Carcassonne is part of the growing trend of card and board games on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and whilst it may look slightly basic from the outside, once you delve deeper into the game you will find a thoroughly engaging gameplay experience.
The basis of Carcassonne is very simple. Players take it in turns to lay down map tiles in order to build certain features, such as roads, castles and monasteries, which all earn you points. However, you will not score any points for creating a feature unless you have placed one of your followers on it, although you only have seven followers to place at any one time. These followers cannot be removed from the board when they have been placed, and the only way for you to retrieve your follower is to finish building the feature that said follower is placed on. Furthermore, followers can also be placed as a farmer, which basically means that you gain a point for each tile of grass they are connected to. The downside to these farmers is that once placed, they remain in play until the final tile has been played, thus ending the game. The final thing to consider is that when the final tile has been played, any followers still placed on uncompleted features will earn you half the number of standard points to add to your total. As you can imagine, all these different features can lead to some very tactical gameplay.
Now, don’t be put off by what seems like quite a lot of different rules because the game is actually very easy to pick up and play, and within a couple of games you will soon find yourself getting to grips with it all. There are also various levels of AI to play against so that you should always have a reasonably competent opponent to face as you improve your tile laying skills.
Unfortunately, as with most games of this style the single player is pretty basic, and you will probably only find yourself playing against the AI in order to unlock some of the game’s achievements. It would have been nice if the single player experience had been fleshed out a bit more.
Thankfully the multiplayer in the game works like a charm, with no lag (but then with this style of game why would there be) and some nice Xbox LIVE features added in – such as support for the Xbox Vision Camera. There is also the added bonus of being able to download some of the many expansion packs for the original board game via Xbox LIVE, which will surely boost the lasting appeal of the game.
Once you really get into the game you will find yourself strategically planning out every move in order to best obliterate your opponent with your available points. Do you finish off your castle and earn six points, or do you extend it further, with the hope of completing it later in the game for many more points? These are the sort of questions that you will be asking yourself with every tile you go to place, and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a plan that started ten turns ago finally coming together to earn you a bundle of points, whilst also messing up your opponents plan of building a castle the size of Buckingham Palace.
Graphically Carcassonne takes on a basic but appealing style, with a bright, vivid colour palette and stylish tile designs. While some of the more graphically focused gamers are sure to dislike this simple approach, it fits in perfectly, giving you a nice looking view of the board, without actually distracting the player from the gameplay.
Unfortunately Carcassonne doesn’t fair as well in the audio department. The music within the game is dull and dreary, and you’ll likely want to turn it off after the first couple of games or it may end up putting you to sleep. Similarly the sound effects leave a bit to be desired. They are perfectly functional, but never really engage you, nor do they give you any sense of achievement. It is a bit disappointing to complete a castle made up of ten tiles, only to hear the same sound effect used when you create a castle made up of two tiles.
Carcassonne for the Xbox LIVE Arcade is a great conversion of the original board game, but certain aspects of the game are lacking. Still, at 800 MS points (a lot less than the retail price of the actual board game) it is worth snapping up.