The iPad is an ideal platform for board games. It's large enough for more than one person to sit round it for a local game without feeling stupid, and its touchscreen is sizeable enough to make it practical to move pieces, even if you have chubby fingers. Thus, it was only a matter of time before classic board games such as Carcassonne jumped to the platform.
The game itself is easy to learn, and is mostly based around the idea of developing the areas around the titular French town. At higher levels, though, the strategies and tactics involved can become enormously complex, although this iPad version eases you in with spoken tutorials and a full digital manual. It takes very little time to get to grips with the mechanics, with only a few references back to the documentation, and the interface is kept gloriously pristine.
There are a few different basic game-types, including a Solitaire mode that follows slightly adapted rules to the core game, plus online, local and AI matches.
Carcassonne for iPad
The developers have done an excellent job in rendering the tiles and pieces, managing to retain the feel of a board game while still making the most of the digital format. None of the graphics feel out of place and everything emulates the physical version perfectly, with a decently tactile quality provided by the ability to drag pieces around the board.
As a game itself, Carcassonne is excellent to play with a couple of friends sat around the iPad. It wouldn't be completely out of the question to use this instead of setting out a full boxed copy of the game, as it’s so easy to pass the iPad around a circle. Of course, this version will never completely replicate the physical version, but it's solid enough to at least sit on par with it.
Carcassonne for iPad
Online matches are a slightly more troublesome affair, however. The app apparently match-makes according to skill, but it was hard to tell whether or not this was happening, as most of the games ended with an opponent mysteriously disappearing the second it looked like the game might not be going their way.
We found ourselves mostly playing against the AI opponents supplied with the game, which are broken down into Easy, Strong, Weird, Evil and Simple behaviour types. Although it isn't always clear how the Strong AI improves over the Easy AI, the Evil AI can teach you a couple of nasty tricks if you're paying attention. You’ll often find yourself cursing and softly swearing at.
This is a beautifully realised portable version of a very well constructed board game. Even if you haven't played the original, this is a brilliant introduction that's much cheaper than buying the full boxed version. Recommended!