I might get some hate mail for this, but I believe that traditional board games are not only enjoyable on platforms like the iPhone 5s, but are actually better than their in-box counterparts. Carcassonne ($9.99 for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) is a great example, which won me over with its brisk play, strategic opportunities, and loving design. It might not be as casual as Candy Crush, but it’s an amazing mobile experience.
Huge Tracts of Land
In Carcassonne, each player takes turns placing tiles on a rich, wooden board. Each tile is a loving and exact recreation of the board game’s pieces, and doesn’t look shoddily scanned at all. Small flags along the bottom show you the running score of each player, and a large pennant unfurls each turn to give you more options. It’s a great design that’s out of the way when you don’t need it, but keeps all your tools close at hand.
Each tile is illustrated with several medieval elements like castle walls, city squares, roads, monastic cloisters, and open green pasture. Placing tiles builds a map of the world, and you can only place tiles so that they visually match—roads cannot connect to walls, for instance. Completing structures like cities and roads earns you points which you claim by placing a human figurine on the board. You can also claim any open pasture as farm, which can score critical end-game points, but at the cost of one figurine.
The challenge is managing your constructions and placing tiles in such a way that it benefits you and not your opponent. You might have a great opportunity to complete a road and earn big points, but if all your figurines are already in use elsewhere, you’ve missed your opportunity. With clever tile placement, you can even “steal” cities from opponents.
I should also take a moment to call out the game’s excellent classical guitar soundtrack, which hums along pleasantly in the background. I dare anyone to play this game and feel stressed afterward.
More Than Tiles
As much as I love board games, their physical manifestations have some drawbacks. The original box version of Carcassonne has dozens of tiles, and scoring the game—particularly farms—can be very tricky. And you’ll need a lot of shelf space if you shelled out for all the expansions of Carcassonne. On the iPhone there’s no worrying over scoring, and nothing to store.
Purists might feel that the game goes too far. It can, for instance, mark spaces on the board where no tile will fit with an “X.” The app also has a pull down menu which shows all the possible tiles and how many of each have yet to be played. I think these actually make the game more fun, but hardcore players can toggle these features off before the start of a game.
Carcassonne also includes one of the most enjoyable video game tutorials I’ve yet experienced, featuring a soft-spoken man with an English accent walking you through each aspect of the game. It’s worth the time of even an experienced player with its weird conceit and lighthearted tone.
Building With Friends
Carcassonne for iPhone comes with some pretty good AI bots to play against, but it’s the most fun when playing against your friends. To my surprise, the game has a very simple multiplayer system that lets you play against your friends or be paired up online. The only downside is that each turn takes just a few seconds to play, and depending on your opponents’ schedule it could be hours before your next turn.
I much prefer to use pass-and-play, where I take a turn and then physically hand my phone to another player. It’s great for when you don’t have access to the Internet, or want a more traditional board game experience. I’d like to see the developers add local multiplayer over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, like on SpaceTeam, but it works fine without.
Claim Your Land
Carassonne is one of those great games that’s easy and fun to play, but also provides a lot of strategic challenge. Players of all skill levels can find something they like in it. Best of all, the games are brisk and (if you’re not playing with any of the in-app purchased expansions) pretty brief.
All of this was already present in Carcassonne as a board game, but on iOS its best features shine even brighter. It’s an easy Editors’ Choice for iPhone games and takes five out of five stars.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc