Though the original board game may still be considered a relatively youthful creation, Carcassonne has already made its mark on the videogames audience. An incredibly popular Xbox LIVE Arcade adaptation of the board game during the early years of the digital distribution service has lead to great anticipation for this latest outing, the Windows Phone debut of Carcassonne, including it’s first official expansion: The River II.
Carcassonne is a board game in which players actually create the board themselves. Taking it in turns to place a tile on the board, players must ensure that roads connect and edges of towns match. Each player has seven followers which they may place upon a tile after laying it, either on the road or grass or within a town, and this is how points are accumulated. The follower is kept in reservation until the item it was laid upon is completed: a junction in the road or the completion of a township, or in the case of grass they will remain in play until the end of the game. The player earns an increased amount of points for each tile laid in the creation of the road, town or field, but in doing so will also have less options available to them as their follower is occupied for longer. It’s not long before this simple template becomes home to some vicious strategies, as players try to capitalise on each other tiles while keeping their opponent’s followers occupied. Considering Carcassonne allows for up to six players in a single game, there’s a significant degree of challenge involved in keeping ahead of the pack.
It’s a shame then than the included tutorial stutters through the gameplay explanation by way of a prompt-based video of artificial intelligence (AI) players. This offers you a reasonable overview of the gameplay, but is hardly a deep look into the nuances of scoring big in Carcassonne. It’s almost as if the developers expected you to already know the rules of Carcassonne and simply need a refresher course, or at least that you may have played the Xbox LIVE Arcade edition of the board game’s videogame adaptation.
While Carcassonne provides ample opportunity to customise matches against artificial opponents there’s no denying that its strength lies in competition between human players. Both local and online matches are available, with the Windows Phone’s Xbox LIVE service pushed further than ever before thanks to the immediacy of its six player matches. Thankfully, the presentation is just as welcoming as playing offline, so much so that you’ll often forget the hundreds of miles between you and your opponent; so long as you maintain your wi-fi/3G connection, that is. Matches can be saved and continued later however, allowing players to play Carcassonne online as if it were an asynchronous experience akin to Logic Games’ Chess or Battleships.
Requiring a separate tutorial despite being billed as a ‘mini-expansion,’ The River II adds new tiles to the deck which, unsurprisingly, feature rivers. Rivers may not branch into one another, nor may they make u-turns, adding an additional layer of complexity to the already intensely strategic gameplay. Adding further to this will be future downloadable content (DLC) packs, already advertised by way of a ‘coming soon…’ space on the menu.
The visual quality of Carcassonne doesn’t quite live-up to it’s Xbox 360 counterpart, but is more than adequate for the job that it is doing. There is some charm in the in-game design, though the menus feel a little untidy to say the least. The sound quality is unusually well presented for a videogame which will most likely be played with the sound turned off for much of its lifespan, but nonetheless it is a very welcome effort.
As an Xbox LIVE enabled Windows Phone title that takes full advantage of its host platform, Carcassonne is nothing less than a very welcome addition to the mobile gaming format’s line-up. The pocket money price is deceiving as the small amount of content in Carcassonne perfectly formed to keep you entertained for months on end, and with the promise of DLC to come things can surely only get better. Carcassonne is one of the highlights of the Windows Phone’s strategy gaming catalogue, a selection of titles which is quickly becoming nothing short of remarkable.