Developers, take note, a good tutorial is a thing of beauty. Carcassonne, the popular tile-based board game, has arrived for the iPhone in a blaze of glory. Often board games lose something of their social charm when rendered into a digital form, but Carcassonne is a stunning example of how to get it right and make it beautifully clear for new players.
Like other German-style board games, such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne may sound much more complicated than board game classics like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, but it’s actually a lot easier than it looks. The basic gist is that you take turns against opponents, strategically placing randomly-drawn tiles with the aim of creating completed cities and roads. Completing a city means that a wall extends all the way around it, while a road must end either at a building or a crossing. There is a pleasing element of jigsaw puzzle to tile placement, as newly placed tiles must touch another tile, but they must also match up along the edges, so a road must connect up to another road or a city wall to another city wall. Points are awarded based on your placement of player tokens (“Meeples”) on the board.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, because Carcassonne has one of the very best tutorials I’ve ever experienced. Seriously, it’s incredibly well done. A friendly voice patiently walks you through an easy to understand and beautifully paced explanation of the game. There is also a full set of text rules available for more comprehensive instruction. Even if you’ve never heard of Carcassonne and have only a very limited understanding of board games work, the tutorial does a truly spectacular job of making everything crystal clear.
You have the choice of playing either a regular multiplayer game, with options to play against the computer or set up matches over 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, or even pass-and-play. There is even a slightly modified Solitaire mode for those who would rather not deal with opponents, but the multiplayer options are where the game really shines. The game is at its best when pitting players against one another, and there’s a particular joy in hot and heavy quick-fire competition between friends. There is also a quick match option that will pair you with a random internet stranger, and there are time limits built in to keep the game moving speedily along.
The gameplay, once you’ve nailed down the basics, is really brilliant and much deeper and more challenging than it appears at first, with hours and hours of replay value. The game also looks fantastic, with rich, tactile details that acknowledge the game’s physical origins.
In fact, my only real complaint about the game is the clunky friends list, which relies on email to invite friends to join the game. Although the rest of the interface works beautifully, it is very frustrating to be forced out of the game and into email when attempting to set up friendly matches. Happily, other features, like online scoreboards, help to make up for this small misstep, and iPad users will be pleased to hear that a free update is on its way to make this a Universal app.
As a longtime owner of the physical Carcassonne board game, I had my initial misgivings as to how well it would translate to the iPhone, but I was surprised and delighted by the gorgeously smooth digital rendition. It preserves all the charm and multiplayer appeal of the original and packages it up in an easily portable digital form, which makes Carcassonne a definite must-buy for the board game enthusiast.
Here is a video demo of the Carcassonne app on the iPhone
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