Developer: THE CODING MONKEYS
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 3G

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½
Overall Rating: ★★★★½

While German boardgames (AKA designer games) have established a slight foothold in the United States via speciality shops and online retailers, most Americans are still blissfully unaware of the vastly superior games that are available in Europe. Hopefully, now that some of those games are making the transition to the iPhone platform, more Americans will be exposed to the strategically complex and thematically intriguing games they never knew existed.

Carcassonne is an award-winning board game from designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede that has withstood multiple expansions, adaptations and re-imaginings since its initial release in 2000. Now it has made the leap to the iPhone, and the results are extremely pleasing. Carcassone is a tile-laying, city building game for two-five where each player uses tiles to complete construction of castles, roads, farms and monasteries in hopes of outscoring his/her opponent. As is the case with many German games, the theme and the basic mechanics are easy to grapple with, but finding a consistent path to victory is pleasantly confounding.

Fortunately, the game’s developer has included a useful and brief tutorial that covers all of the basics of gameplay with a good amount of humor and professional voice work. Completing the tutorial won’t make your wins any easier, but it will at least help you know what your next best move should be.

A player can choose to play against up to four local (you will have to pass one iPhone around to each player) or computer controlled opponents in the “normal” mode, or you can take your strategic battle online against a random opponent in real time or challenge one of the friends in your contact list. I was surprised at the snappiness of the game’s response during online play, though since the game is played in real time you really need to make sure you have enough time to devote to a full game before challenging another player.

An additional solitaire mode is also included with Carcassonne for the iPhone, and this brings an entirely different style of play to the game. Players attempt to build their cities as usual, but each tile placement costs some of the 1,000 points they are allotted up front. The goal is to use all of the tiles while spending the fewest amount of points. It’s an interesting puzzle variant of Carcassonne and a fun game in its own right. Add to this the fact that the developers issue updates with new solitaire challenges and this mode stands on its own quite well.

It’s a real pleasure to see an iPhone game that is well-crafted, that uses music and sound to create a distinct atmosphere and that plays as well offline as it does online. If Carcassonne is your first foray into Euro-gaming, you’re sure to want more. Let’s hope more developers follow the very high standards set here.

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