Carcassonne is one of my formative tabletop gaming experiences, and I’m obsessed with Star Wars, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would grab myself a copy of Carcassonne: Star Wars at the earliest opportunity.
Last year we were been bombarded with licensed Star Wars games at the family end of the spectrum. Some have been surprisingly good, such as the new Risk: Star Wars (which more closely resembles the highly regarded Star Wars: Queen’s Gambit from 1999 than it does Risk) but most of them have been simple reskins of existing games, with very little imagination put into them. Carcassonne: Star Wars fits more into that category, but it does add some interesting tweaks.
In classic Carcassonne, each player takes turns laying square tiles and placing their pawns, or “meeples” onto various features in order to claim them – ultimately for points. Meeples can be placed in cities, on roads, in cloisters and in fields. You can’t put your meeples in features which have already been claimed by other players, but you can connect your features to another player’s feature. So, for example, if your opponent has a huge city spread over several tiles and worth lots of points, through tile careful placement you can share or even steal those points. On the surface, it’s a gentle game about bucolic life; beneath the surface it can be fiercely competitive.
In the Star Wars version, these types of features are replaced by things with a more spacey feel. Thus, cloisters become planets, roads become hyperspace routes and cities become asteroid fields. Each player has a “faction” – rebel, imperial or scum – and many of the tiles have symbols which match those factions on them. Claim a hyperspace route with a symbol on it and you get bonus points. But the biggest change is in the claiming of features. While you still can’t put your meeples on another player’s feature directly, if you do manage to combine your feature with your opponent’s, instead of sharing you fight! You roll as many dice as you have meeples on that feature, plus one for each tile with one of your faction symbols on it and the highest single die wins. The loser has to remove all of their meeples, getting a compensatory point for each die they rolled.
For some, this might sound like a terrible move, changing a game with no conflict in it to one where you’re rattling dice every couple of turns, but you might be surprised. My wife and I have a standing agreement to not play standard Carcassonne any more because it tends to cause arguments, but she really likes the Star Wars version. Why? Because it changes the game from one of passive aggression to, well, direct aggression. The loser of every fight not only gets compensation but gets their meeples back which they can place elsewhere. In classic Carcassonne you can have these long drawn out power struggles which ultimately don’t get anywhere and use up resources that you can no longer use, and that can result in long periods where you can’t actually do anything. The Star Wars version ensures that those dull periods much shorter.
As a standalone version of a classic game then, I think it has quite a lot going for it. My only real criticism is that they could have gone further with the theming. The overall branding looks a lot like those cheap Star Wars advent calendars and Easter eggs you get in supermarkets – sadly no chocolate is included however. It’s a real shame that the vaguely human shaped meeples weren’t replaced by Star Wars starfighters; the stickers which go on the meeples are a little tacky. Each colour is given a character name – Luke Skywalker (red), Yoda (green), Boba Fett (orange), Darth Vader (black) and Stormtrooper (white) – and I have issues with these. It’s nitpicking, but I do feel that we should have had the Emperor instead of the Stormtrooper. And in light of the “Where’s Rey?” controversy over Star Wars Monopoly a few months ago, it would have been more gender inclusive to have replaced Yoda with Leia. As the game is set during the original trilogy era, that would have fit better thematically as well.
Despite these issues however, as an interesting variant of Carcassonne, this more than holds up. It has had repeated plays in my household since I got my copy and I guess that’s as good a recommendation as any. The space battles make for a somewhat more dynamic game and I certainly rate it more highly than classic Carcassonne without any of the expansions (although personally, I’m a the Princess and the Dragon fan).