Late to the Game: Carcassonne

Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys
Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys

One of four games described by Tabletop host Wil Wheaton as the “pillars of classic European-style board games,” Carcassonne is a modern classic released back in 2000. The aim of the game is to collect points while building towns, monasteries, roads, and farms in the French countryside. It is a simple game to introduce with a wide and varied range of available expansions, the first of which (“The River”) is generally packaged with the base game. Carcassonne is now also available as an app for iOS and Android, so I took a look at both to compare their pros and cons.

Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys
Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys

The App Game

Pros:
1. For those new to the game, a tutorial mode teaches you how to play. Newbies might also benefit from the ability to switch off fields/farming (Carcassonne‘s most complex scoring mechanic) at least for their first few games.

2. The app keeps track of the remaining tiles. This not only means that you get a handy countdown in the corner that lets you know just how many tiles are left in the virtual stack, but it also introduces another useful feature. Because the game knows exactly which tiles are remaining in the stack, when you place your current tile on the table, it automatically looks at the layout. If you have created a space in which no remaining tile can possibly be played, an X is scratched into the table surface. This happens before you commit to laying down your tile, so you can see if, for example, placing that tile will mean a city can never be completed and choose to place it elsewhere. If you’d rather play without this feature, it can be switched off.

3. The app also shows you all of your options for placing a tile by shading each available location. This makes it much faster to check your possibilities on a large map, rather than spending time figuring out where you can play on this turn.

4. When placing tiles, the app shows you the different options you have for placing meeples. This stops farmers accidentally being placed in occupied fields where boundaries are difficult to follow.

5. One of the biggest headaches of Carcassonne comes at the very end of the game, when farmers are being counted. Working out the boundaries of each farm can be very time-consuming, depending on the layout of the final “board.” The app automatically calculates the value of each farm, including splitting points when multiple farmers share fields.

6. The app has several modes to play. You can choose to play against computer opponents who vary in difficulty and tactics, or you can go online and play against friends or complete strangers. There’s always someone to play against, even if it’s only a bot.

7. The app also introduces a brand-new game-play mode: Solitaire. Unlike traditional Carcassonne, the Solitaire variant asks you to build a settlement on a budget of 1,000 victory points. The settlement must have cities and roads in every size, from two to six tiles, built in consecutive order. Placing tiles costs points based on their location.

8. One of the biggest bonuses to the app is its price. The basic game costs $9.99/£6.99, with expansions ranging from $0.99/69p to  $1.99/£1.49. Meanwhile, the physical base game stands at $25/£20, with expansions costing around $15/£13 each.

Cons:
1. By the end of the game, Carcassonne can become a sprawling mass of tiles. Because of the limited screen size (and shape), this means it’s difficult to see the whole “board” at once, which can lead to either a lot of scrolling or reducing the tiles down to microscopic size. This is especially true when playing on an iPhone or iTouch.

2. There are significantly fewer expansions available than for the board game. However, the numbers are rapidly increasing (a new expansion—“The Phantom”—was launched just a few days ago), meaning this could soon become a moot point.

Carcassonne Board Game © Z-Man Games
Carcassonne board game © Z-Man Games

The Tabletop/Board Game

Pros:
1. The board game generally comes with “The River” expansion as part of the standard base game (it is a paid expansion on the app), meaning instant variety is included for your first purchase.

2. The range of expansions is much wider: bridges, princesses and dragons, inns, abbeys, traders, and more are all available to turn your Carcassonne from a small settlement to a mighty civilization.

3. Playing on a tabletop makes it much easier to see entire board at once.

4. The big draw of a physical game is the ability to play with a group of friends; it’s kind of what the whole resurgence of tabletop gaming is about, after all. Taking the game along to play with friends and family or to public gaming days allows you to connect with people in a way an app never could.

Cons:
1. The biggest issue with the tabletop game is simply its cost. At more than double the cost of the app for the base game and with some expansions costing over seven times more in physical form than as in-app purchases, it is difficult to justify the additional cost—especially for those of us on a budget. There is also the issue of storage, a pain known well to those of us with large board game collections and small houses.

2. As much as the nature of a tabletop game lends itself to community and playing with others, for those of us who live apart from friends and family, this can be a drawback, meaning we can only play on rare occasions.

 

As usual, there is no “best” option because different options will suit different people best. With a much cheaper price tag, a flexible range of options to change your game-play depending on how you want to play, and simplified game-play, the app is a robust addition to your app library.  Indeed Carcassonne is a rare case where the benefits of the app vastly outnumber those of the physical game. However, there will be many cases where the physical game is a better option, especially for those who play regularly in groups. Hopefully, this will help you decide which option is best for you.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes. 

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