(Image courtesy of Firepigeon@BoardGameGeek)
When Carcassonne came out in 2000 it took the gaming world by storm, quickly followed by its Spiel des Jahres win in 2001. After the expected expansion (now known as Inns & Cathedrals), Wrede came out with a redesign set in the Stone Age: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers.
For those not familiar with Carcassonne, players draw one tile on their turn and lay it on the board, laying it next to any already placed tiles and matching all edges. They can then, if they like, place a meeple on a feature indicated on the tile, as long as there is no other meeple on another tile connected to that feature. If a feature is completed, any meeples placed on that feature will be removed and scored. Finally, after placing all tiles, any remaining meeples will be scored. The player with the high score wins.
In the original Carcassonne, the features are cities, roads, cloisters and farms. In Hunters and Gatherers, these have been changed to forests, rivers, meadows and river systems (the meadows and river systems act like farms; there’s no equivalent to the cloister).
If a tile is placed that completes a forest, the scoring is equivalent to the original: the player with the most meeples in that forest (i.e. controls that forest) gets 2 points per tile. However, if there is a gold nugget in that forest, the player who placed the tile gets to draw one more tile and play again. At the end of the game, uncompleted forests do not score.
If a tile is placed that completes a river, the scoring is similar to before: the player controlling the river gets 1 point per river tile — but this time also scores 1 point for each fish in any lakes at either end of the river. With the standard meeples, there is no score at the end of the game for uncompleted rivers; however, you can place huts on the river instead, which are explained below.
At the end of the game, there are two ways you can get points. First, any meeples that control their meadows score 2 points for any game animals in the meadow, but cancelling out one deer for every sabre tooth tiger the meadow contains. Second, you score 1 point for each fish in any river systems (connected sets of rivers and lakes) that you control with your huts.
The end result has a very different feel from standard Carcassonne. The scoring of the meadows and the river systems is much simpler than the farms in the original game, and the way you fight over them is different as well. You might try to sabotage someone’s meadow by placing tigers in it, or you might ignore their meadows and focus on river systems instead. And rather than trying to place meeples on partially built features just to get cheap points at the end of the game, you really try to complete those features, just to make sure you get any points at all. The end result is more of a back and forth scramble for points — perhaps a little more fiddly than the original but still fun.
The art on the tiles is done by the same artist as Carcassonne, and is quite lovely. Whereas when you complete a Carcassonne game you get a bucolic French countryside with little walled towns and roads connecting them, this gives you more of a wilderness feel, but attractive in its own way.
But when all is said and done, do you need this game and Carcassonne? In my opinion, no. Part of that might be that we are not as Carcassonne-crazy as we were back in 2002. We played our fair share of it, and don’t see any need for any other versions other than original plus some expansions, and maybe Carcassonne: The City. But if you do like Carcassonne and are looking for something slightly different, you really can’t go wrong with this (it’s particularly good for two players). So for my purposes I’d give it a Borrow, but in your case, feel free to upgrade to a Buy.