Carcassonne (Xbox360, XBLA)
Publisher: Sierra Online
Carcassonne is an engaging board-to-video-game translation, and it succeeds in staying true to the source while making the gameplay more streamlined and accessible than its board-game roots. Carcassonne is a relatively simple game where you take turns laying out city tiles, interlocking them according to the rules (roads have to link to roads, etc.), and placing pawns across the board to “claim” certain areas, which translate into points at the end of the game. Typically playable in 20-40 minutes, this is a great game for those times when you can’t commit a couple of hours to gaming.
The Xbox Live translation of this game addresses some of the complaints I have had with the actual board game, and because of this, I feel it is actually the superior version (though some board-game purists would have my head for this).
- The interface is clean and functional, and there is practically no learning curve for the controls.
- The game highlights where you are allowed to place your pieces, which eliminates some of the mistakes you can make in the board game. With configurable time limits for each turn, you can make sure your opponent isn’t watching episodes of Lost between turns.
- Finally, the slow and sometimes confusing point-tallying phase at the end of the board game has been completely automated in this iteration, speeding up gameplay considerably and reducing frustration.
The game is not flawless, however, and sometimes the random nature of the tile placement and lack of great strategic depth leave you feeling a little like you’re on autopilot. However, if your group of friends is scattered to winds like mine, Carcassonne makes an excellent backdrop for catching up with them through Xbox Live.
There are several unpredictable aspects of Carcassonne that make a singular strategy impossible to create and follow. Here are some general pointers to put you in a good position to terrify and belittle your opponent.
- Keep at least one pawn in reserve! Don’t succumb to the temptation of throwing all your pawns down on the first good-looking areas you see. (Maybe this also doubles as dating advice?) Having a pawn in reserve allows you to capitalize on “gimme” situations, and gives you the flexibility of scoring if your opponent ties up all of his/her pawns.
- Look for those “gimme” opportunities! By completing a one-tile city and placing your pawn in it, you can get the points and have your pawn immediately returned to you. This strategy also works for sealing off small roads that branch off of the main paths. This strategy is not always appropriate, but it helps pad your score if nothing looks good at the moment, and it doesn’t tie up one of those adorable pawns!
- Place at least one pawn in the field! Placing a pawn in a good, central, and open area at the onset of the game can add up to big points at the end. You score points for every completed city your stretch of land touches, so you’ll force your opponent to make the choice of abandoning partially completed cities to deny you points, or to build and hope to outscore you. A word of warning: this will tie up your pawn for the rest of the game, so don’t go overboard with field pawns.
- Has your opponent claimed a huge partially completed city? Try using tiles creatively to merge a small, one-tile city (that you have claimed) into the larger city. If you do this, no one will get points, as you both will have one pawn in the city and ties are not scored. This is even better when they don’t see it coming, since you are then authorized to laugh, taunt, and make animal noises until your opponent capitalizes on your lack of attention and does the same thing to you down the line.
Overall, Carcassonne is a good entry point into the world of German board games, and is an addictive experience in its own right. Xbox Live makes it easy to jump in and out of a game, so you’re never more than a few moments away from a match with a friend.
Rating: 75/100, Get it
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