Carcassonne Xbox Live Arcade
Published by: Sierra
Developed by: Sierra
Release Date: Out Now
One of the real Xbox 360 success stories has been the Xbox Live Arcade. The amount of people that have purchased Xbox Live Arcade games from the Xbox Live Marketplace has been truly phenomenal and it's no surprise that both Nintendo (with the Wii) and Sony (with the PlayStation 3) have followed suit and offered download titles. The range of titles you can now purchase on the Marketplace is quite impressive and there are games for everyone. Over the last few months a couple of games based on German board games have been released. Catan was an impressive conversion of the popular The Settlers of Catan and here we have Carcassonne, a game based on the popular board game of the same name.
Carcassonne is a tile-based board game where you attempt to conquer different areas of the ever expanding region with your followers. There are 71 titles in addition to a starting tile that is placed down. Players take it in turn taking a random tile from the pile and placing it next to the tiles that have already been placed. The only requirement of where you place the tile is that the tile you place down must have an edge that can connect to an edge on a tile that has already been placed. When placing the tiles the idea is to form cities, roads and monasteries. Each of these are worth a certain amount of points. Cities are built when pieces are laid next to each other to provide closed city walls and a city is worth 2 points per tile. If a city is built using 4 tiles then it will be worth 8 points. Likewise a city that is built using 12 tiles would be worth 24 points. If one of the pieces that's been used to build the city contains a blue and white chequered shield (known as a pennant) then an extra 2 points will be added for each pennant within the city walls. Roads are worth 1 point per tile so a road consisting of 7 tiles would be 7 points in value. Monasteries are just a single tile and are worth 1 point per tile. You'll have to completely surround the tile with other tiles in order to earn the point however. It takes 8 tiles to completely surround the monastery tile so in all you'll earn 9 points for completely surrounding the tile, including the point for the monastery tile itself.
Building cities, monasteries and roads isn't enough to earn you points in Carcassonne. As we said earlier, you'll conquer with your followers. Each turn you have you'll place a tile (which you can rotate) and you'll be able to place a follower onto the tile that you've just placed. You have seven follower pieces at your disposal and you have to use them to claim the cities, monasteries and roads. Once a follower has been placed he cannot be picked up until the road, city or monastery onto which he has been placed, has been completed. If a follower is placed on a road he is known as a Thief. A follower placed in a city is known as a Knight. Of course during a game it's possible that more than one player will have positioned their followers on a road or in a city etc. When the road, city or monastery has been completed the points will go to the player who has the most followers placed there. Should players have an equal amount of followers then they will both earn the maximum points. In addition to cities, monasteries and roads there are also farms although you don't receive any points for these until a game has finished. On each tile, as well as the monastery symbol or a piece of a road or city you'll also have grass. When the game has finished the grass between the roads, cities and monasteries are known as farms. Farms are claimed by placing followers on the grass part of a tile (there are multiple points on a tile in which you can place a follower so a tile that has a road will allow you to either place the follower on the road or on the grass either side of the road). A farm earn points for each completed city it touches so for example, a farm that touches two completed cities will earn 6 points for whoever has the most followers in it. The followers placed in a farm are naturally known as Farmers and Farmers stay on the board right until the end of the game. At the close of the game points are award for unfinished cities (half the usual points) and unfinished roads and monasteries. Unfinished roads earn their usual points and unfinished monasteries earn a point for each neighbouring tile and a point for the monastery itself.
Those who like their board games to be easy to play but difficult to master are really in for a treat with Carcassonne. The game is instantly playable, although you will still want to go through the tutorials, found in the Help and Options section, to learn the finer points of the game such as being aware of the farms that are created during the game and how to cut-off your opponents from taking advantage of them. If you've played the board game you'll known that Carcassonne has a variety of expansion packs available for it. This Xbox Live Arcade version comes with The River expansion and the game also includes a tutorial to cover this expansion, which is a nice touch. When playing with The River expansion players will first create a river before commencing with the normal game. Carcassonne can either be played as a single-player game against up to four AI opponents (there are four AI difficulty settings), over Xbox Live against up to four human opponents or offline against three other human opponents. It's great to see that support has been included for offline multiplayer, which is something not all Xbox Live Arcade games offer unfortunately. You can play with or without The River expansion, choose whether or not to score points for roads and monasteries and choose whether to score according to international or US rules for cities and farms (and also to disable scoring for them).
Graphically Carcassonne isn't anything special but then it doesn't really need to be. As the game begins the camera is zoomed in quite close to the tiles but as the game develops and there are more tiles on the board the camera pulls out to allow you a better overall view. When the game is nearing its end the tiles can be a little small, especially if you're not playing on a HD display, but you do have the ability to zoom in and you'll probably want to do this quite a bit in the latter stages of a game if you're not playing on a HD display. From a presentation standpoint, the game is absolutely fine. You can customise the user interface to a certain degree. The game is fine for deaf gamers with all tutorials and in-game information being shown either through the use of icons, text or numbers. The game also supports the Xbox Live Vision camera.
Carcassonne is one of the better Xbox Live Arcade titles to date and is very nicely priced at 800 points. As a single-player title it's challenging (depending on the difficulty level you play against of course) and enjoyable but it's the multiplayer options that really make the game enjoyable and it's great that the game supports offline multiplayer as well as online multiplayer. As we mentioned earlier, Carcassonne, the board game, has had plenty of expansion packs which have really added to the experience. At the time of writing I don't know whether there are any expansion packs planned for this Xbox Live Arcade version of the game but I think it's a safe bet that there will be, especially as The River expansion has been included with the game. For those who enjoy their board games Carcassonne is highly recommended and even those who normally aren't fussed about such games would do well to download the trial version and give the game a whirl.
Carcassonne is easy to learn, difficult to master and a lot of fun whether you decide to play alone, at home with your friends or over Xbox Live.