Friday, August 13, 2010


Some friends finally got me to download the iPhone version of the addicting game Carcassonne, and I've quite enjoyed it so far. But thanks to my recent desire to study games academically, I couldn't just enjoy it - I had to analyze it, too.

The first observation I made was about how my understanding of the game progressed. The first time I opened the app was when a friend requested that we play an Internet game. I tried to open the rules and read them, but didn't really understand them (this has a lot to do with the telling vs. discovery principle I discussed earlier). So I started placing tiles and Meeple (what they call the set of seven "followers" you place on the board to earn points) pretty much randomly.

After not having a clue what I was doing for a few moves, I switched to a local game against the built-in AI (in an Internet game you can end up waiting hours for the other person to move again). I noticed the AI opponent scored points any time it finished a city with its Meeple on it, and then even got the Meeple back, so I did that for a while, too. Same deal for scoring points for roads.

Eventually I needed to open the rules again to figure out how the fields and clusters worked. Just as one would expect, the explanations within suddenly made sense. I finally knew how all the scoring worked and could move on to coming up with strategies. I got a bit of a sense of good and bad moves with the AI games, but I learned the most playing with my friend in that first human-to-human game (which, by the way, he didn't win by all that much, considering I was clueless at the beginning).

After a day or two of playing, I started thinking about whether I thought this game would be better with real tiles or in its digital form (at that point, I didn't even realize there was a physical version - ha!). I figured that placing real tiles and the little followers would be much nicer than sliding digital tiles into place, but I also wondered how well I'd be able to count up the points. That part might be kind of annoying.

On the other hand, maybe being forced to analyze the field boundaries would have made me understand the rules more quickly. This is an interesting point. When I play board games during our bi-weekly meeting, we always have someone familiar with the game explain it to us and give us advice for the first few moves. Contrast this with my feeling of being in the dark in the digital version. It's pretty clear that I learn how to play physical games very differently from digital ones. Which way is more effective? Is one way better than the other at all?

It would be nice to try the physical version of Carcassonne and then play the digital version of a game I've already played in real life. I'd like to compare how I learned to play in each case and see if there is any advantage to one or the other.


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