Let’s say you’re low on fuel and the intersection up ahead has two gas stations. At station A you can get out, pump your gas and be on your way. At station B, however, they will pump your gas for you, check your oil, clean your windshield, check your tire pressure and generally tell you how awesome you are all in less time than it would take to pump your own gas over at stupid station A. Now what if I told you that not only would you receive all these added luxuries at station B but that it would also cost you 20 bucks less?
This is the dilemma that you’re faced with when deciding which version of the brilliant medieval tile-laying strategy game Carcassonne to purchase (notice that purchasing it at all is not an option here, you need it just like your car needs gas). Spend $30 on the board game and proceed to page through the lengthy instruction manual, clear off a decent sized table, set up the board, shuffle the tiles, grab pen and paper and find at least one other board game enthusiast to play with. Or you can spend $10… Ahem, 800 Microsoft points on the XBOX Live Arcade version of the game, spend a minute or two on the easy to understand tutorial and… well that’s about it, you’re ready to face off against up to 3 other human players on your system or 4 others anywhere in the world, all with the same features and customizable play options as the board game.
Now what if you don’t have human players to play with? Well if you spent that extra $20 on the board game you can admire your investment while it sits in the closet, pining for the day you run into someone who not only shares your interest but is also willing to come over to your dingy apartment. Alright, that may be an unfair assumption but at least those individuals with insect infestations can play the Live Arcade version free of embarrassment, provided those individuals have an XBOX Gold membership. Can’t shell out for the gold? Never fear. The Live Arcade versions let you square off against AI opponents ranging in difficulty from dumb as hell to capable to hard as balls (see also the terms “easy,” “normal,” and “expert”).
I cannot deny the charm that comes with playing a human opponent face to face in Carcassonne or any other board game for that matter. Unfortunately there is not enough charm to get me to pay extra, handcuff my availability to play to the availability of others and make me live with the constant fear of losing the occasional tile or villager. XBOX Live will never lose my tiles and will never scoff at that frustratingly unidentifiable smell in my house.