Not all classic games make a seamless transition to a digital version. Take the German classic Catan for example - it has an interface that looks like it belongs on a mid-90's palm device. So it is super nice when one of the classics gets an amazing digital re-creation. Over the life of the App Store, none of them have been handled in a more loving and caring manner than Carcassonne by the fine folks at The Coding Monkeys.
Carcassonne was one of the first full tabletop ports on the App Store. Released in 2010 to rave reviews, The Coding Monkey's version of "Carc" has continued to slowly add the expansions as well as some fun new tile sets, but each addition is done with care and never rushed. The result is a polished masterpiece.
Carcassonne is a tile laying and worker placement game where players strategically place tiles to complete cities and roads while placing workers called "meeples" on the tiles to claim points totaled at game's end. It's easy for beginners to pick up and there is a good bit of depth in its strategy for returning players that can be enhanced with any number of expansions.
A word about meeples. Carcassonne became known for its meeples long before its digital transition. In the real world they are people shaped wooded pieces painted in bright primary colors that bring a touch of whimsy to the game. Something about the meeple drew people to play Carcassonne and it became a "gateway" game for bringing people into the tabletop gaming fold or re-introducing them to tabletop gaming as "adults". The meeple eventually became a mascot of the tabletop player and has spawned everything from plushies to car decals to meeple shaped containers to hold... well, all your meeples. The Coding Monkeys have translated this sacred symbol into a perfect digital avatar with great graphics and sound effects that make you feel like you are placing them on a real board.
In fact, the entire game has such a high level of polish that for years any mobile game was held up to it as a standard of quality - and few came close to matching it. The interface, designed by the experts at the iconfactory is perfectly laid out and evokes the medieval setting of the game with wood, tapestries and sound. The provided tutorial complete with "calm British guy" to guide you through, is easy to understand and sets you on your journey without rules anxiety. Even the additional solitaire modes have provided tutorials. These folks have thought of everything.
Gameplay is smooth and while you will need a persistent internet connection if you are playing a friend, you can play offline against the AI players provided. A lot of these folks are tough competitors though, so don't expect them to be a cakewalk. If you do have a connection, player vs. player is great -- you can either zoom through an entire game in one sitting or play with a more scrabble-like vibe taking a turn each day and passing back to your friend. If your friends are all missing in action you can also get paired up with a random opponent. It's not really random though - Carcassonne pairs up people using an ELO rating, which we talked all about in our Ticket to Ride article. If you want to go strictly solo, The Coding Monkeys have developed several solitaire scenarios. They rotate each week and you can compete with other players for high score. All of the modes easy to pick up where you left off, so this is a perfect commute or lunchtime companion.
If you choose to go the old school cardboard route, you have a ton of options available to choose from. My favorite version is the travel set. It comes with tiny meeples and smaller tiles and they all go in a nice cloth sack that also has a scoring track printed on it. It is super easy to throw into a bag and the smaller footprint makes it easier to find room to play. In the end, any of the base sets will do you great stead, but as a nomad gamer I prefer things that are portable.
No matter how you play Carcassonne I think you will find it is a fantastic game. It is perfect for families and light enough that it can be played over drinks without derailing an evening of conversation. At $9.99 you might feel like this is an expensive mobile game, but The Coding Monkeys poured their heart and soul into this game and they maintain the game (and its servers) with a vigilance. It is also less than half the cost of the cardboard version. Carcassonne is well worth your time and financial investment.