Carcassonne needs no grand introduction, no riveting description, no impressive advertisements. It is a game that was first released back when I was still pretending to be Goku on the school field. It is a pillar in the gaming community and is the game that is responsible for so many people getting involved in gaming as a whole. Including myself, some 18 years after its initial release. Proving first-hand that the game has potentially the strongest staying power amongst all of its rivals.
This review will mainly focus on the details that are specific to this edition. If you are new to Carcassonne, I would advise that you to check out the review for the standard version or perhaps the how to play guide. Both of these will be completely relevant to this version, only this one has a few extra goodies in store for you!
With that being said, even with its massive staying power, is there a need for Carcassonne 20th Anniversary Edition? Let's find out…
What Is New?
You will be rightly warranted for wondering what is actually new in this box, considering Carcassonne as a whole is no stranger to new editions, big box editions, spin offs and expansions. Over the years we have seen a whole host of things added to the wider Carcassonne family, including (but certainly not limited to) a wooden catapult to fling pieces across the table, pig meeples, a primitive version, a children's version, cultists, a damn dragon etc.
In the 20th Anniversary Edition, there is yet another modular expansion, and a new double sized starting tile that allows the river expansion (included) to be split into two directions. This is a nice touch as it gives the starting play area a wider breath. You also get a set of meeple stickers that allow you to add a little personality to your meeples. On top of that, each tile has been remade with UV spot printing, mini details, easter eggs and celebrating townsfolk to commemorate 20 years of Carcassonne.
The Included Expansions
If you are even remotely aware of the existence of Carcassonne, then you will be aware of the sheer multitude of modular expansions that are available. Some of those have been incorporated into this edition. The ones you may be familiar with are The River and The Abbot expansions. There are also an additional 5 tiles for The River that are new to this edition of the game.
The other expansion in the box is the one that is specific for this box edition and is simply referred to as 'The Anniversary Expansion'. In this expansion you will be able to use 3 new abilities based on the drawn tile: place a meeple next to another of your already placed meeples along the row/column the arrow is facing (making it act a little like the big meeple from Inns & Cathedrals); place a meeple in any unclaimed territory along the row/column (pretty sure there are elements of this in Princess & Dragon); or simply taking another turn (taking inspiration from Hunters & Gatherers). All in all, it is a simple little expansion that is easily learned and used or can simply be removed if wanted.
Artwork & Components
So, if you are no stranger to Carcassonne then you will not be at a loss here. The artwork has been done in such an interesting and clever way. All the tiles are of course usable with other editions and expansions (mostly) but the small details on the tiles are what make this game really pop. There is UV print on all the tiles and on the box cover itself, giving the game an irresistible gleam. One thing that I never realised until I played this version was how baren the Carcassonne world looked before. Now that we can see little people on the tiles all over the place, it breathes life into the game and makes it feel like a much more real city that we are building.
With these little boons to the design, the 20th Anniversary Edition really does feel like the new standard of what the base Carcassonne experience should be. If you already own the previous base version of the game, then hey, why not combine them into one mega city builder?
I would also like to point out that I really love the rulebook. As like the version as a whole, it stays true to the original but you can tell it has been updated and modernised. There are two different rule books, one is the base game stripped down to the basics that is intended for first time players. The second one adds rules for farmers, the abbot, the river, and the anniversary expansion. I really like that they separated the rules for the farmer, as even though it is not an expansion, it is one thing that a lot of inexperienced players struggle to grasp at first.
Can I Mix Other Carcassonne Sets?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. It depends where your level of OCD is. For me, the answer is no. For many, it is likely yes. I have included a pic for comparison (hopefully the pic is included somewhere around here) of the older tiles, specifically of one from the big box edition, and one from this edition. They are similar enough to mix the tiles together, but the added detail on the newer ones coupled with the new rounded corners, means that the older ones are apparent enough to mean mixing isn't an option for me. I suspect we will start seeing reprints of expansions in the coming months to more closely resemble the newer tile art.
The Rain on the Horizon
I am by large impressed with this edition of a well-loved classic. However, there is always room for improvement. One thing this game is missing however is the inclusion of some expansions that many people deem as 'essential' to the core experience. The game would have felt much more complete if it had included at least the Inns & Cathedrals expansion that would give us scoring tiles for complete laps of the scoreboard and the larger meeple for better area control. As well as some risk and reward features. I also consider the Traders & Builders expansion to be essential as it adds reasons for people to close each other's cities, more reason to claim fields/farmland and reasons to build bigger and bigger with the builder meeple.
It is evident that the publishers are aware of this too, as there is plenty of space in the box for more tiles. The base tiles in the box do not even fill half of the space available.
It is clear that the developers are pushing this to be the new base version of the game. And I have no issues with that. Carcassonne has consistently proven popular over several decades, so a slight refresh every few years helps inject some life into the game and keeps it relevant in the eyes of the public. The new additions are very welcome. The double sized starting tile for the river is a great touch, and the new detailed artwork on the tiles are perfect. They show the game progressing whilst also staying true to the original experience. I know a lot of people will love the meeple stickers, I myself can take them or leave them though.
If you already own the base game, then I don't see a whole lot of reason to pick up this version unless you are simply in the market for more tiles; I recommend picking up some expansions instead. But this IS the perfect starting point for anyone who does not own any Carcassonne already. Like myself. I have played Carcassonne a lot of times, but this is my own first physical version and I am very happy with it. Just be mindful that the older tiles don't match up 100% with these newer ones, and that we may start seeing reprints of the expansions with updated art and style.
So, all in all, if you already own the base game then weigh up for yourself if this seems worth it for you personally, if you own the Big Box version, then this will not give you anything new, if you are looking for an entry point for Carcassonne, and you are a sucker for aesthetics then the 20th Anniversary Edition is the perfect product for you!