Carcassonne Amazonas Review - The Meeple Sleeps Tonight!

I've always been a defender of Carcassonne as one of the great Gateway games. You want a solid entry point into tile laying and basic Euro mechanics and victory points, there's few that do the job so well. It's had a fair few spin-off's over the years and I've had a hit and miss relationship with them. South Seas was excellent, Gold Rush not so much. And Star Wars.....really? I feel bad I'll never get a chance to play Carcassonne: The City as that looks so good, but it will never see print again and no-one in their right mind is selling it on the secondary market.

Amazonas had me intrigued though. Incorporating a racing aspect into a growing map sounded great and the jungle landscape would make for hopefully a nice pretty piece of art to look at. But it was getting mixed reviews, therefore I had to find out what's what. Can I reccomend this over the original or South Seas, or will this be solely for die-hard fans?




Designer: Klaus-Jurge Wrede
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5
Time: 45-90 Minutes
RRP: £29.99


From Board Game Geek

Carcassonne: Amazonas is the third title in the "Carcassonne Around The World" series. Players sail their boats to the Amazon to discover abundant wildlife. Players score points not only for discovering animals, but also for visiting native villages and water courses while their boat moves forward on the Amazon. The Amazon is full of caimans and piranhas, which often bring points to those who are farthest down the river. The game ends - as usual - when all tiles have been used up, and the two boats farthest down the river score some bonus points.



IN THE JUNGLE, THE MIGHTY JUNGLE.........


You already know by now what to expect from components. A small box, a useless cardboard insert and a ton of decent quality tiles and wooden meeples. Carcassonne has always been a fairly cheap entry game and you get what you pay for. Compared to the original the rules are fairly straightforward, except when it comes to moving your boat, more on that later.

Carcassonne was always about the artwork and how the landscape looks after a finished game though. We'll touch on the latter part eventually, but in general the artwork is nice and colourful. You've got a strong contrast of green jungle, sand villages and blue rivers/streams, so it's very vibrant on the table. It can get a little hard on the eye to focus on the detail though and there's not a huge amount of it to be honest.

The sheer amount of animal, boat and fruit symbols dotted around all over the place get very distracting. I think it would have been cooler if the animals were part of the artwork itself - have a clearing with a tiger's head sticking out (do you get tigers in South America?) Because of all the symbols, you're looking at a map filled with a ton of iconography, which it probably didn't need.


SPEED MATTERS


Generally the gameplay feels like a typical Carcassonne game - draw a map tile, place it down and score points in various ways. That part is all well and good, simple to grasp and still enjoyable. The focus however is on that race and if you decide to ignore it you're in for a world of hurt. Throughout the whole game as the river extends you'll score for caiman and piranha symbols based on your position in the race. Being constantly in the lead will net you a ton of points and if the other players don't haul you in, you end up with a runaway leader. But there are a few ways the game tries to allow players to "catch up" over time.

It's not helped that the scoring takes place when an Amazon tile is placed down regardless of who does it. So you may have a turn that basically consists of extending the river, giving your opponents some points and then not being able to aid yourself besides moving your boat one space. That's a bit of a downer if you get unlucky like that multiple times in a row as it's not like you had any control over it. Now it says you should evenly distribute the tiles and I can now see why, but if you've got multiple stacks of tiles you may still end up drawing multiple and there's plenty of them.

Now here's another little warning - make sure you've gone online to BGG or other FAQ sources and properly understand the rules for moving across the Amazon with those boat icons. The rulebook is pretty ambiguous on the subject and open to interpretation, but getting this wrong can unbalance the game like you wouldn't believe. We got it wrong on the first game and my lead on the river was so vast, nobody could catch me up the whole game.






THE WORLD SEEMS A LITTLE FLAT


I don't know about you, but unless you've got 2 players at x2 speed I don't see how you're getting this done and dusted in 35 minutes as the box describes. Be more reasonable and assume you'll be there for a good 60 minutes after teaching, probably longer if you have more players.

The ending however highlights some more problems. Throughout the game you're engaged in that race and scoring constantly throughout. But when you reach the end, the bonus of 6/7 measely points doesn't seem like a huge reward for your efforts of being in 1st place. You've probably earned 2/3 times that amount in Amazon scoring during the game.

On top of that and some may see this as me nitpicking, but I really don't like the map layout when it's all over. I said before I love how a Carcassonne map looks as it grows and ends, it's half the appeal of the game for me. Look at these pictures below.


One is a Carcassonne map from the original game. Look how it's fairly complete, centralised and looks like a real map of the area. You get the odd snake or void space, but they are few and far between. Now look at the next one from the last Act of my first game I played of Amazonas, it's just all over the shop (apologies for pic quality)


Tiles sticking out like snakes, voids everywhere and the river makes the map elongate across the entire table because there's so many of those tiles. This is how most games of Amazonas turn out especially if you draw mostly Amazon tiles early on, extending the map faster than you can fill it. Now this does depend on how players place their tiles, but more often than not, I end up with this kind of format.



VERDICT ON CARCASSONNE: AMAZONAS


Spin-off Carcassonne games haven't always done well when compared to the original, but some are better than others. Amazonas for me falls in the middle. It's OK and I like the racing aspect, but there's a few issues I have. As a personal thing I love seeing the Carcassonne map come to life and to see it regularly so disjointed and all over the place thanks to that river spoils the look. The artwork is fine, but it lacks that prettiness that the original and South Seas managed to achieve.

The Amazon river race itself is a cool concept and can lead to some fun, chaotic back and forth between players, but it doesn't flow as well as I'd hoped (pun intended). An early lead can result in a "rich get richer" scenario and due to the Amazon scoring tiles you don't even have a choice against giving your opponents points in your turn. And when all that effort is put into the race, to be rewarded with such a negligible amount of points seems anti-climatic.

A die-hard fan of Carcassonne will still likely get some enjoyment here as I think the concept is cool and if you can look past the odd map, then it's a suitable gateway experience. But personally when bringing new players to Carcassonne, you just can't beat the original and I reccomend that version as a staple in anyone's collection.



BROKEN RATING - 7 Hungry Piranhas Nibbling At My Toes 




YOU WILL LIKE CARCASSONNE: AMAZONAS IF:



You know you'll enjoy the added racing aspect.


You like the look of a jungle scene from a visual perspective.


You want fairly simple scoring rules.






YOU WILL NOT LIKE CARCASSONNE: AMAZONAS IF:


You hate your Carcassonne maps to look disjointed and random.


You feel the racing part is too involved for an anti-climatic end result.


You think that the Amazon scoring is a "rich get richer" issue.

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