Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Carcassonne

I don't quite know how I came across it, maybe it was seeing the picture of the medieval babe or something that drew me to this demo, but I downloaded it. In one fell swoop, Carcassonne had introduced itself to me and I never went back.

Carcassonne is a downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade on the 360 and only had cost me 400 points. This was an appropriate price as I'd come to find and I'm interested in purchasing the downloadable content (more on that soon). It's based off of a European board game of the same name and involves tile placement. This seems boring but I assure you it's not. Once you begin understanding how to earn points and the particular strategies the game goes from fun to addictive fun.

The graphics are somewhat basic but there's still a nice amount of detail for what you need to be able to decipher. For instance, the grass is just green. They don't try to provide actual grassy textures or anything and I understand. It would probably make the game harder to see and it would be more taxing on the system resources. By keeping things simple they've found a medium between an actual board game and a technological counterpart. When the Castles are created they sprout from the ground and a little fanfare is heard. Things like this are nice and make it readily apparent when you've scored points or why you've scored them. I really want to play the actual board game someday but I bet keeping score is a lot trickier than in this XBLA version. Especially when you consider the Farms aspect of the game, which allows you to utilize the grass as a point modifier, things could get confusing. That's not really so with this digital version of the game. The menus and in-game overlays are easy to read and well designed. The controls though took a slight getting used to, but they make sense. By this I simply mean which button should do what and when. I occasionally still accidentally place a marker in the wrong spot or when I don't want to, but it's a severely minor concern.

The game includes the standard style with up to five players total, both online and off. For 300 points you can buy two kinds of expansion packs. I haven't nabbed either, but for the first time in digital downloads history, I actually really want to spend more money on these. The two packs are another River Expansion and a Kings/Thieves Expansion. I'll likely get the River Expansion first but I am quite excited to get both. The total points for this all this would be 1000 which is only $12.50. That's a little less than half of what it would cost you to nab the real game (which may or may not have those expansions) off Amazon or some other retailer. Even if you don't get the packs though, at $5.00, the game has tremendous value. Also, the game features a handful of in-game Achievements which I find enjoyable. Some are particularly creative while others are points-based. I wish there had been more of the creative ones though. It would have added to the strategy.

The Verdict:

Carcassonne is a surprisingly awesome board game for anyone who likes board games. It's got a slight feel of Pipe Dream but without the time limit and a presentation/scoring system weirdly reminiscent of Scrabble. Watch a video of it on Youtube or download the demo for yourself. It can't hurt and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

What I liked:

Clean graphics. Addictive gameplay. Expansions. Achievements are reachable and fun to acquire.

What I didn't like:

It would have been nice to have a couple different music tracks during the games. The zoom feature is a little funny but it works. I wish there had been more unique Achievements.

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