Digital Carcassonne

There is an iPhone Carcassonne out. It is very good. I highly recommend it.

iPhone Carcassonne

Check out for a neat video.

Ok, so maybe some explanations are due. Carcassonne is actually a board game. It is specifically a “German-style Board Game”. Next to Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne is actually THE German-style Board Game. It is basically about scoring points by building cute roads and castles out of randomly drawn cardboard tiles. It may sound trivial but it can get very addictive.

There is already a solid Xbox Live version out. Compared to the new iPhone version, both have their strengths. The iPhone version has an incredibly polished UI. Obviously, a game like this benefits from a touchscreen interface. But the iPhone version’s UI goes beyond that. There are lots of smart details. For example, when a match draws to a close and there are not many tiles left, the game actually tells you if you will be able to fill a certain place on the board with the remaining tiles (X on the screen above). This allows even novice players to play much more strategically. There is also some quite insightful information design at the scoring board telling you exactly what each player got points for. The Xbox version pales in comparison with a typical console interface where commands are distributed among a confusing number of buttons and bare minimum information graphics. The Xbox version also insists on playing synchronously while the iPhone version allows asynchronous play.

But the new iPhone version is not perfect. For example, the developers chose to use the original tile illustrations from the board game. I know they are popular among the fans. However, they look quite dull, especially considering that the rest of the interface comes in vivid, digital graphics. The developers of the Xbox version redid the tile graphics and I think it was a good choice. The Xbox version went even beyond that. Every time you complete a road or a castle it pops up as a 3D object from the tiles. It doesn’t only look nice, it provides a ton of positive feedback and actually some useful information too. And if you like the old graphics, I think you can still switch the “skin” somewhere. At least you could do that on the Xbox Catan. In this regard, the iPhone version could use more work.

Carcassonne Xbox

The Xbox Carcassonne has a clunky interface but the board graphics look more attractive.

Finally, the friend system seems a bit odd to me. There is no dedicated friends list menu. Instead you immediately invite new friends to a game. The recognition works through the E-Mail address. There seems to be no function to simply scan your address book for registered users. E-Mail seems generally a bit quaint to me, I think the game would benefit from additional Twitter and Facebook connectivity – not for annoying achievements, just get your friends in the game without jumping through a bunch of hoops. And while there is the possibility of asynchronous play, in order to exit a game you need to use the function “Pause Game”. Doesn’t sound right.

But the board game itself isn’t perfect either. Carcassonne is often criticized for being too chance-driven and having too little strategic gamplay. That’s why there are actually a ton of expansions out there. Each comes with a new set of tiles and mechanics designed to add some more strategy. The Xbox Carcassonne features two of those expansions, I think. The iPhone doesn’t have any yet, but I’m sure there are planning some. Let’s see what happens. Meanwhile, I actually enjoy the vanilla version.

Speaking of playing with friends, I’m always looking for people to play both versions with. My Xbox tag is Krystman DE and for the iPhone version, my E-Mail address is [my last name]@[my first name].de . I’m looking forward to it!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

4 responses to “Digital Carcassonne”

  1. Noah Manneschmidt

    I love Carcassone! I’m so glad you posted about this because I probably wouldn’t have noticed it for quite a while and they plan on doubling the price after the add iPad support. I’ll see you online!

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Glad to be of service. See you online! :)

  2. Rob LeGood

    It still makes me laugh that people call Vanilla Carcassonne a “luck based” game. A friend mentioned that to me, then I beat him 7 games in a row. Personally, I find the vanilla version the most strategic due to the fact that you know there are certain tile configuration that don’t exist (that were added later).

    The knowledge of these pieces, and how to manipulate this knowledge to your advantage, is what separates the beginner from the advanced.

    Luck only really comes into the picture as you add more than 2 players.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      All german-style board games involve luck. The unfortunate aspect of Carcassone is that an any given point, your options are heavily dictated by the tile you just happen to draw. This results often in the impression of “being stuck” with useless tiles. Expansions try to remedy that by giving you more things to do every turn.

      The kind of strategic thinking you mentioned has a quite steep learning curve in the board game. As I mentioned, the iPhone version uses smart interface design to open up this level of play for a wider audience.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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