Let’s call a spade a spade. I come from a family of gamers. It can be any kind of game honestly – card, board, video, you name it we have probably played it. This started from as far back as I can remember. Card games with my grandmother, board games with my parents, backgammon with my father, video games with my brother – the list goes on. Family get-togethers consisted of the obligatory meal and then straight to the game playing. In fact I can outline my childhood based on gaming milestones – the first time I beat my father in backgammon, reached a high score of Tank, etc. My family is so animated in our game-playing that many of our neighbors can probably remember what Scrabble dictionary we were using on a certain date or whether a certain item was finally (after much boisterous debate) acceptable for a “Facts in Five” category. Why the need for Hope’s Memoir you ask? Well it is all a lead up for the release of the board game Carcassonne by TheCodingMonkeys & Hans im Glück Verlag in the App Store this past week.
When I heard that Carcassonne was coming to the App Store I was elated. I must admit though that through my elation I learned that not too many people here in the US even knew what I was talking about. Lucky for me I own the original game, brought to me straight from Germany, its country of origin. For years I begged people to learn the intricacies of the game with me. Soon it was clear that I wasn’t ever going to have as many human players as I would need for a true game so I developed my own “solitaire” rules and played however I could. I broke out the game at family gatherings and I got to play a game or two. But much to my dismay it never quite caught on like some of our other family favorites and I was back to making my own fun with the 71 tiles and the ever simplistic Meeple.
For those new to the Carcassonne community, play is with those 71 tiles I mentioned, each with a drawing of fields, roads, buildings, cloisters and more of a settlement. Players alternate turns by drawing a tile and placing it next to another already in player (almost domino style) so that it continues the structures. Points are gained by strategically placing one of your Meeples on one of the elements of the tile you just played – road, structure, or farm. Strategies emerge, blocks and defense begins, making roads or farms larger continues until points are tallied at the end of the game.
Tutorial and Manual: For the rookie or the seasoned veteran, the tutorial is a fun and informative experience. Complete with voice-overs, polish and knowledge, the walkthrough will get you straight on your way to your first game. Though the game has very few rules to play with, it has a very complex point system and the game manual does a wonderful job explaining all the ins and outs of what is and what isn’t included. Learning the scoring system and developing your own strategy is key to success, otherwise you can be at the mercy of the luck of the order of the stack of tiles.
AI opponents: Just as in real life there are different styles of play, the AI opponents have unique styles. There are the aggressive blockers, there are the silent road hoarders, there are the jump at the start on a farmer amongst many other combinations. Should you want to play against the AI, there are many to choose from, all of which will provide a challenge. The more varied the opponent I find, the more you can learn new strategies. Quite quickly I found that the first to farm is not always the big point gainer when playing against an aggressive player who might try to horn in on your territory. The best way to learn the game is to play against the various opponents.
Multi-player: Carcassonne allows multiplayer capability in many ways. Several modes will also be available when the free universal iPad upgrade is available later this month. Some of these modes include pass and play, wifi and bluetooth. But by far the most popular at the moment are the internet match ups. Connected over the 3G network or wifi, “quick play” matches can be arranged between any players awaiting a match up. A very strict system is in place to prevent abandoning of games so be on your toes in these games.
Creating multiplayer match ups with friends is as simple as emailing your friends the link to your match and when accepted the game begins. The timer is not present in these familiar match ups and asynchronous play can commence. It is not unheard of for one match to take days to complete depending on schedules, time zones, conflicts, etc.
ELO Ranking: Purely for bragging rights as far as I can tell, ELO rankings have been included to compile your rating as a player. Simply put, beating a higher level opponent increases your rating points and losing to a lesser level player lowers your rating points. Of course there is more of a mathematical formula used to calculate these numbers but if you have never heard of an ELO rating (popular in chess and much like a handicap in golf) that is what it is in a nutshell.
Also included in the stats of your play are win loss records, not only of total games played but against particular opponents. Your arch nemesis is calculated based on who you have lost to the most and much more!
Solitaire Mode: Ok so I was ahead of my time I guess when I began to play solitaire games when I couldn’t find an opponent. Well, this isn’t exactly the game play that is featured but a great solitaire mode is indeed included. There are several cities that each represent a tile set. The goal is to complete a board with as few tiles as possible. Starting with 1,000 points, points are added or subtracted depending on the roads, structures, etc that you complete per move. Using the city name, you can then challenge your friends to top your score. A unique twist on the solitaire concept.
Carcassonne by TheCodingMonkeys & Hans im Glück Verlag arrived on the App Store at a time when board games are gaining in popularity due to their playability on the iPad. iPod Touch users benefit from this as a myriad of board games are now available for them as well. With no tiles to lose, no Meeples to misplace and certainly no confusing territories to add up for your final score because the game does it for you, Carcassone for both the iPod Touch and the iPad is a board game done right. New and seasoned players will enjoy the easy rules and the strategic game play. As players quickly discover, no two games will ever be alike.
A universal iPad update has been promised and In-App DLC will be forthcoming. This DLC presumably will be for some of the 20 or so expansion packs available for the board game. Carcassonne is a game everyone will come to love with its easy to learn, a lifetime to master complexity.