A solid addition to the Arcade, Carcassonne is a great rendition of a great board game.
But even if you’re unfamiliar with the board game, Carcassonne isn’t all that hard to pick up. The tutorials are excellent, and the A.I isn’t all that difficult on Easy or Medium. Carcassonne is a turn based game, with 72 tiles randomly dealt out to each player. The tiles vary, but interconnect to form buildings, roads and farms. Finding the best area to insert the tiles is easy to pick up, and the computer assistance, which won’t let you make illegal moves, eases you in to the game’s nuances without effort. You earn points based on different objects, and enclosing buildings or roads will earn more points than leaving them open.
However, you don’t earn points automatically for placing down tiles. You must claim buildings, roads or fields with a Follower - a colour-coded playing piece that marks the area as yours. You have a limited number of Followers, and while they are returned to you if you close off a road or building, field based followers remain until the end of the game.
The basic game is simple enough to provide some challenge, to both newcomers and veterans, but you can also create custom games. Developer Sierra have also promised expansions to the game, based on those already available for the board game. Carcassonne comes with The River expansion, an additional 12 pieces which changes the start of the game and can easily divide the playing field, making the game feel very different.
Carcassonne works on many levels due to its addictive nature. It’s immediately satisfying but it also provides a longer lasting game which requires forethought. The placement of tiles is key, and using Followers strategically can rack up more points than just plonking them down. Of course, you can also block offensives against your competitor, or even leech points off them by joining their roads or buildings with your own. Where you place tiles early on can have a significant impact in the later game.
Online play works well, with TrueSkill making games balanced and any lag negligible due to the turn based nature of the game. Like Catan, Carcassonne is also free of many of the lesser players of Live, with every game I played genuinely fun and against competitors who weren’t halfwits. Xbox Live Vision is supported as well, though it’s inclusion is a little by-the-numbers and doesn’t add a great deal to the game. But it’s great to see the peripheral still being supported.
Up to five players online can make games a little frenzied. Carcassonne deals out 72 tiles, regardless of how many players there are, so with 5 people, this makes every turn count and every scrap of land worth fighting over. It also shortens the game considerably, though unfortunately there is no option to team up against each other, not even in custom matches.
The sound isn’t fantastic, with a simple looping track that gets old fairly early on. Thankfully, you can turn it off and use your own music. Sound effects are minimal, but do the job. The small cheery tune that announces a building complete or a road finished is a nice touch, a little fanfare for a job well done. However, for the most part, the sound is something you barely notice. Graphically, Carcassonne isn’t impressive, but it’s easy to recognise the different tiles and where you can place them. The camera is counter-intuitive though, with the default zoom level a little too close and the next level just a little too far. This takes some getting used to, and SDTV owners will be worse off, as is the norm.
Overall, Carcassonne is a solid addition to the Arcade. It’s unpretentious about what it is and how it plays, and while it’s a little dry it’s a worthwhile addition to just about anyone’s Arcade collection. If you’re looking for something like the pick up and play of the many coin-op classics on the Arcade, but also crave something that will allow you to use your noggin, you ought to give Carcassonne a try.