Well! It sure looks like things have got a little interesting for Xbox Live gamers in the market for a board game designed by a German with a title that begins with the letter C, huh? With the release of Carcassonne, based on Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's tile-based landscape building game, the amount of options has literally doubled.
For two to five players, Carcassonne gives each player seven pieces, representing followers, and tasks players with building castles, monasteries, roads and fields by connecting four sided tiles in a logical manner to build a landscape. A feature is "claimed" by placing a follower upon a tile as it is placed and points are gained by completing features that have a follower upon them.
For example, a castle is completed once the city walls are connected, scoring points for each tile the castle spans. Once a feature is completed the follower is returned to the player, though followers placed in fields are never returned to the players, acting as "farmers"; only being scored at the end of the game after the final tile is played. The player with the most points wins.
Things are complicated somewhat by the requirements that followers can't be placed on a title that connects them to another player's follower through a shared feature. This adds the tactical requirements that make the game a challenging battle of wits rather than a simple jigsaw puzzle, as players can place followers on adjacent tiles that could be connected to a feature claimed by another player. If they are connected and one player's followers outnumber another's on a feature, they claim all of the points.
The complexity is further upped by the end-game scoring, where all unfinished features claimed by followers and farmers are scored. Farmers in particular have the ability to entirely change the game's outcome, but are some of the trickiest (and often most luck-dependent) to place successfully.
Despite the fact that the rules aren't particularly easy to explain (Carcassonne features a quick, adequate tutorial, so don't worry if you don't quite understand the subtleties) this is actually a very simple game to pick up and play. Unlike its closest contemporary Catan, a game of Carcassonne can be over in as quickly as 10 minutes and is very playable with only one opponent.
Considered as an adaptation, Carcassonne is perfectly playable. The interface is nice and streamlined, and barring the perennial issue of text that's often too small to read (though it's not as bad as it was in Catan) there's little to complain about in terms of functionality. For users of SDTVs, though, as each game progresses and the view gets more zoomed out, they may find it harder to distinguish the features of the board easily without zooming right back in and losing the "big picture"; a problem which probably necessitated the rather dull and simplistic graphics.
Sierra Online should be commended for including an offline multiplayer mode for up to four players. That's something that would admittedly have been impossible for Catan to feature without players averting their eyes when it wasn't their turn, but as Carcassonne players don't hide anything from their opponents, it's good to see it included. It's also nice to see they've included Carcassonne's first expansion, "The River", as part of the package, not that it adds very much more than 12 river tiles.
There hasn't been quite as much care put into the single player mode. The AI has no discernible personality, there's no "campaign" mode, and you could gain an astonishing six out of twelve achievements within your first single player game if you're lucky or particularly good. There'd be absolutely no reason to play past that other than the bizarre decision to make the high score displayed on the Xbox Live Arcade page solely the number of wins in single player mode.
For many readers, the question likely to hand is if Carcassonne is a better purchase than Catan. In general, Carcassone is a quicker game to grasp but lacks Catan's depth and tactical nuances with the outcome of a game often feeling more like luck than skill. If you've only got a Silver Live account Carcassonne is a marginally better purchase thanks to its offline multiplayer and its short game length and puzzle-like aspects gives it a strangely addictive quality, yet the honest fact is that despite being a better adaptation, Carcassonne just isn't based on a board game quite as good as the one Catan is.
Carcassonne is a solid game in the Xbox 360's online multiplayer line-up, but if you're in the market for a board game designed by a German with a title that begins with the letter C, it's probably not quite as worthy of a purchase as Catan.