Carcassonne has remained one of gamers’ favorites for years now. It is one of those games that is highly accessible to all types of players, both on the iPad and through the physical game. This game is perhaps what would be classified as a gateway game – it’s easy to get into and easy to open up the world of iPad board games (and eurogames in general) to all varieties of players.
Players should also be aware that this board game has numerous expansions in the real world. The developers are currently working on implementing these expansions as in-game purchases, and a way to implement the rules in a modular fashion. This is a time-consuming process requiring much patience on our part.
You can also check out my review of the physical boardgame at BoardGameGeek.
The game is premised around tile placement and claiming those tile features with ‘meeples‘. Each player takes it in turns to randomly draw these terrain tiles and place them on the infinite landscape slowly building the terrain, and its features, block-by-block. On each tile you will have one of a number of features including, but not limited to (depending on expansions), pasture, road, city, and cloister. Cities, roads and pastures are all features that continue through one of the edges of the tiles, and all tile placement must ensure matching edges preserve continuity.
As you place a tile, you may claim any one of those features provided it is not connected to a feature already claimed. The trick then is to build upon your claimed features to a reasonable size and finish them off to claim those points. Cities and roads are completed by closing them off, cloisters by ensuring its tile is entirely surrounded (orthogonally and diagonally), and pastures are not completed – being scored only at the end of the game.
Upon completing a feature, you firstly recover one of your precious meeples, and score the points for that feature. Cities score two per tile (and pennant) the city encompasses, roads score one point per tile for each tile it resides in, and cloisters for each tile in the grid of 3 x 3 it is situated within. Pastures are different, being scored at the end and claiming three points per completed city that pasture touches. Unfinished features typically allow the scoring of only one point per relevant tile at the end of the game.
Of course, while a feature rmains uncompleted that meeple is invested into that feature and will not return to your supply. Given you have only a handful of meeples to use judicially across the entire game simply allocating them at any opportunity is not a winning strategy. Players must make judgements about whether there is likely a payoff in placing their meeple on any given feature, assess the likliness of it being completed (how many tiles there are left to draw, the likeliness of the particular types of tiles needed coming up, and other obstacles relevant to placement). Significantly, placing a meeple on a pasture means you never get it back, and this is signified by being laid flat.
Naturally, this presents opportunities for players to score cheap points by completing a two piece road or city and immediately gaining their meeple back. Rule of thumb is always keep a meeple in reserve so you can exploit this technique at any time.
However, there is more strategy than that. While you cannot claim an already claimed feature outright, you can allow two features to connect through strategic tile placement. By doing this you compete over a feature and it’s a great way to jump on board someone’s mega-city or road to nowhere, or simply steal it right off them. When a contested feature is completed, each meeple counts as a force of one. If all contesting players have equal force on the feature, each gains the points of that feature equally. If one player is canny enough to link more than one of their meeple to this feature, and thus have a greater force, they will take all the points outright. For some players, this is considered an underhanded cheat, while other players revel in the delicious strategy this brings to the game.
Finally, many players underestimate the pastures. Since they often register as negative space in most players minds its easy to forget them and forget how tile placement can shape the opportunities for the pasture endgame. Games are infamously won and lost on the pastures at the end, and the best strategic players are those who correctly assess the risks of completion, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the pastures. Remember, a many small cities can easily add up for the right pastures, and sometimes its worthwhile placing a tile that gives an opponent a slight advantage to their feature if it means expanding the scope of a pasture you’ve claimed, or ensuring a number of smaller completed cities within it. Consequently, players either seem to scrabble for the pastures at the very beginning and build their game around it, or right near the end when the layout is better known.
Whatever your style, players can approach the game with a depth of strategy and cunning, or through the simple joy of watching your creations bloom across the land.
Meeples, or names derivative thereof, has almost become a generic name for all types of wooden figurines found in most types of games. Don’t be surprised to encounter terms like animeeples, vegimeeples and the like. This term really only applies to wooden pieces that have some semblance of shape of the thing, rather than simply a token representing the thing.
Perhaps the strongest point of this game, and one that I would like other developers to take note of, is the multiplayer network implementation. Alongside local bluetooth and pass’n’play options, there is online play, which is both easy to use and access players. There is no website registering or further steps on your part. It also gives you an estimated time until you find an opponent, which I assume depends on the average wait time. There is support for multiple internet games and push notifications, so you can play in a number of games or do other tasks while you wait for your opponent.
There are a few advantages that are readily available from the iPad over the real version. Firstly, the layout really is infinite. Often the real game is hampered by the physical limits of any given table – not so here on the virtual board. The game also immediately reveals any space that cannot receive a tile because no suitable tile exists in the stockpile. It has a number showing remaining tiles to be drawn, and a drop down bar that shows the types and numbers of tiles remaining. In theory all these things can be worked out in the real world, but they would be time consuming and interfere in the game’s flow.
As can be seen from the images, the graphics definately reflect the board game well. Each of the tiles is replicated from the game’s original graphics. There is a soft and gentle accompanying background music and charming little sounds play with tile placements.
Verdict – 10/10 This will definitely go down as one of the favourites of many a gamer and non-gamer alike.