‘Carcassonne’ for Steam. The Perfect Port?

Carcassonne is one of the most popular tabletop games in recent history. With over a dozen expansions and stand-alone versions, Carcassonne has something that appeals to all styles of players. I recently received a copy of Carcassonne: The Official Board Game for the Steam platform, and I was impressed with the game. (Note, on your Steam directory, the game is referred to as Carcassonne: The Official Board Game, but within Steam itself it is referred to as Carcassonne – Tiles and Tactics.)

Let me preface my review with the caveat that I am a semi-luddite, and in general, I prefer a physical copy of tabletop games to a computer version. I am pleased to say that Carcassonne: The Official Board Game has won me over.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this title.

Setup

Double-click the desktop icon. In case you missed that, you double-click the desktop icon.

Gameplay

You are greeted by the main screen. There are buttons for Local games and Online play.

The Local choice allows you to play with up to five AI opponents, with three varying skill levels: Easy Neighbor, Fierce Egotist, and Risk-Taker. Also on the Local screen are three options for gameplay: Allow Fields, Dead Tiles, and Remaining Tiles List. Allow Fields lets you toggle on or off the Farmer option of the game. This option seems to be a confusing one for beginning player, so toggling it off might be a wise choice for a new player. An experienced player knows that one of the keys to winning at Carcassonne is clever use of fields, so for those players, leave it on. The Dead Tiles option offers the choice of having a red box containing an X in it to occupy a space where there are no legal tiles left to place there. This allows you to immediately know if you have any chance of finishing your road, or city, or monastery. This box appears before final placement of a tile, giving you fair warning of the finality of that placement. The Remaining Tiles list feature allows you to see all the remaining tiles available to be drawn. This is a wonderful tool, letting you see just how many tiles are remaining, and whether or not you should gamble that you will draw one. I like to have all three options toggled on. The Local screen also offers the option of playing with either or both of two expansions: The Abbot and The River. Instructions on how to play each expansion are included.

The Online choice allows you to choose a quick match, versus a random opponent, or set up a match with opponents of your choice. You have a screen with available games already created, with a listing of the options the originating player selected. There are also gameplay filters including Max Players (Any – 5), Online Auto Play, Minimum Karma, and the option of playing a Ranked Game. When you create an online game, you can set a time limit for the game, ranging from 15 minutes to 15 days.

Screenshot: Sean P. Hallenbeck

Once the game has been selected, gameplay proceeds. A complete How to Play Carcassonne guide can be found by clicking here.

Briefly, you take it in turns to draw tiles and lay them according to the rules. The benefit of the computer version is that you are shown exactly where each tile may be legally played, thus saving you from looking at every single tile on the virtual table top. Once placed, the tile may be rotated to your desired choice of placement. You then place your followers (or the more commonly known term, meeples) as desired. Scoring is automatically performed when you complete a feature (road, city, monastery, or garden). This is accompanied by musical fanfare and a visual effect, both of which add a little something to the gameplay that is missing from the tabletop version.

Play continues until all the tiles have been drawn, at which time the computer tallies up the score and announces the winner.

My Take

I found the Steam version of Carcassonne to have a few features that enhance the gameplay compared to the tabletop version.

  • The legal placement highlights save time in that you don’t have to look at every other tile already played to find a possible legal move.
  • The ability to toggle off fields/farmers allows you to remove one of the more confusing aspects of the game for new players.
  • The Dead Tiles feature is a wonderful tool to prevent playing a tile in such a way that you actually hamper your scoring opportunities.
  • The ability to see the remaining tiles lets you plan ahead, enhancing strategy and offering a more optimal manner of play. Nothing’s worse than when you depend on one specific tile and have only one available out of 35 tiles.
  • Online Quick Play allows you to almost instantly join a game and jump right in. No longer do you have to wait for someone in the house to be in the mood for a game.
  • The music and sound effects actually add some flavor to the game, and make it more immersive and enjoyable.
  • Achievements. Like most video games, there are unlock-able achievements in Carcassonne. If you’re at all like me, I want to unlock them all. The Metropolis achievement is unlocked when you complete a city of 10 tiles or more. The Long and Winding Road achievement is acquired when you complete a road of 7 tiles or more in length. There are many other achievements available to drive the need for completion in all of us.

I did have a few misgivings about the game however.

  • The zoom feature, while nice, isn’t really of much use in gameplay. It mainly serves as a method of seeing the nice graphics up close.
  • The board itself fills the screen quite quickly, and you have to do a bit of scrolling L-R and U-D to “see” everything.
  • When you have a number of options for meeple placement that are in close proximity, you need to be careful lest you click on the wrong meeple. There is a final check before committal, though, so that does alleviate some of the mistakes one might make.
  • I like the tactile feel of playing board games. I also like the anticipation one has when reaching into a bag of tiles and hoping to get “just the one I needed.” Desktop versions of games lack that effect for me.

Synopsis

On a scale of 1 -5 meeples, I’d give Carcassonne: The Official Board Game 4.5 meeples. It has all the gameplay of the tabletop version. It has added features such as Dead Tiles that enhance the game. The ability to begin a game at a moment’s notice is wonderful. Aside from the lack of a tactile aspect, this seems like a near-perfect adaptation of a venerable tabletop game.

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