On the heels of Big Huge Games’ Catan, a video game version of The Settlers of Catan, another German-style board game has made its way to Xbox Live Arcade, this one in the form of Sierra Online’s Carcassonne. I have to admit, while I’ve heard of the tile-based board game, I’d never actually played it prior to the Xbox Live Arcade release. That being said, I can now say I’m a fan and I think strategy gamers will be too.
In Carcassonne, players randomly draw a tile and place it adjacent to previously played tiles that share a similiar feature, ultimately creating a medieval landscape. For example, roads must connect to roads, fields to fields, and city walls to city walls. If you start a new object (city, road, farm or monastery), you can place one of your followers on the tile to denote your control. As subsequent tiles are placed, objects get bigger or even merge. When roads or cities are completed, or a monastery is surrounded, the player with a follower on that object will earn points. The player with the most points when all the tiles have been placed wins.
It’s not quite that cut and dry, however, there are other factors to take into consideration such as farmers, city tiles with shields on them denoting an additional value, the fact you have a limited supply of followers to put on the board, not to mention the possibility that a merged object might have opposing followers. Fortunately, all of these elements are covered in the game’s tutorial.
While Carcassonne isn’t quite as deep as Catan, it’s certainly an easier game to grasp. As few as two players can play a game of Carcassonne or as many as five, and a single game can take as little as 10 minutes. Since players have nothing to hide, you can challenge your friends on a single console, and there’s also support for play over Xbox Live. From a single player perspective there are three levels of AI to play against – easy, medium and hard – as well as several rule sets to tweak. I’m not sure the highest difficulty level is challenging enough, but I suppose that’s what friends and playing online is for. The full game also includes The River, a mini expansion that introduces a dozen new tiles into play in the form of a river. Considering the board game has seen several expansion packs over the years, there's a possibility we'll see new content added to the Xbox Live Arcade version as well.
From a visual standpoint, Carcassonne is very basic. The developers clearly focused on creating a faithful representation of the board game, rather than adding all sorts of bells and whistles. The only problem visually, one shared by Catan as well, is that the text can be difficult to read for those without high-definition TVs, especially when the camera zooms out as the board increases in size. You might find yourself zooming in and out of the field of play more than you’d like.
Much like Catan, Carcassonne is a great addition to Xbox Live Arcade. It’s exciting to see these popular board games make such a smooth transition into video games. It bodes well for future titles like Talisman, not to mention potential projects (Puerto Rico anyone?). In the meantime, if you’re fan of this board game or of city building games in general, Carcassonne is well worth spending your Microsoft Points on.