Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune is a rather unique expansion since it also counts as a base set. It's also one of the first times we noticed that the developers of the game made sure to include an easy indicator of which expansion the tiles were from versus older expansions - which to this day are a pain to separate back into their boxes.
But more than being a base set, this is a great expansion that introduces a powerful new mechanic in the form of the Wheel of Fortune itself, along with creating one heck of a starting configuration that is sure to mess with your classic farming strategies. On the whole, it's a great game and it's strong enough to be played on its own in place of the original set.
Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune is a standalone expansion for Carcasonne that also counts as a base set in its own right. It was still designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede with art by Doris Matthäus. The game supports 2-5 players.
The game consists of 72 tiles, 63 of which were from the original base set, 6 from Inns & Cathedrals, 1 from Traders & Builders and 2 from King & Scout. It also includes the new Wheel of Fortune starting tile, which is a 4x4 sized piece that includes various starting features around the edges. The game begins from this tile in terms of all initial placements.
In this expansion, any time a player does not place a follower on the tile he just played can choose to put a follower on any of the empty spaces on the Wheel of Fortune instead. The pig marker on the wheel represents the current trigger and the next time the pig lands on where the player's follower is, the owners of those followers will earn points - some spaces have spaces for two followers while others have one. Thus it feels like you're pretty much gambling with your followers on what will come up.
19 of the tiles in the set are marked numbers ranging from 1-3 and every time a number tile is drawn, the pig will move that number of spaces around the wheel. Players with followers on that space get at least 3 points per follower. And then the event on the wheel also triggers:
- Fortune - The player who moved the pig earns 3 points
- Tax - Players get 1 point for every knight with additional points based on the number of pennants in those incomplete cities
- Famine - Players get 1 point per farmer for each adjacent city.
- Storm - Players get 1 point per unused follower still in their supply
- Inquisition - Players get 2 points per monk in play
- Plague - Return a follower from the board back to the supply, not including followers on the wheel.
So as you can see, the wheel can be both generous and cruel and offers players new ways to score points mid-game. But you have to be careful about plague since it will inevitably come up and you'll find yourself giving up a follower on a key feature that you've been working on for some time. Other spaces sort of encourage you to diversify your holdings as opposed to only focusing on cities or something. The little incremental rewards add up over time, so the wheel should never be ignored.
Beyond that, the game largely plays out like your typical Carcassonne game and the set can be easily distinguished from others thanks to the iconic wheel icon on all tiles - something we've seen more in later Big Box releases of the game.
As far as expansions go, the Wheel is pretty brilliant and I'm glad that we have it. As much as I love starting games with the River, it's just as easy to opt for Wheel of Fortune as an alternate starting box given how that 4x4 tile can really mess up initial strategy. You can end up with some pretty big farms if you're careful with how you place things or in contrast you can have highly segmented farms with the number of road options. This probably won't work too well with the River expansions, but I can still see making things work one way or another.
Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune is a nice alternative base set to use and it strongly benefits from the addition of other expansions to really make for a dynamic play experience. Plus it's an easy way to carry around a somewhat new experience versus just the base set! This standalone expansion gets a full 5 rounds on the wheel out of a possible 5.