APP OF THE YEAR: Carcassonne

This was the first year we added mobile games to the Games Magazine Games 100 awards We chose to focus on Apps, rather than on other mobile devices, because only Apps can make a legitimate claim to being a new gaming format, with unique mechanics and design elements. Certain games are Wii games and can only ever effectively be Wii games. And certain games are Apps, and can only ever effectively be Apps.

To become a new format, a device must offer a unique language, a core vocabulary that it shares with every other item in that genre. There are distinct qualities to PC, Wii, DS, and Xbox/PS games, primarily based upon control, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Apple mobile software can make a similar claim, due to its unique blend of portability, size, multi-touch controls, and a 3-axis accelerometer (enhanced by a gyroscopic sensor for the iPhone 4).

Apps are of particular interest to Games readers because they are a natural format for all manner of puzzle, board, and card games. There are a huge variety of classic games, Eurogames, card games, and abstract strategy titles for the format, often with multiple versions of each. Many of these have multiplayer elements built-in, and also include teaching tools, variant versions, other features to give them added appeal. And all if this rarely costs more than a few dollars. It’s creating a mini-renaissance of classic gaming and puzzle play.

Our normal criteria for inclusion in the Games 100 is a title released within the current year (roughly October to September). For the inaugural edition of the App section of the Games 100, we choose the 25 best Apps in the App Store. The focus was heavily tilted towards the kinds of games our readers would prefer: heavy on board games and puzzles, light on action games and fart apps. If we’d done the list now, after having several more months of serious app gaming under my belt, there may have been some add/drops, but I’m pretty comfortable with the way the list turned out.

Had the awards come three months later, however, I might have considered Cut the Rope for the top spot of App of the Year, but it’s hard to say. The winner, Carcassonne, is a time-tested favorite among Eurogamers in general and our readers in particular. The feature-set for the conversion of Carcassonne reads like a wish-list of everything you’d want in this kind of App. There are 8 different AI players, a new solitaire mode, local network play over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, Internet multiplayer via live-gaming sessions or email, a matchmaking service, an Elo ratings system, and in-game chat.

The implementation of the game itself is also quite strong. Carcassonne was always going to be a tough fit for the small screen of a mobile device. Its tendency to spread across the table makes it though to fit in a small space. The App version does a fair job of managing this by zooming in and out, and clearly marking any block where tile placement is legal.

The result is a pitch-perfect implementation of a complex boardgame design. This no small achievement, and clearly marks out Carcassonne as the App of the Year. Runner’s up were Helsing’s Fire and Catan.
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