Carcassonne – The Switch Island Review
One often overlooked area of gaming is the board game adaptations. To a certain degree they’re almost unnecessary, but an option nonetheless. Regardless, this genre of games certainly has an audience, and Carcassonne for the Switch is the latest version of the long standing video game series adapted from the classic tile-based board game. But are the AI opponents and glossy animations enough to replace the feeling of sitting down with friends to play a game at the table?
Carcassonne is a turn-based city building strategy game for 1-6 players. Players take turns drawing tiles from the pile and placing them to build farms, roads, monasteries and cities in order to rack up points. Each player has a certain number of “Meeple”, and when placing a tile they can choose to put a Meeple on top, which will reward players with points and the return of the Meeple once the city or road or farm etc is built. Each type of tile has its own completion requirements, meaning the random nature of the tiles mixed with the strategic placement/rationing of your Meeples creates a nice risk vs reward play style that’s tough but ultimately fair.
I was only introduced to the board game just over a year ago, and since first playing I now own the complete set with all the expansions, so when I saw the video game version on the Coming Soon section of the eShop, I pre-ordered it straight away. Interestingly, before the game launched, the DLC expansion was completely free, marked down from its £6.99 price; a tempting offer clearly meant to help increase pre-order numbers, but what baffled me was why it was hidden away like that. If I didn’t know about the game and was just quickly looking over the page it would have been very easy to miss. But I guess that’s more of a problem with the eshop in general – a topic for another time. Regardless, I downloaded the game along with the free DLC, and a few days later I played my first game. And to be honest, I was a little disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, the game looks great, and the animations that play out whenever a road or city is completed are extremely charming, the first time at least. Once you’ve seen them all however, the charm quickly fades and after a while I started barely noticing them at all. One way this could be salvaged would be to overhaul the way the camera controls work; currently you can either view the board from a top down or 3/4 angle view, and the amount you can zoom in is also quite limited. I found myself constantly wishing the camera functioned closer to the Total War games or even The Sims – just having the option to zoom in closer and spin the map round would give so much more incentive to admire the way the tiles look when they come to life. Unfortunately what you see is what you get with this one, and there isn’t much opportunity to change any of this in the settings.
Another noticeably missing feature is the ability to choose the table you play the game on. With this genre of video games it’s usually the case that you can choose your “background” for lack of a better word. Think of a pool/snooker game; if you bought a game like ‘Hustle Kings’ or ‘Pool Nation’, you’d naturally expect the game to offer various colours or logos to set for your pool table. It’s should be the same here, but as far as I can tell there is no way to change your table, meaning every game is played with the same wooden boards as the backdrop for your kingdom.
Speaking of the games settings, the tab in which you control them might as well be none existent. There are a few quality of life options, but what is there is lacking, and as far as I can tell there’s no way to turn off or adjust the vibration. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but the game’s vibration level is set so high that it completely breaks the immersion every time it goes off (which, by the way, is a lot). It’s kind of hard to describe, but if you imagine having the vibration set so high on your phone that it makes almost a high pitched squealing sound as it goes off – the first time this happened it actually made me jump it was so noticeable. Remember that episode of The IT Crowd where Moss hacks Roy’s phone to make the vibration more noticeable and he ends up turning it up so much that Roy thinks he’s having a heart attack….yeh, it’s like that.
The games themselves play out, as you’d expect, just like the traditional version. However the problem is that where a typical game when playing physically might last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending (on how many people are playing and how many expansions you’re using), the video game usually lasts twice that, mainly due to the AI opponents taking such a long time to make their move. As the game progresses the map grows larger, meaning there are more options available for where tiles can be placed. At this point the games AI systems struggle to keep up and this leads to the mid-game moving very slowly. Playing against more than one AI opponent you can be sat waiting for quite some time between moves, and this throws the pacing way off.
Thankfully the game does have local co-op, and this is where the game really shines. Playing with friends is just like playing the original, and the portability on the Switch is a fantastic way to play where you can play with just one controller. Like many of you I’m going away soon to spend Christmas with my Family, and being able to have the game with me on the Switch is so much easier than taking the several boxes the physical game comes in.
All that being said, I don’t know many people who would rather play the video game Monopoly if they could play the original instead. And this is the case with most video game versions of board games, it’s rarely as good. So, taking that into consideration, Carcassonne for the Switch arguably does the best it can do, and it’s not really the game that’s at fault, it’s the shortcomings of the genre as a whole. That being said, there is so much more in terms of quality of life and game options that I wish the developer would add in, and in the game’s current form, I would always choose to play with the physical tiles, given the choice.