Sunday 7 February 2016

Cardboard - Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale board game review

If you're not familiar with Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's classic game Carcassonne, it's a tile-laying game where players build up the landscape of southern France, making cities, roads and fields to try and score the most points along the way. Released way back in 2000, Carcassonne has been a staple of many gamers' collections for a long time now, famed for simple, engaging gameplay that makes it a great introductory game for new players.

There have been numerous expansions over the years which can be added to the base game to change things up a bit, from adding different types of tiles and meeples to an actual physical catapault that flings tokens across the board. I've bought a few of these expansions in the past but these days I've separated them all out again so that we can easily play plain old vanilla Carcassonne without spending ages picking out expansion tiles and pieces.

More recently, publishers Z-Man seem to have come up with an alternative expansion method. Rather than selling smaller expansion packs that can be added to the base game, they've started releasing spin-off standalone versions with alternative rules: the same Carcassonne experience we know and love but with an added twist and no need to spend time muddling about with components.

One of the latest entries to the family is Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale, a farming themed version of the original game where you're making fields and growing crops instead of fortifying cities.

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale review

The game supports up to five players, with each player getting their own set of colourful meeples to use. They even have cute little hats!

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale meeples

The basic turn order is unchanged from the original Carcassonne and is super-simple:
  • Place a tile
  • Place a meeple or stable on that tile
  • Score points
A starting tile is laid in the centre of the board and players take it in turn to draw a random tile and add it to the map, making sure that it connects to an existing tile on the table.

After placing a tile you can choose to place a meeple or a stable on it. Meeples can be placed on roads (as wanderers) or fields (as farmers) and stables are placed on the pretty green meadows.

Tile placed, it's time to see if it scores you any points. If the tile completes the perimeter of a field where you have a meeple, you score two points for each tile in the completed field and your meeple is returned to your supply. So in the picture below you'd score eight points:

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale completed farm

You'll also receive any harvest tokens shown in the completed field (a little bit like the Traders & Builders expansion from original Carcassonne). These score points at the end of the game, with 5 points available per set of five different tokens (scarecrows act as a wildcard to help you complete sets).

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale harvest tokens

Things get a bit more complicated when the field is contested, but there are helpful diagrams in the rulebook that explain far better than I could here!

If the tile placed completes a path where you have a meeple by closing it at both ends, you score one point per tile in that path. Here's a completed road running from the field to the junction that would score three points:

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale completed road

Stables placed in meadows are scored at the end of the game, at which point you get one point per animal pictured on the tiles surrounding the stable. This one would score ten points:

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale completed stable

If you don't choose to place a meeple on your turn, you can choose to 'wander' one of your meeples along an incomplete road to score one point per tile moved.

Scores are tracked on the scoring track provided and the winner is the person with the most points when all the tiles have been used up from the supply.

Carcassonne scoring track

It's hard to review this game without comparing it to the classic version. I love all the same things about this game as I do the original - the puzzle of laying tiles, the straightforward rules and the colourful artwork.

My favourite things about this version, though, are the things that make it different from original:

  • Stables - these replace the farmer and cloister scoring methods from the original version and are a lot simpler to explain. Simply count the animals pictured in the tiles around your stable, and you're done.
  • Road wandering - this gives you a way to get points from a meeple that's tied up on an incomplete road, or worse, trapped on an un-completeable road.
  • Harvest tokens - these add a little bit more strategy to which field you're focusing on completing, as you're looking to complete sets of crops for scoring at the end.
The cynic in me would say that repeatedly re-theming a game is an excellent way to make more money (I'm looking at you, Munchkin), but the changes mentioned above go together to make Over Hill & Dale a bit more than a re-skin of the original Carcassonne. I think I might even prefer it to the original!

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale overview

Overall this is a fun game, with the same thinky-but-relaxing gameplay of vanilla Carcassonne and the addition of a couple of extra mechanics that add some more interest. If you've already got original Carcassonne and expansions like Traders & Builders this might not be for you, unless you're lazy like me and happy to have a separate setup ready to go without sorting out the components! If you don't already have the original, I'd be tempted to say go for this one instead for all the reasons I mentioned above - it's a little bit simpler on scoring and collecting the harvest tokens adds a little bit of extra depth. The colourful farming theme might also help appeal to younger gamers.

Thanks to Esdevium for sending me a copy to take a look at. If you enjoyed this review perhaps you could take a look at my Facebook page and leave a like or come and say hello on my Instagram feed!

Carcassonne: Over Hill and Dale
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-5
Age: 7+
Cost: RRP £27.99 [Take a look at Esdevium's store locator to find a local brick-and-mortar retailer in Europe]