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Our friend is offline, but we can study the board until our turn.
The multiplayer board game, Carcassonne, deftly balances strategy and luck, making it one of our favorites. The iPhone edition thoughtfully retains this appeal, copying the simple, layered rules while adding online modes. While we'd like additional features--you can't play more than one stranger at a time--Carcassonne excels on the iPhone.
Players place randomly drawn tiles to build the game's landscape: cities, roads, fields, and cloisters. Tiles usually only show part of a structure; you ultimately score by completing these landmarks. The simple process keeps the game fluid for beginners, while experts will uncover deeper strategy.
Simply swap between current games when it's your move.
Game boards expand throughout matches, and you'll have to keep zooming out to see everything. We preferred playing on an iPad since the game retains a higher resolution without actually being a universal iPad title yet. (Developers are working on an official iPad release but don't have a specific release date yet.) But the iPhone is just large enough to see and identify tiles as you progress.
An effective interface improves the game beyond the analog original. Since tiles have to match previous structures, Carcassonne highlights the possible areas you can move. If you create a spot where no tile can be placed, the game puts an X on that square. You can even reference a list of the remaining tiles yet to be played, refining your strategy.
Solitaire adds another way to play.
As a multiplayer game, Carcassonne shines online. Sure, you can try the solitaire mode, challenge the robot players by yourself, or pass-and-play with up to 5 total people. But we prefer online matches where Carcassonne automatically pairs you with a live opponent based on your skill, or with up to four known friends. Stranger matches run in real-time, usually lasting about a half-hour. With online friends, the game unfolds asynchronously, sending push alerts when it's your turn. It's a great way to check in and continue when you have a moment. A chat option also pushes messages in either situation.
Carcassonne misses several features despite its excellent adaptation. Weak documentation barely explains the rules for scoring and doesn't detail certain interface surprises. For example, we learned the hard way that if the 60-second online timer expires before you move, you instantly lose. We also wanted an option for online games to match up to 5 players instead of just two, and you can't automatically add an online opponent to your friend list or ask for a rematch at the end of the game.
Many small points could be improved, but as a whole, Carcassonne sets a strategy game standard.
REQUIREMENTS: iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad; iPhone OS 3.1 or later.
Simple, manageable interface adds more info than in the traditional board game. While not yet iPad-updated, high-res graphics look great on an iPad. Can swap between two of your devices, resuming games. Push alerts and play-when-you-can asynchronous multiplayer work well. Quickly pairs you with an online stranger.
Modest documentation. End-of-game scoring moves too quickly to follow, especially for beginners. Can't automatically add strangers to your friend list. Can't play with multiple strangers. Live, online match-ups immediately end if someone takes longer than 60 seconds. Can't watch a replay of a full game.