#808 Carcassonne

Posted: 6th January 2013 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

207th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Sierra Online
Publisher: Sierra Online

Time to engage long-winded story.

Carcassonne reminds me of the first time Jeroen and myself spent Christmas as a couple… with my mother. It is a tradition in this household to play Trivial Pursuit at Christmas (as in the board game… not an electronic adaptation) so Jeroen thought he would bring a board game of his own, the award-winning Carcassonne. After an explanation of the rules we engaged in merry Christmas gaming… okay so we never ACTUALLY played it because my mum didn’t understand the rules. (Oh, that and it sometimes seemed Peter didn’t want to try too much.)

And so our story ends with Carcassonne slowly gathering dust in the linen closet next to Pictionary, Pyramid and two variations of Monopoly.

Our Thoughts

Okay, so there has never really been a strong relationship between the board game and the computer game. Many have tried, millions have been sold but have any actually been great? I think that after some introspection you will realise that… no there hasn’t been (to those of you who hold up Scramble With Friends as an example I say… seriously?) Card games, such as the upcoming Uno, the ever-present Solitaire and so on have fared better in this regard, with the recent Magic the Gathering release supposedly being quite good.

With this in mind the idea that a decent version of German board game Carcassonne existed for the Xbox forced me to do a double take. Whilst turn-based strategy game are great (oh Civilization how we love you) they have rarely been well-made on consoles (some games coming on the list may change my mind). However, when I started playing this game it struck me… this could be the anomaly I was hoping it would be.

So what is Carcassonne all about? The idea is that you take a tile off of a pile to be used to build roads, castles and monasteries. You also have a small number of followers and you can use these to earn points from the structures that you build. Whilst it may sound dull as dishwater it’s very competitive and there is a fair degree of strategy involved to try to one up your opponents.

To be honest the game does not re-invent the wheel and it plays exactly like the board game with two key improvements. Firstly as a tile-based game the rules instructing where you can actually place tiles are fairly difficult to do on sight alone. In the game it actually shows you all the possible places that the tile can be placed, it makes the game a little less frustrating and a lot more fast-paced. The other big improvement on the original is the graphics. This can seem a little bit of a no-brainer but the way that the game renders the castles upon their completion is beautifully imagined and turns the gaming board into something that feels more alive.

Another nice advantage, I found, is the scoring. While some parts of it are easy – gain points equal to the length of the road and such – when it gets to fields giving you points equal to the amount of cities it reaches multiplied by the number of areas it’s in, plus or minus some things, the counting the computer does helps a lot.

In contrast to these improvements are two major issues. The AI of your opposing players are incredibly stupid at times to the point that they will begin to actively help you… it’s like hey think you’ll have them hung, drawn and quartered for daring to win against you. I think this is partially a result of us playing on easy – there’s just not much reason to try. There is also the curse of the repetitive music… I know that they have to include music but the loop comes too soon.

This is also one of those games that are improved by playing together. Multiplayer is one of those things that’s a mixed bag depending on how much the developer bothered, but here it works brilliantly. They don’t really have a choice, to be fair – this being a board game, it had to be in – but it is probably the best way to play. Aside from the strategy itself being involved, it can include some bluffing to mix things up further and there’s this constant love-hate thing going on. It’s what made it the most fun for me.

In the end though these are minor quibbles since this is a game (much like Flower and Fat Princess) that demonstrates the boon online stores have become. Small, cheap, bitesize games that can do things larger more expensive games are unable to do. £39.99 would have been too steep for this game but at 800 Microsoft Points it makes for a nice diversion.

Final Thoughts

Aside from being a lovely looking game – yeah, it looks decent, with the boardgame roots adding its own stylistic touches that work incredibly well – it plays well. The game translates incredibly well into a computer game, where most of the complexity of the board game disappears and you’re left with a streamlined, fast game that kept us coming back for another game every time we played it.

It’s gone on our list of party games – next to Buzz Quiz TV, Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart Wii.