Admittedly, I have shied away from board games on the iPhone; very few of them offering the accessibility and multi-player fun of dusting off an old classic and sitting around a coffee table with friends. Even still, I had never heard of the award-winning German tile-based board game named after a world heritage listed French castle prior to our preview last month. But that's all water under the bridge now, as Carcassonne [App Store] is definitely hot right now and set to rocket up the App Store charts.

For those apparently hiding under the same rock as I have been; Carcassonne is a board game played with 71 tiles, artistically depicting fortified structures, fields, cloisters and roads (these being the key elements of the game). Tiles are randomly drawn and played on the table in turn by each player, of which there are up to 5 players at once, and placed next to each other so that each landmark aligns perfectly. Points are awarded by placing one of your limited tokens, your 'Meeples', on an element of the tile you've just played; be it road, structure or field. Points are scored both during the game and at the end, with completed city structures awarding bonus points.

Carcassonne has undoubtedly raised the bar high for spit and polish. Every menu, game screen or tutorial is painted in gorgeous wooden hues as a tribute to its hand-crafted, table-top origins. The tutorials themselves comprise both fully-voiced demonstrations and a thoughtfully illustrated game manual which does wonders to explain the initially abstract scoring system.

Carcassonne isn't a difficult game to grasp, but it does have an extraordinary amount of depth. Advanced considerations such as where to play your farmer Meeples (which aren't retrievable after placing them) so that they are in the largest field possible supplying the most completed structures (thus scoring points) will often prove the difference between a game otherwise left largely to luck of the draw.

These strategies especially come to the fore in heated games of four or five players, where you have to contend with multiple playing personalities-- be they aggressive players who will continually try to block or steal your developments, or the passive contender silently building a formidable point-massing fortress in a forgotten corner of the board. Carcassonne accommodates this fantastic multiplayer gameplay from every conceivable angle. Impressively, you can have a taste of multiplayer on your own, with a local mode able to add up to 4 computer-controlled opponents of 8 varying difficulty levels from easy to evil.

The real fun though comes from matching wits (and trading blows) with real people. The aforementioned local mode also allows for 5 Pass-and-Play players to be added, or for WiFi or Bluetooth devices to join your game too. Internet games (over both 3G and WiFi) on the other hand can be quickly arranged between two people through the "Quick Game" option, where the game will search for an available contender. Fair warning though, these games are timed to keep the pace flowing, so leaving the game for prolonged periods will award the game to your opponent instead.

The bulk of your multiplayer though will be spent by creating games with friends. Your friends list can be added to by having Carcassonne send an email link to friends, providing them with a link that when opened on their iPhones which appends you to their in-game friends list. Herein lies our only rub with Carcassonne. We're not sure why the developers chose this method of connecting friends, as it forces you from the game for no justifiable reason and just feels clunky against the backdrop of an otherwise flawless interface. A system where you can invite and add friends from within the game would be far better, particularly for those who may not use the email application on their iOS devices.

Internet games between friends are otherwise painless to setup, with a wax-sealed invitation received by all friends, after which they can opt to refuse the invite, or wait until the game leader commences the game. We say the bulk of multiplayer will be played like this, as utilising the friends list has a distinct advantage over quick play mode: gameplay becomes completely asynchronous and the quick game timer is dispensed with.

The developers have also included ELO rankings for added bragging rights. Your ELO rating goes up and down when you win and lose internet matches, depending on the relative skill level of your opponent. It's a terrific addition that is even further improved by the high score tables pitting your friends against each other.

There is still one important gameplay mode to cover: the newly added Solitaire mode. Solitaire mode has a completely different scoring system, where you start off with 1000 points and each tile added reduces that score. The objective is to complete set targets which increasingly get harder as you complete them. You start the game having to build a 2-tile road and 2-tile structure, and as each is completed their tile number increases by 1. You are rewarded for keeping your playing field as compact as possible, with penalties imposed for expanding its borders. Every order of tiles in Solitaire is also recorded and fixed with a unique code (craftily, the name of the town), which you can share with your friends so they can attempt the exact same challenge. Unfortunately, friend challenges are processed via email, and though not a huge deal, does detract from the game's magic (particularly as you have to remember your friends' email addresses each time).

Carcassonne is a shining example of how to do a board game right on the iPhone. The developers have promised continued support which will see a universal iPad update coming later this year and In-App DLC for what we hope is most of the nearly 20 expansion packs available for the original game-- some of which allegedly turn the gameplay on its head entirely. Carcassonne is wholeheartedly recommended to board game veterans and newcomers alike.

Impressions are flowing in thick and fast from our forum readers, who also seem overwhelmingly enamored by Carcassonne. For iPad users, a free universal update will come later and it has been reported that Carcassonne in its current state scales extremely well.

App Store Link: Carcassonne, $4.99. (Introductory Sale Price)

TouchArcade Rating

  • mardas pye

    If you haven't heard of Carcossonne before this, then that means you need an Xbox 360.

    Great game, either way.

    • Aaron

      I don't follow the logic, but i agree that the game is great.

    • Brendelino

      You don't need the XBox Version, you need the original Table Game - nothing else.
      These German Guys put so much love in it, you'll love it too! This is high Class Objective C Programming! 🙂

      Buy it, and enjoy!

    • cfda

      Xbox = Microsoft.

      No thanks.

  • noah

    What version is better... this or Might and Cards?

  • Anon

    Might & Cards does not have AI.

  • Cougarcat

    This game is going to look so, so good on the iPhone 4's high-res display.

    • Aaron

      Even without any alterations this will be true. All the text and the tiles are already rendered in high resolution on the iPad even though it isn't an iPad app yet. People with iPads should NOT wait!

  • ImNoSuperMan

    The multiplayer in this game is awesome. Didnt really enjoy the single player but cant get enough of the multi. Easily worth the price IMO.

  • MrMuesli

    So, is the consensus of opinion that multi is where this game is at? iPod Touch user here with infrequent wifi connection.

    • Peter Lettieri

      If you can't get net access at all, and you're happy playing against the computer, then you still have available 8 different AI personalities to play off against. And the Solitaire mode of course (which is great) that keeps randomly generated tile orders and games that you can still challenge your friends with.

      You can still play 5-player games against the AI and all that, too. You're just missing out on the social aspect of the board game, unfortunately.

      • MrMuesli

        Brilliant, thanks. 53 five star reviews out of 57 can't be wrong....can they? I'll bite: )

    • abugida

      There's also pass-and-play, so you don't need a WiFi connection to play with your friend(s).

    • MrMuesli

      I don't understand the 'Resume Game' function in Carcassonne. I just played a 'Quick Game' during which my opponent had to pause. Not knowing how long he would be, I started a new game. Got a notification quite far in to my new game that it was my turn to play the 1st game again. I was deep into my 2nd game so I chose 'Later'. After the 2nd opponents timer went to zero with no notice that he/she had left and that I win automatically, I, confused as to what happened, exited and went to play my 1st game. There, the timer had gone down apparently and I had lost! Why? I chose 'Later'....Apparently my 2nd game has disappeared too for some reason unknown to me. Very frustrating...great game, but grrrrrr!!!

      • Voice

        As the article says, quick games have a 1-minute timer for moves. You won your second game when your opponent didn't move in time. You lost your first game because you didn't move in time.

        Resume will be useful with either solo games, local games, or games against friends.

  • Peter

    Multiplayer is great with the AI, no need for internet with the iPod Touch. There is a special single player mode, but the AIs in multi are really good.

    • Jack

      How do you play a multiplayer game against the AI? I only see internet multiplayer or local multiplayer...

      • LifeLibertyPursuit

        You want to play a local game and add AI opponents.

  • Brandon

    Switching to email won't be bad with iOS 4 and multitasking

  • WhoCares

    A minute to learn, a lifetime to master... Seriously though, this game was a little different than I expected having never played the board game, but it's a very intelligent game with plenty of strategy. I love figuring out way to block people so their guys get trapped. I like the computer AI. The hardest ones are challenging. Since it has a save feature, it's a great game to pick up any time and play. Looks good on the ipad too.

  • Jack

    How do you play a multiplayer game against the AI? I only see internet multiplayer or local multiplayer.

    • lasse

      It's in the local multiplayer section. There you have a list with computer opponents.

  • Aaronsullivan

    I completely recommend this game and love it. I do have a couple issues.

    More bothersome than the email confirmation of friends is the inability to have more than one internet profile on a device. In other words each device is registered with only one name. On an iPad this feels very wrong as it is heavily shared.

    It's particularly annoying because my wife and i play and it's nicer and more convenient to have an Internet game going than a local one. Problem is we have to always use the same devices because the player names are locked to them.

    I'd love to have someone come on here and tell me how I'm doing something wrong, though. 🙂

    I'd also like an option to turn off the x's that show you what will be impossible to fill. It encourages occasional trial and error playing which requires little thought.

    All in all these are quibbles against an app that has been given tremendous care and is a near perfect implementation of the board game.

    On iPad I hope we get multiple Internet profiles per device and detailed wood grained meeples, too. 🙂

  • mmillss

    Great review. Very glad you called them on the email friending system. Invites expire once claimed. How much easier would it be to Tweet/post, "Let's play a game; I'm user xxxxx?" Also my email on the phone is not my principal email; maybe that will change with mulitple email in iOS4. Lastly, I didn't see a global high score chart--among friends, all users, etc. All this said it is a terrific implementation. Solitaire mode is addictive. Nice job!

    • abugida

      I guess they'll just add Apple's GameCenter in the fall.

  • MrMuesli

    Ok, played this for a while today. A wonderful lighthearted game that brings back childhood memories of board games in general. I have only three wishes:
    1) I wish I could invite the person I just played in 'Quick Play' to another again.
    2) I wish I could ask to invite 'Quick Play' players to join my friends list.
    3) I wish the devs would sort out the spelling/grammar errors in the instructions.

  • NAGA_Bruce

    This review leaves out what I consider to be the best 2 features of the game:
    1) the music is SO good.
    2) The ability to play asynchronously with friends (a la Words with Friends), and then be able to slide immediately into real-time play if you're both on at once is FANTASTIC. I enjoy having several games going at once with different friends.

    Also didn't see this mentioned, but the app is currently $4.99 with plans to upgrade it to a universal iPhone/iPad app, at which point new buyers will have to pay $9.99 (and the rest of us get to upgrade free). So there's really no reason not to grab it now! 🙂

  • Eric Granata

    What I really want is an iPad version of Settlers of Catan. But I'm willing to give this title a shot.

    • abugida

      Both board games are equal in terms of quality, and the iOS conversion of Carcassonne is definitely better. I would say it's the best board game on any iOS device, and as the review mentioned: It's very playable and good-looking on the iPad. Carcassonne has pinch to zoom for the game board, so you can zoom out the board and use the extra space of the iPad screen.

    • subVert

      Settlers of Catan for the iPad is apparently in Beta or soon to be in Beta. I applied but haven't heard anything..

  • abugida

    Something else missing from the review: Fantastic soundtrack. Some soothing guitar music.

  • Chris

    This game is not that great. I would not suggest getting it.

    check out the best ipod apps

  • blindspot

    Truly a stellar example of how to do a board game right on iOS. Every developer interesting in bringing a quality board game to iOS should look to this game for inspiration.

  • Peter Johnson

    Have to agree, This is a great game on iOS (and pretty good as a board game too) the iOS version is far better than the Xbox 360 conversion, which has very garish and unclear graphics.

  • - Sebastian P

    Jetzt kaufen!

  • Gatada

    Best board game implementation, but the randomness is frustrating.

    I used to have several games going with friends, but eventually I got tired of it.