Interesting, engaging, well thought-out and passionate videogames journalism has been quickly sliding down that slippery slope to oblivion.
HairyArse about The decline of games journalism
Let’s be honest. There’s a certain unshakeable stigma attached to board games and their players. Whether it’s Catan, Puerto Rico, Risk or the Games Workshop series of games, it’s hard to imagine its players as being anything other than sweaty, lard-arsed nerds with bad complexions and over-sized neck-beards.
And so when I first saw that The Coding Monkeys' Carcassonne had been released for the iPhone I honestly doubted that it would appeal to me, as I don’t consider myself as having any of the above attributes or accessories. And I intend no offence if you do indeed have a neck-beard. But you know what? I was completely wrong. And for that discretion I wholeheartedly hold my hands up and promise to never be so judgemental, narrow-minded or supercilious again.
Carcassonne, then, to conclude before I’ve really begun, is a wonderfully subtle and nuanced game, and like so many great games before it, is best described by that old cliché of being easy to play but difficult to master.
The gameplay fundamentals are as follows: Carcassonne features a blank playing board and about 50 tiles. Players take it turns to each place a single tile, from the top of the pile, somewhere on said board scoring points as they go along. The principle of the game is that players must create adjoining medieval roads, cities, cloisters (towers) and fields. So when it’s your turn to place a tile, you have to ensure that it joins up with the tiles already positioned on the board. In other words, it has to extend an existing road, expand upon or complete an existing city, or start a new city or road without interfering with the already placed tiles.
When positioning your tiles, you can also place one of your followers, or Meeples as they’re known, on top of it to lay claim to the road, city or cloister. Only one player can claim each section and as the game progresses, things become much more tactical and thoughtful as you strike a balance between laying down your Meeples early, or saving them to capture the larger cities and road system that inevitably build up as more tiles are placed. Players have a limited number of Meeples, but completing a city or a road section rewards you with points as well as allowing you to re-use the previous Meeple.
Meeples placed on fields are laid down and cannot be re-used, but often you can score big points at the game’s conclusion by strategically positioning them in the right places.
And that’s it in a nutshell. There’s a whole load of other information I could give you about the game’s complex scoring structure and the variants on the base game but it would make for tedious reading so I’ll give us both a break.
As you would expect with this being an iPhone game, the touch-screen controls work brilliantly well for this genre. Positioning your tiles by simply dragging and dropping with your finger is as intuitive a control scheme as you’re ever going to get.
The graphics are also rich and vibrant and up-scale amazingly well onto the iPad’s larger screen. In fact, I’ve played Carcassonne mainly on my iPad as opposed to on my iPhone. I should also point out that the iPad version of the game will be free to download upon its release if you’ve already bought the iPhone version. So if you’re even remotely interested in this game, there’s really no point in waiting.
In addition to the main multiplayer board game, which can be played alone against the CPU or against others using Wi-Fi and Push Notifications, there’s also a solitaire version. This single player only variant sees you trying to build complete and whole cities and roads, each using first 2, 3, 4, 5 and then finally 6 tiles, in as few moves as possible. It’s really addictive and when combined with the lovely classical guitar music accompaniment is the perfect relaxing antidote to fast-paced FPSes or racing games.
At £2.99 Carcassonne is well worth it. Few iPhone games are this well presented or developed and the whole package is delightful. The depth and complexity of the game means there’s plenty to think about and new strategies to formulate and it’s very much a thinking-man’s game. Find some like-minded neck-beard wearers and multiplayer on the iPad is second to none. I kid I kid. What are you waiting for? Go buy it.