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Carcassonne review – The classic board game returns as a universal game for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8

Early this summer, a big batch of Xbox Windows Phone and Windows 8 games disappeared from the Store and into the ether. Some of these games would return without their Xbox features, we reported, while others would stay gone for good. One of those delisted titles was Carcassonne, a strategic board game from German developer Exozet games. This week, it finally returned to Windows Phone.

Formerly a Windows Phone 7 title, Carcassonne has been upgraded to Windows Phone 8 status. The new version looks better and plays faster than ever. It has a new cross-platform online multiplayer mode that should make playing with friends easier than before. And even better, Carcassonne supports universal purchases. Buy it once and get the Windows Phone and Windows 8 and RT versions. Read on to find out how the game plays and what changes the Remastered version brings!

Know your tiles

In a game of Carcassonne, 2-6 players take turns placing tiles on the board. Tiles must be connected to a tile that has already been placed, and the features of each new tile must align with whatever tile it will be connected to. Grass must connect to grass, road to road, etc. The game ends when all 72 tiles (or more if playing with an expansion) have been placed.

Tiles may contain four basic features:

  • City: Building cities (and scoring from them) is the main goal of the game. Some city tiles have blue medallions; these increase the point payout of the city. Cities are considered completed when they are entirely walled off by edge pieces. Upon completion, the player receives points based on the size of the city and his or her follower is returned. Incomplete cities provide a smaller number of points at the end of the game.
  • Road: Like cities, players receive points and get their followers back after completing a road. Roads don't pay as much but still provide a reliable source of points.
  • Cloister: 'Cloister' is a British word that I was unfamiliar with before playing the game; the XBLA version calls them monasteries. These are single tiles which must be completely surrounded by 8 other tiles in order to receive your points and follower back.
  • Field: Each tile contains at least one of the previous features, but most also have fields. By placing a follower on a field, the player will receive points for each field that connects to it without being divided by roads. However, the follower does not get returned to player until the game ends, so seek score from fields judiciously.

After placing your tile during a turn, you may choose to place one of your seven followers on that tile. Followers are the only way to earn points. You'll need to use them wisely, holding on to them at times. Tie up all of your followers with incomplete cities and you won't get enough points to win.

Defeating the opposition

After getting a grip on the core game play, you can start to learn how to compete against your opponents instead of just doing your own thing. For instance, a skilled player can make it difficult or impossible for another player to finish a city by placing certain tiles near the city.

My favorite way to hassle opponents is by stealing cities or forcing them to share points. If the enemy has an incomplete city or road with a follower on it, you can't just build off of that structure by directly placing your own tile and follower adjacent to it. Instead, you need to place the same type of tile and your follower at least one title away.

Once you've done that, you're free to place a connecting tile between the two similar structures. Upon completion of the structure, both players will share the score for it. But if you manage to get more followers on the same structure than the enemy (by connecting non-adjacent pieces with followers), you'll steal the structure from the other player. Tough to do, but very satisfying.

Expansions

Like the old version, the new Carcassonne includes 'The River II' 12-tile expansion, which can be toggled on or off before starting a game. At least, that's how it should work. At present, the IAP system appears to be broken. You can try to download your free expansion, but it never actually installs. Update: Exozet tells us this issue will be fixed via update soon.

As we learned during last year's interview with Exozet, Microsoft refused to allow the developer to release additional expansions for the Xbox version of Carcassonne. Now that Exozet self-publishes the new version of the game, they can offer as many expansions as they like.

Once the IAP issue gets straightened out, players will be able to choose from four new expansions: 'Traders and Builders,' 'Crop Circles,' 'The Festival,' and 'Inns and Cathedrals.' These cost $1-2 individually or $4.99 as a pack. Not a bad deal for serious Carcassonne players.

Still no structure

Since board games aren't usually fun to play all alone, videogame developers often add new single-player modes to compensate. Take the Survival Horror mode in Zombies!!!, for example. The iOS version (opens in new tab) of Carcassonne (developed by TheCodingMonkeys, not Exozet) has its own exclusive single-player mode - though, to be fair, that game sells for ten bucks instead of four.

The mobile Windows versions just allow players to select from a pool of 11 AI opponents and play a standard game. Playing against the computer can be fun, but the lack of a metagame really hurts the long-term single-player value. The original Windows Phone 7 version suffered from the same issue. Shame the revamped version of the game didn't throw in more structure.

Better in multiplayer

Carcassonne offers both pass-and-play and online multiplayer. Pass-and-play works well and could certainly provide entertainment should you and a few friends find yourselves stuck somewhere without a gaming console or physical board game to play. That's a lot more feasible than in the original Windows Phone 7 release, now that we have phablet phones like the Lumia 1520 and the ability to buy once and get the game on Windows 8 and RT too.

The old phone game offered online multiplayer, but the matchmaking and servers performed terribly. At present, the mobile Windows versions feature a single 1-on-1 online mode. You just choose to play an online game and the matchmaking will seek another player out. The online multiplayer is even cross-platform with Windows 8 and Android. Very cool!

Unfortunately, matchmaking still requires another player to hunt for a game at the same time as you, which is boring and impractical. A game like this needs Xbox One-style matchmaking, letting us dabble in single-player while we wait for an opponent to be found.

The game does promise an enhanced online multiplayer mode will come in a future update. It will add friends lists and the ability to switch between multiple online sessions. Hopefully those changes will make it easier to find a game!

What's old is new again

Did I mention Carcassonne looks better than ever? The game takes place on an actual wooden table now, without fancy clouds passing by. It runs very smoothly, fluidly planning around and zooming in and out. And the AI opponents now pop up and animate on-screen when someone makes a good move, better simulating the experience of playing against another person.

Carcassonne still needs a real campaign and better online matchmaking before it can be the ultimate board game. But this is an excellent recreation of the real life board game, a genuinely fun game all on its own. I'm glad we can play it again on Windows Phone. The ability to buy once and get phone, tablet, and PC versions makes it even better. Hopefully Exozet will continue to improve the game (and fix the issue with 'The River II') in the months to come.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

39 Comments
  • and lost xbox live... =(
  • Yeah, that was a huge disappointment and it's mind-boggling to me why Microsoft did that to Exozet. When my wife and first bought a Surface RT 2 years ago the first question she asked was, "Okay, what board games can we play on this?". Carcassonne would've been a perfect fit and Microsoft should've had it in the store way back then. Exozet is on the right track now by releasing it as a universal app with cross-platform play. That's what Microsfot should've done with it all along, and, like Skulls of the Shogun, ran advertisements showing people playing on a Surface and then switchign to a Windows Phone, etc. Commercials with families gathered around a large, table-top toucschreen device, playing against each other (much more convenient than the actual board game with no pieces to set up or pick up and a much cheaper price of $4 instead of $34). Sigh.
  • Yeah, I was also disappointed that they removed the Xbox achievements. I still have the old Xbox Live enabled version of this game on my old phone. I never uninstalled it because I could never reinstall it. I'll just try to complete the Xbox achievements and then forget about this game.
  • Awful game
  • Because you don't understand how it works?
  • I KNOW HOW IT WORKS but it's stupid
  • No, it's really not. That's not a legitimate criticism.
  • Had the xbox live version but don't really want to pay again for a game I've already purchased even if it has been enhanced.
  • You're entitled to a refund on the original game that was delisted. Contact Windows Phone support and get your refund and then use the refund to buy the new version. It's a hassle, of course, and delisting games is never okay, in my opinion, but Microsoft will never learn that until masses of people begin demanding their money back for delisted apps and games.
  • already bought the game for win8, how can i get it for free on my windows phone? it keeps saying i have to pay for it. UPDATE: Just got it.,it was a region issue apparently.
  • How did you do that? I'm from Italy and I've also bought few years ago but it keeps saying that I have to pay for it... Thank you!
  • Played it back then when it was Xbox live enabled, never got really into it.
    Will never play this.
  • Got all the achievements in the Xbox version. Im not buying this one.
  • And is not available here in Brazil. :/ Developers, I am here to help you. I am pretty sure that you will be happy to make your game available in the forth biggest country in the world considering apps downloads in the WP Store...
  • I would probably contact Exozet Games directly on Twitter. They're quite responsive there.
  • I wrote on their twitter account asking about it - let's see if they answer. The funny thing is: in the Windows 8 store I can download the game.
  • Great game. However, I already paid for the 1st version. I would have paid for a small upgrade fee but not the full price again. And until Microsoft merges the 2 stores (Windows Store and Windows Phone store), you have to pay for it twice.. I'll pass this one up.
  • You don't have to pay for both the WP8 and Windows 8 versions; it's one purchase. But if you bought the WP7 version which is now listed, you can pursue a refund through Windows Phone support.
  • Well never done that before.. Windows Phone support.. Where exactly do you go to address this issue?
  • I think this is the right link for US customers: Windows Phone support Mention the game is delisted and you can't play it any more. Several of us have been able to get refunds that way. It's usually a good idea to figure out the date that you bought it, too.
  • To add to what Paul said, you can look up the exact date you purchased it by logging into your account at http://commerce.microsoft.com
  • Paul, I have a few clarification questions. Before it got delisted this was my family's favorite game. Six of us had the game and regularly played against each other online, so it was a big disappointment when the game got pulled. It coming back now as a universal app could compensate for that (of course, we'd all have to re-purchase it now, which suck, but that's a different issue), but I'd like to know more about the multiplayer. 1. Matchmaking: You say that the "mobile Windows versions feature a single 1-on-1 online mode" and I read that the Windows 8/RT versions have a "Quick match" online mode. Does this mean that on the Windows Phone version I can only play in 2-player online games instead of the 6-player games we did in the previous version? But we can still choose who we play via friend invites (Iater on you said an update will add friend lists, so that means 'not yet', right?)? And the Windows 8/RT version is the same: I can't choose who I play? 2. Real-time or asyncrhonous:  The previous WP version allowed you to play online matches in real-time or asynchronously (once you got the match started, anyway). How about now? 3. You say it has cross-platform multiplayer. So this means I can play on my Windows Phone online against my sister on her Surface, right? What about multiple local players in an online game. Can my wife and I play on the same device online vs. my sister?
  • Yeah, all of Exozet's versions are only 2-players online right now. But that will presumably be upgraded to 6 players when the multiplayer update rolls out. No, I don't think two people can join an online game from one device. Yes, the Surface and phone can play against each other (and Android). Unfortunately I couldn't find an online opponent during my matchmaking attempt. I get the impression it starts out real-time and switches to async like the old version. Really a flawed system since async is wayy better for mobile games like this.
  • Mostly skimmed article, but where is Rocket Riot? :( truly one of the best WP7 games on WP8.
  • Yeah, I was furious when Rocket Riot (WP) and Rocket Riot 3D (Windows 8/RT) got delisted. It's hard to love Microsoft some times.
  • IT WAS ON WINDOWS 8?!? ****.
  • Yes, it was called Rocket Riot 3D, it had a lot more content and a ton of DLC to buy (I spent over $30 on the game, actually), and Xbox achievements. It was great. I don't understand why they pulled it.
  • "'Cloister' is a British word"?
  • It's originally a Middle English word and not used commonly in America, if at all.
  • Awesome game, bought it right away thanks for the tip WP Central, it changes from those crappy freemium games that are flooding the market !
  • A truly stellar game, I have 28 expansions for my physical copy as well as 7 of the other Carcassonne standalone games. I have / finished the old XBL/WP & Xbox 360 versions and already have the W8 version. This new edition of the game is welcome - I hope more of the expansions are made available. The description of the gameplay in this article was rather lacking, the writer didn't appear very well versed in describing the mechanics / objective, and in no way does a game like this need an gimmick campaign. It stands quite well on its own, and has for nearly 15 years.
  • That's a bit unfair. I only have about 1200 words for the whole review, so I can't go into more detail if I want to talk about other things like the new features and changes. I did research the gameplay through Wikipedia too, so it's not just my unreliable memory providing the information. As for the campaign, I can't imagine why anyone would not want to have a mode that adds more longevity to a game. That's an important part of videogames and most videogame developers who port/recreate real-life board games understand it.
  • Being a frequent player of the game, I got to say I liked the description... Posted via the Windows Phone Central App for Android
  • Thanks man! Now that's what I like to hear.
  • nope, I`m not going to download it. Just because they drop the LIVE support, so good luck but no thanks I want Xbox Live in my games on Windows Phone
  • nope, I`m not going to download it. Just because they drop the LIVE support, so good luck but no thanks I want Xbox Live in my games on Windows Phone
  • ...
  • I had the old game, so I grabbed the new one for my Surface RT and my wife's Surface RT.  I have no idea how to initiate a multiplayer game with her.  We both select the multiplayer option and the game just sits there forever with that "waiting for players" screen.  Pretty much a waste of money.    
  • That sucks. You should email or tweet the devs. But they definitely plan to add friends lists and lobbies so that should hopefully solve your problem.