Carcassonne on Android, let's try this again...
# of Players
1 - 6
If this feels like deja vu, yes, we have reviewed Carcassonne for Android before. Well, Exozet lost the license to the digital version of the game so Asmodee took over control and completely redid the game for Android and Steam. The fantastic iOS version remains unchanged.
Carcassonne is the classic tile placement game which is among the most popular modern games in the world. Players draw and place tiles in an attempt to complete roads and cities which provide control over Carcassonne and vital victory points. The game plays out until all tiles are exhausted and the player with the most points after some final scoring wins, this usually takes about 15 minutes for a standard four player game.
A game of basic Carcassonne starts with a standard first tile. The first player then draws a tile and must place it, connecting to the existing tile. The board is built up this way as each player adds a new tile and optionally adds a meeple to the tile they just played. Players can complete cities for the biggest points, two per city tile involved, while roads and monasteries are each worth one point per tile. Once any of those three are completed the player controlling them (as judged by having the most meeples in/on them) wins the points. This occurs when a city is closed, a road dead ends on both sides, or a monastery is completely surrounded by tiles. The final method of scoring is using farmers to claim fields which score points based on each completed city they touch at the end of the game. Unlike meeples placed in cities, roads, or monasteries, meeples placed in fields don’t ever return to their owner’s hand. This makes fields the ultimate risk/reward proposition in the land of Carcassonne. Once the game ends, incomplete cities, roads, and monasteries are scored with incomplete cities worth only one point per tile. Finally, the fields are added up to count the final point totals.
Carcassonne is a classic gateway for a reason, it is an incredibly simple game that has fun decisions on every turn. Experienced players will likely treat Carcassonne as a battle and try to add on meeples to big cities to wrestle control from opponents. New players might play this a multiplayer solitaire. Neither way is wrong, and the variety adds a lot of fun to the game.
Carcassonne morphs into something completely different once you add the expansions. At launch time only two were available, and they are fairly small expansions in the Carcassonne world. Once the app introduces Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders, especially, the game grows immensely. We have no doubt these will see release on this version at some point, hopefully soon, but it must be noted that the base game feels a little shallow these days after years of playing with some of the core expansions.
All that being said, Carcassonne is a great game. Like the other games which have stood the test of time, the game balances a super simple concept with fun decisions to be made at every turn. That you can ruthlessly attempt to overtake your opponent’s cities or sit back and build up your own corner of the map makes each game have a range of possibilities.
Barrier to Entry
It’s tough to find people who haven’t been exposed to Carcassonne at some point, and the tutorial here seems to assume most players have already played the game. Simply put, it is incomplete for brand new players. It doesn’t explain the intricacies of meeple placement or head-to-head scoring, let alone going into how fields work (which does make some sense as it is treated as a variant here). In addition to the tutorial there is a text “how to play” feature. This is mostly as vague as the tutorial, only alluding to hostile takeovers with the line: “...there are clever ways for two or more players to occupy the same feature simultaneously.” Okay? It’s a fairly major point of the game to be able to take over a city or road, and it gets completely glossed over? Not a problem for most players, but anybody attempting to use this app to learn the game for the first time will likely find trouble. The expansions get their own text rules, which are complete and succinct.
Carcassonne is a classic game than many, many people have played. It still feels like the wrong decision to create a tutorial the falls short of explaining the full breadth of the game strategies. We won’t dock the app much here, as new players will likely pick up on things after a few games anyway, but the tutorial certainly leaves something to be desired.
Early on in the game
Starting a new game
Look and Feel
Carcassonne got a major visual overhaul here, it looks great in the fantastic 3D view. Unfortunately, the 2D view is significantly more practical. The visuals all around are fantastic. When a feature is complete, the tiles change to reflect that. It is a tiny, but great touch that makes the app pop. Controls are fantastic, drag and drop, touch to spin, add a meeple, etc… all are intuitive and easy. The game has some really nice visual aids which can tell you which spaces are unplayable with the remaining tiles, which fields are controlled by which player, and which spaces your current tile can legally fit. All of these can easily be toggled on and off, but all look great and provide great game context, especially for new players. There is an option to skip the nice looking in-game animations which will knock a few minutes off of your games if you wish, but they are nice to look at if you can spare the time. Outside of the game, the menus are functional with a nice look. Asmodee really knocked the graphics and controls out of the park on this one, the app looks and plays great.
The online system for Carcassonne will be familar to anybody who has played Asmodee’s other adaptations. Games are created in a lobby and you wait for others to join. You can select a few options for games, such as selecting which expansions you want, whether you want to use fields, and other odds and ends. Online games play up to six players. The ranking system is the familiar ELO system, all players start at 1500 and improve/drop based on winning or losing and rank of the player(s) you played against. There is also a karma system, players lose karma for quitting games early. If you want, you can filter out lower karma players from joining your games. There is an in-game chat feature, but when I leave and return to the game the older chat messages are gone, this feels like a minor bug.
Games can be played with a short timeout, 15 minutes being the minimum, or long timeouts, 15 days being the maximum. This is a clock that counts down when the game is waiting on you, it is a total amount of time and doesn’t replenish between turns.
Aside from that, the Asmodee online system is good, but not great, and you get all of the pluses and minuses seen in other games. The biggest issue is that there isn't any way to see the results of your private matches after they finish. That's sort of a big deal, I play with friends and we have to send group texts when a game ends so other players can see the final score. If you play enough games you will also run into a case where you actually get to play your opponent's turns for them. There is also some weirdness when trying to start a private game, as sometimes the invitation will disappear before you can hit accept on the screen, and there is no way to see the invitation through the normal menus. Overall, as a private async game, Carcassonne works, but just barely. Be warned if this is your primary use for this app.
Additionally, the need to wait in a lobby for your game to fill up doesn’t make a lot of sense if you want to start an async game. It is also annoying that you can't leave a game and land back in your games list, instead you are returned to the main menu and must then go into the games list. A small detail, but if you juggle multiple games it is a noticeable one. Otherwise, it is a well tested online system, the games run just fine and we’ve had no issues completing games. There seems to be a strong player based shortly after the app release, I rarely see under 100 players online at any time.
Single player games involve you and one to five AI bots. You can play with any and all expansions you have and toggle the options for fields, dead tile indicators, and the ability to look into the stack of remaining tiles. The AI comes in three different varieties: Easy Neighbor, Fierce Egoist, and Risk-Taker. After a handful of games, I can’t say that any of these AIs are easier or harder than the other. I took a screenshot of my first AI game’s end score as the Easy Neighbor defeated me and the two other AIs (I played against one of each of the three). As far as I can tell, “Easy Neighbor” doesn’t mean dumb, it just means they will keep to themselves and attempt to score their own points rather than steal yours. Often times, that is a winning strategy.
The biggest flaw I’ve found in playing the AI is that they aren’t great at utilizing fields. Advanced players know fields will make or break a game, and having an AI that gives up the prime field locations for the first half of the game really puts them at a disadvantage.
Full board in 2D
Full board in 3D
Easy Neighbor with the win!
Expansions, expansions, expansions. Carcassonne is an oft-expanded game. Like many older games, many of the expansions have become big enough to be considered must haves, if not simply a part of the base game. Both of the expansions available at launch, The River and The Abbot, are actually included in the base physical game these days. The Abbot is free when you sign in (or sign up) with an Asmodee account, which is necessary for online play anyway, The River is available as the first in-app purchase at $0.99. Both The Abbot and The River are shipped as a part of the base board game at this point. The Abbot provides another scoring mechanism in the form of a new meeple, while The River provides 12 tiles which start the game, opening things up on the board.
Update: Inns & Cathedrals is the first major expansion and its inclusion starts to make Carcassonne feel complete. It adds some simple "double or nothing" (not exactly, but close enough) risk/reward tiles and the all important Giant Meeple! He/she counts as two meeples when fighting over a territory, so use them wisely. It has been a nearly a year since the release of this app and to only see one of the big expansions is disappointing, hopefully there are plans to bring more down the line.
Update: Traders & Builders is now available. This is the first major gameplay change as it introduces a special builder piece which can allow you to play two tiles on one turn. It also gives goods to whomever closes a city, which can lead to closing opponent's cities just to collect the goods. There are three types of goods and whoever has the most of each earns ten points at the end of the game.
The Wrap Up
Carcassonne gets a mostly strong Android implementation. We liked the older version, but there’s no doubt what Asmodee has produced here is more polished and should have a lot of staying power as the expansions come rolling out. The app looks fantastic and plays great. The complaints are centered around the online play, not the game play, but rather the menus, invite system, and seeing completed games. These, of course, can be significant issues depending on how you intend to play the game.
Despite a handful of warts, Asmodee has a strong port of the classic game, we will be excited to test out the bigger expansions which are sure to roll out soon.