Review: Carcassonne – Tiles & Tactics
Let’s make one thing clear right from the start: I LOVE Carcassonne. I’ve played hundreds of tabletop rounds with my friends, and hundreds more on the Xbox Live Arcade version that came out like ten years ago. It’s a fantastic intersection of strategy and building, with impressive depth to even just the base game’s mechanics. I assumed that a new digital edition of Carcassonne would be just as good as the one I remembered, but to my surprise I was quite wrong on that count. While this one will get the job done if you need your city-spanning fix, there are quite a few weaknesses to be aware of before buying in.
Carcassonne is a classic board game set in the pastoral south of France. You and the other players take turns picking tiles at random, which may contain parts of roads, cities, or other picturesque features. You must place your tile in a way that fits with the existing tiles on the board, and then you can use one of your little humanoid tokens (called Meeples, no, really) to claim one of those mentioned features. Completing a city or road with your Meeple on it earns you points, and so the goal of the game is to build bigger and smarter than your opponents to claim the most points.
There’s more to it than this, of course. There are monasteries and bonus city tiles, and you could probably write a dissertation on the mechanics of fields and how they can decide entire games. This edition of Carcassonne also comes loaded with the Abbot expansion, which adds a special Meeple for monasteries and gardens, and offers the River and Inns & Cathedrals expansions for even more complexity. Whether you go in for the broader experience or not, you can spend dozens of hours mastering the strategies and agonizing over perfect tile placements here.
All of that can be experienced in the tabletop game, of course. Here on Steam, you get some additional features which are expected but still manage to be pretty anemic. Obviously the game is suited for multiplayer, and the matchmaking system is swift and simple though it’s presently working with a player base of less than a hundred. There are also bots to beat up on for a solo experience, but don’t expect much of a challenge here. Three difficulties of AI are offered but only the hardest one seems to make use of the game-changing fields, and doesn’t even do it very effectively. It’s fine for practicing or just getting a quick fix, but I wouldn’t really bother with this version unless you plan on doing plenty of online building.
You’ll also need to overlook the obvious mobile port vestiges like giant oversized buttons and a general lack of polish. The graphics aren’t terribly impressive, and at least animate pleasantly with little flags and houses when you finish a city. Meeple placement can be a little touchy based on the tile hotspots, and sometimes placing one causes the camera to wig out. There are some handy features like a field ownership overlay and a visual list of remaining tiles, and both of these options (and others) can be toggled on and off for the grognards in the audience. Overall the presentation feels a bit low-rent, but still contains the features you would expect at a bare minimum.
If it sounds like I’m trying to steer you away from this edition, you’re not strictly wrong. As much as I love Carcassonne this feels like a rather shoddy attempt at bringing it online. It definitely suffers from being preceded by the excellent Xbox version, so if you’ve never played that one you may be a bit more generous. But the fact remains that the bots offer little challenge or resistance and the player base isn’t where it should be for a healthy variety of matches. Normally that would be a good cause to rally people in support but honestly you might just want to grab the physical version and sit down with your friends. This one’ll get the job done if you want to challenge randos on the internet, but only just.