If you’re a fan of strategy tile-placed games, you’ve probably heard of the award-winning board game Carcassonne. This month, the Epic Games store gave out free copies of both Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride digital PC ports, so we decided to jump in and try them out for ourselves. Strap on your boots and bust out those meeples as we dive into Carcassonne for PC.
The board game Carcassonne was published in German exactly 20 years ago, by Hans im Glück and is currently maintained by Z-Man Games. The Carcassonne digital adaptation has gone through many iterations, including an Xbox 360 release in 2006, before finally settling on the more recent Steam release of 2017: Carcassonne: Tiles and Tactics. This is the most recent version of the game, and the one we had the delight of playing through.
Carcassonne draws inspiration from its namesake: the beautiful walled city of Carcassonne in southern France. The music that greets you in the game is very fitting for the setting, emulating a light melody played by a lute and accompanied by an airy flute. While I had heard of Carcassonne the board game before, I have never actually had the pleasure of playing it. Carcassonne: Tactics and Tiles is my first introduction to the actual gameplay.Several modes of play are available: singleplayer vs AI, matchmaking, or online play with friends. Up to 6 players can play through a single game, if you’re dying to recreate the competitive edge and rage that Monopoly induces.
The purpose of Carcassonne is to claim more land and territory than your opponents before the tiles run out and the game ends. Sounds simple enough, right? Don’t patronize me, this game is hard as hell. In fact, I have yet to triumph over even the most simple of AI that Carcassonne provides. There are so many little rules and nuances to the inexperienced player that it’s kind of easy to forget one detail that might completely throw the game in your opponent’s favor.Like the game’s title suggests, each player draws one tile and places it adjacent to another tile on the board. Now, depending on what the tile is (city, road, or monastery) you have the option of placing a meeple on the tile to claim a feature of that land. So if I place down a road tile and call forth my bandit meeple to occupy the road, I now claim that feature. When it is completed, my meeple earns money and I get credit for it. However, if an opponent claims more features than you do on that road, and the road becomes completed, the balance tips in their favor and they will gain money instead.Where this tends to get tricky, is you only have a limited number of meeples. In order to gain more territory, you’ll need to find ways to get them back. Meeples can be returned to you by completing the roads and cities you’ve placed them on. If you have instead placed them as farmers in the fields, they will stay there for the remainder of the game as an end game bonus. So, you’ll need to choose wisely when it comes to meeple placement.Admittedly, it took me some time to get used to the farmer and field tiles. Well, it took me some time to get used to all of it. In my opinion, the game did a nice job of introducing you to the basics of the game, but excluded some pretty critical rules that you wouldn’t know where present until the AI wiped the grid clean with your meeples. When you hit the escape button in-game, there is a list of additional rules that weren’t mentioned at all in the tutorial. Most frustrating of all, fields and farmers and how they also play into the endgame points tally. What’s most aggravating is when you are following everything that you’ve been given in a tutorial, only to discover the board completely change colors over into your opponent’s hand because of a mechanic that hadn’t been discussed prior.My main strategy was just to try to complete roads and cities, but often I would find out far too late that I ended up helping out my opponent because they had meeples on those features when I did not. There’s a lot of facets to keep in mind when playing Carcassonne, and though I’m really and truly awful at the game, I thoroughly enjoyed it and keep getting drawn back in by its challenge and addictive replayability. I will beat it one day. I will.
Carcassonne’s game interface left a little bit to be desired. Though there was nothing wrong with the menu itself, the interface seemed almost…jumbo-sized. I know I wear glasses, guys, but I don’t need a button to take up fourth of the screen to know I need to press it. Games that have made the jump from mobile to PC often have wonky GUI sizes similar to this, but it works against the game more than for it. The animations are fairly pleasant, as the game places down and teleports your meeples and cities onto the game grid. There’s also a nice little ‘clinking’ sound that I didn’t get to hear enough of when you earn gold because again, I am really and truly awful at this game. Additionally, the places you can set down a tile are also highlighted when it’s your turn. This was insanely helpful and took the guesswork out of what areas you could take advantage of. I can only assume that this is a step that takes the longest in the physical board game: assessing the board and trying to piece together where you can take your meeple’s next step.
My last gripe with Carcassonne‘s mechanics was the movement keys being bound to the arrow keys on your keyboard. When the tiles start to stretch outside of your screen, it can be uncomfortable to have to use the arrow keys to navigate all around the board. I would have much rather that ‘wasd’ keys would have been bound so I didn’t have to keep my keyboard turned and my wrist at an odd angle during the game. My cat also does not approve. You’ve upset the balance of how she sleeps on her human’s glowy keyboard.Similarly to the official boardgame, Carcassonne also has expansions you can purchase to unlock more land tiles and features to take your strategy to the next level. Inns & Cathedrals, Rivers, The Princess & the Dragon, Traders & Builders, and Winter & the Gingerbread men are all available as purchasable DLC. Personally, I’m really excited to try out the Princess and the Dragon DLC because that kind of thing is right up my alley. With each physical expansion coming in at $17.99 USD, the digital $3.99 price tag you find on Steam looks to be much more forgiving. Additionally, it makes it much easier to determine whether or not you’d like to purchase the full physical game anytime down the road.To conclude, I absolutely enjoyed the gameplay that I experienced in Carcassonne and I can definitely see how it adds some quality of life additions that the physical edition is lacking. Keeping track of all the ways that you can either block your opponent or gain territory definitely requires stretching your brain, and having a computer keep track of money is always a welcome addition. I am a huge fan of the quality of life that the highlighted tile tracking brings to the game, and I do think that this feature definitely helps speed up rounds between multiple players.