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Carcassonne

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Klaus-Jurgen Wrede

GAME DEVELOPER:Rio Grande Games

GAME PUBLISHER:KOCH Media

Copyright 2002, KOCH Media

Carcassonne is a wonderful PC conversion of the excellent board game of the same name that deservedly won Germany’s much-coveted Spiel des Jahres (“Game of the Year”) award in 2001. If you have already played the board game, skip the following paragraph where I will summarize the elegant rules for the uninitiated :)

Named after the town in Southern France of the same name (famous for its unique mix of Roman and Medieval city walls), Carcassonne is a turn-based, tile-laying game that pits you against up to 5 computer or human opponents in a race to win with the highest score. Each turn, you draw a tile at random from your stack, and must place it somewhere on the board. You can only place the tile on a *valid* location and layout – the edge of a road section cannot be “cut off” by a meadows section, for example. Similarly, city sections must connect to existing city tiles. You gain points by placing your “followers” on the board to control cities, farms (defined as “closed” meadows area adjacent to at least one city), cloisters, and roads (once placed on the board, followers are called knights, farmers, monks, and thieves respectively). The trick is to be the first player to place followers on city/farm/road/cloisters tiles, because this gives you exclusive control and prevents anyone else from doing so. Once you control a city or road, you will gain points as you add more city or road sections to your existing properties. If you own a farm, you can gain more points as more “completed” cities (i.e. no open edges) spring up next to your farm (indicating that your farm is supplying it). It is possible for two or more players to control the same property – for example, if a road section controlled by one player is now joined with another section that is controlled by another – in which case both players get points. An exception is the farm: only one player can control each farm, and you can place more followers on farms to wrestle control from another player. Once roads/cities/farms/cloisters are “closed” (i.e. have no more open edges), thieves/knights/farmers/monks return to your hand and become available as followers again, ready to conquer more tiles. Easy to learn and hard to master, Carcassonne is a deceptively simple tile-laying game that will make you come back for more. Since each player has only a few followers, the key to winning the game is to wisely deploy your followers only when and where you can earn the most points, and plan your moves so that you will always have followers to place until the end of the game.

This PC version from KOCH brings the fun of Carcassonne to PC gamers, and does a great job of staying true to the original while offering all the convenience of PC. You can always see each player’s current score, bring up a window that shows you which tiles are left to draw, and change cosmetic options including how the tiles and menus look. You can also choose to play with a timer, and toggle different variants on and off.

Because you must place the current tile in your hand immediately on the map, luck plays a role in Carcassonne, albeit a very minor one given the large variety of tiles and the diversity of strategic options. If you cannot find friends to play against (hotseat, LAN, and TCP/IP), there is a wide range of computer-controlled opponents you can play with. These “bots” range in difficulty from “novice” to “expert,” and provide a good challenge (AI levels 5 and above are particularly tough). Everyone, including the bots, are rated in a similar way to chess, and these ratings are updated with the results of each game. In addition to providing a good incentive to maintain your standing, the ratings are useful as indicators of relative players’ skills – especially when you look for strangers on the central servers to play against.

Last but not least, the graphics is crisp and pleasant, although I think most strategy gamers would prefer to see less bells & whistles (such as isometric or animated tiles, which are nice but not really necessary) to reduce download size – 152MB is a big too large for a turn-based strategy game that otherwise has very low hardware requirements. The included medieval songs also sound nice, but you can replace them with your own MP3 files if you prefer. All in all, Carcassonne is a great PC adaptation of one of the best tabletop strategy games ever made. Highly recommended for every strategy fan!

Note: KOCH Media is still selling both the CD-ROM and downloadable versions of the game as well as the add-on – naturally the latter is recommended for residents outside of Germany. In a very strange marketing decision, KOCH did not advertise the game in English even though you CAN change the language from German to English by changing a config variable – as explained on the official site! The website is in German, but it is not that hard to navigate, and you can create a new account from anywhere in the world. I bought my version from this site and have been happy ever since :)



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