fit for us. It was a fresh take on a classic that we love. Carcassonne games are a regular on our table and Safari should fit right into that rotation without missing a beat. There is enough newness and uniqueness to the theme to keep it entertaining. The water hole tokens add some extra flavor to the game which gives it good staying power. 
It does surprise me how much we enjoy simple tile laying games like Carcassonne. It may be because I have younger players, but these games come out just as much when adults are over. There is something special about seeing everything come together and how the tiles all fit together by the end of the game. Safari builds a wonderful savanna landscape and should provide lots of memorable game nights.