Carcassonne is a tile-based strategy game from designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and published for XBLA by Sierra Online, and a good one at that. It is almost easily
worth the 800 points Microsoft is charging, but only if you're a fan of either castle building or board games.
Luckily, I am both. The joy you get from playing Carcassonne is likely proportionate to the how much you get like board games in general, and how much you might enjoy, say, Legos or Lincoln Logs. And so my own joy is paramount in this regard.
You start with 7 Followers, one tile, and the will to build. And your goal, or your purpose therein, is to complete roads, castles, and monasteries by placing one of the 72 tiles in alternating turns placing the tiles on adjacent squares, watching castles and monasteries sprout up from their 2D drawings. After all 72 tiles have been placed, extra points are tallied and the player with the most, as you'd expect, is the winner. Although Carcassonne is a simple game of tiles, it's entertaining, nonetheless, and thrilling when you complete large castles that can net some serious points.
Carcassonne is the second Xbox Live Arcade's board game, following Settlers of Catan, and more of your casual-gamer-friendly type of board game. It's not too tough to master, but there is a good challenge there, especially if you're playing against human players. There's quite a bit to love deep down in what might be called it's strategy guts
but Carcassonne might also turn some gamers off in the wake of the more complex, classic game, Settlers of Catan.
So, if you're a fan of board games, and can't quite get into Catan, you might find a lot to love in Caracassonne. Catanites will probably think Carcassonne too "slim" on the strategy, too easy. It's just their egos getting in the way, trust me. Carcassonne isn't as complicated
as Catan (and it's simplicity is a definite plus for pick-up-and-play gamers, like myself), neither is it as long--some games of Catan can stretch into the hour. Games of Carcassonne, however, rarely go longer than twenty minutes, and many can be played in five to ten. It isn't fair to say the game is easy
, but it definitely is targetting a more casual player demographic than Settlers of Catan.
Aiding the brevity and the pick-up-and-play attitude in Carcassonne are a few crutches that keep you from making bogus moves. The game only lets you place tiles in legal adjacent squares, and it will auto-rotate the tile so that you don't have to. This is essential to keeping the game flowing quickly (and online, you only have one minute to decide your placement).
But learning to place your Followers is the real
trick to Carcassonne. You start with 7 and cannot get more. You attempt to claim pieces of property (roads, castles, monasteries, farms) for which to gain points. Any unfinished roads or castles give you points at the end. The trick is that you cannot claim the same contiguous road, castle, or farmland that someone else has claimed, so you have to find tricky ways to get points (which the tutorial explains easily enough) by connecting an opponent's castle to yours (sharing points) or getting two of your followers on an opponents castle (very hard, but steals all their points).
But placed followers just sit there and do nothing until the strip of property you claimed is completed, at which point your follower will return to your reserves. If you get in the situation where you can't complete a castle, that follower is stuck there for the rest of the game, so making strategic placements of Followers is not only a good idea, it's essential.
Honestly, Carcassonne is pretty bland looking. There are cel-shaded textures, but nothing to write home about. In fact it looks an awful lot like Catan. Fireworks go off when you complete castles, trees and monasteries rise from their 2D counterparts. But you won't find much fluff here--this game is strictly made for utility. It is, after all, a board game. Some purists will be pleased, but most gamers might find Carcassonne substantially
light on graphics and presentation. Music, too, is the same, minimal song over and over again. My suggestion is that you plug in your iPod...
...or just turn off the sound altogether.
I do have a few issues with Carcassonne, despite it's quite marvelous gameplay. It would have been nice to have some team options (I know, I know: that's not in the rules, but you can do manually if you add the points up yourselves at the end, and it works pretty good). The camera also gets stuck after the final tile is placed in a local multiplayer match, which is bothersome. Also, the camera angles pan out, too far out, as the board fills the screen. There is the option to change them (LB and RB take care of that), but some more viewpoints would have been appreciated. There could have been an option of rotating the camera, at least.
But these problems are minor in relation to how fun and strategic Carcassonne is. The element of luck in drawing a tile seems to fall off when you realize that there are other options than just what you've been looking for the whole game. Being a flexible player is my best advice.
In Carcassonne, we find another board game that makes a successful jump from real life to Xbox Live Arcade. The price might be slightly steep (800 points is a lot and might make some gamers think twice about purchasing it) but the game is a whole lot of fun. I also find that people in Carcassonne are much nicer than people in Catan (who tend to get their panties in a bunch when the dice don't roll their way).
Carcassonne also comes with "The River" expansion for free, which divides the gameboard into two sections. It doesn't dramatically change the game dramatically and feels like a throwaway addition. More expansions would have been nice, but there's room for more via Live.
Carcassonne is an enjoyable and addictive game that has as much shelf life as Catan, but might find its way into more casual gamer's libraries. Thumbs up from me, Carcassonne definitely deserves your affection and your 800 Microsoft Points.