iOS Review: Carcassonne

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile face-to-face gaming is an amazing way to spend time with friends, sometimes you don’t have a willing opponent at hand. Thankfully we now live in a world where there are alternatives to just sitting and staring longingly at the games we aren’t able to play. Both the iPad and Android tablets have seen a bevy of board game ports giving gamers the ability to scratch that itch without having to put on a pair of pants.

A few years ago one of the elder statesmen of the board gaming world received the digital treatment – and Carcassonne has never looked so good.

Carcassonne hit the board game scene in 2000 and has had a very steady following since then. Okay, sure, it has seen more expansions than the waistline of a college freshman. And yeah, other games have come along that are deeper and more involved. But good old Carcassonne had new life breathed into it once this app hit iOS devices. Not too bad for one of the steadfast gateway games, right?

But let’s be honest here, this game isn’t really a gateway game. Not once you see it for what it is. If there’s a gateway here, it’s more like an iron portcullis operated by a dwarf standing on a three-legged stool who is suffering from alcohol withdrawal. He’s five minutes from ending his shift and wants nothing more than to quiet the voices in his head with another round of ale.

And you just made eye contact with him.

Carcassonne AppThe app is, in a word, stunning. From the moment that you load up the app, you are greeted by pleasant music and a very intuitive menu. You can start games with others via Game Center, can do a local game with others on the same network, or even play a solitaire game.

If you are new to the world of Carcassonne, there’s a very detailed tutorial that will walk you through the game and teach you everything you need to know about this classic.

Once you start a game, you find that the graphics and user interface are just as good on the inside as they are on the main menu. All of the tiles have been faithfully reproduced and look just as good as the ones that come in the actual game. The meeples are vibrant and perfectly shaped, and the “table” you play the game on has a beautiful wood grain.

As this is a digital production of the game, the developers were able to add functionality that the face-to-face version lacks. Worried that you’ll never get the one tile type you need to close that city? Pull up the list of tiles and see how many are left. Not sure where to put the tile you were just handed? No problem! The app highlights the spots on the board where the tile can legally be played. Once a space has become dead (no tiles left in the bag that will go there), an “X” appears on that spot so you know that it’s a goner. These features aren’t for everyone, and purists can choose to shut them off in the settings.

The developers are quite dedicated to getting new expansions out.
The developers are quite dedicated to getting new expansions out.

Of course, no Carcassonne app would be complete without some expansions. To date there are seven expansions available (for a small fee, of course) and they range from the simple ones like The River to the gameplay changing Inns & Cathedrals. Each expansion has been meticulously recreated in the digital format and brings a little something different to each game.

Now you might be saying “well, sure…that sounds fine. But it’s still Carcassonne. Isn’t that a little…….boring?”

Let’s chat for a second about that. When was the last time you played Carcassonne? Chances are fairly good that you used it to introduce new gamers to the hobby. Or maybe you played it with your family on a holiday at home? A nice friendly game with your mom and your sister?

Well, friends. This is not your old beat up copy of Carcassonne that forlornly watches from your shelf as newer, sexier games come in and take its place on the table. This isn’t the friendly game where everyone sets off on their own to build cities and roads, ignoring all others. This is most certainly not the game where whiny gamers start slapping house rules onto the game to make the decisions “more meaningful.”

When you play this app, especially online?

This game is war.

End game scoring summaries show you just how badly you got beaten.
End game scoring summaries show you just how badly you got beaten.

Every tile that gets placed is immediately beset on all sides by the other players, trying to horn in on your sweet city building action. Roads are usurped. Cloisters pop up together to the point where they should be called “Clusters”, as everyone tries to make other people do the work for them. And farms? Hell, playing a farm in this game is like painting a target on your forehead. Within two turns you’ve lost majority and been blocked off from all hope of rejoining.

After a while, it makes you stop and think about that sweet little gateway game that you once brought out to show people just how different board games could be. This can’t be the same game, can it? This brutal, take no prisoners, screw over every other person at the table, shark tank of a game? Oh, it is. And then you toss an expansion in the mix it becomes even more amazing.

Time will go by and suddenly you’ll look at Carcassonne differently. You’ll see that this is truly a chameleon of a game. A conflict averse group can play an entire game without bumping into one another and be perfectly content. A more aggressive group? I can guarantee that the first f-bomb is dropped by turn three.

So go ahead. Pull Carcassonne out some night soon. Dust it off. And be a complete bastard. It’s quite fulfilling. And if you can’t? Well, it’s a good thing this app exists.



Carcassonne can be found in the App Store for $9.99. Don’t worry. It’s worth it.


Carcassonne App
A game using all the available expansions, plus the new Winter tiles.