24 August 2008

Board Game Review - Settlers of Catan

It's been a while since I've reviewed any board games, so I think it's time to do so now. Let's do Settlers of Catan today. I realise that if you're reading this blog, chances are good that you've played this game before. Still, it's a great game, and I like it a lot, so I'm going to review it anyway.

Remember the review system? Here we go:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.
Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None.
Attractiveness: I'm torn between giving this game a rating of "Nice" and "Average."
Expected Length of Game Play: an hour and a half.Here's what happens: The game board is made up of a series of hexagonal tiles. Nineteen of these represent land, and are arranged to form a vaguely circular island, surrounded by the remaining eighteen tiles, which represent water. The land tiles can be mountains, hills, plains, pasture, or forest, with a single tile representing a desert. The players start with two settlements that they place, in turn, on the board. Settlements are placed at the junction of three tiles, not on the tiles themselves, and no settlement can be adjacent to any other settlement, your own or another player's. Settlements, by the way, are represented by small wooden houses in your colour. Also present in this game are roads, which are small square dowels, also in your colour. You get one for each settlement at the beginning.

Also arranged on the playing field are a series of numbered tokens, one for each non-desert land tile. These contain the numbers 2 through 12, skipping only seven. Each player is given resources corresponding to the three tiles on which his second settlement is placed.

A player's turn consists of two stages. First, he rolls 2d6. Whatever number comes up determines which tiles produce resources. So, for example, if a 5 is rolled, all tiles that have a 5 produce the appropriate resources, and any players with settlements on those tiles receive a card to represent that resource. Pastures produce wool, fields produce wheat, forests produce wood, hills produce clay, and mountains produce stone. If a player has two settlements on a producing tile, then he receives two of that resource. Three settlements produce three resources. And so forth.

Notice that there is no 7 token. This is where the robber comes in. The robber is a black pawn that starts in the desert. Whenever a 7 is rolled, the current player activates the robber. This involves three steps: first, all players with more than seven resource cards in their hand must discard half of those cards (round down, their choice). Second, the player moves the robber to another land tile (he cannot return the robber to the desert once it has left that tile, and he cannot leave the robber on its current location). Third, he steals one resource card at random from one player who has a settlement on that tile. In addition, no tile produces any resources so long as the robber is on that tile.

Once the dice have been rolled and the resources distributed or the robber dealt with, the player moves on to the second stage of his turn. At this point, the player may do two actions, as much as he likes (and is able), in any order he likes. He may A) trade resources, and B) build.

Trading is simple: he may trade whatever resources he likes to another player for any resources. The only rule regarding what he may trade is that both players must agree to it. Thus, if both players are willing, it is perfectly legal to trade eight ore cards and a wool card for a single wheat card. Note that while the current player may trade with whoever he wishes, the other players may not trade with each other; they may only trade with the current player.

If you are unwilling or unable to trade with the other players, you can also trade with the bank. Any player may, on his turn, spend four of any single resource to purchase a single resource of any type. This becomes more economical if you have ports; half of the ocean tiles represent ports, and a player who has a settlement on such a tile gains the advantage of that port. There are two kinds of ports: the three-for-one and the two-for-one. Three-for-one ports let you trade with the bank at a discount; you need only spend three of a single resource to purchase a resource card. Two-for-one ports are more specific. Each two-for-one port is associated with a single resource type, and a player with a settlement on that port can trade two of that resource for one of any other type. For example, a player with a settlement on the wheat port can trade two wheat to the bank for one of any of the other resources.

Building involves spending your resources to purchase new roads, settlements, cities, or development cards. You must build a road (roads must be placed along the edge of tiles, never crossing a tile) to the location in which you want to build a new settlement before you can build one. This is a major point of strategy: if you can arrange your pieces in such a way that another player cannot build roads to a new location, he is no longer able to build settlements. Roads cost one clay and one wood.

Settlements are the main thrust of the game, as they give you resources and victory points (more on this in a moment). They cost one each of wood, wheat, wool, and clay.

Cities are, in essence, upgraded settlements. They are not built on their own, but are instead used to replace an existing settlement. This has two advantages: it gives you two resources when an adjacent tile produces, and it is worth two victory points. Cities cost three wheat and two ore.

Development cards are the "wild cards" of the game. They cost one each of wheat, stone, and wool. There are three types: the first is a soldier. You may play a soldier on your turn to move the robber and steal a resource card from a player with a settlement on the new tile (it is, in effect, the same as rolling a 7, except that nobody loses half of their cards). Don't discard a soldier card once you've played it; although you get no further benefit from it, you might get the "Largest Army" card later on.

The second type is victory point cards. These are rare, but there are development cards that are simply worth a victory point.

The third type is what I call the "Wild Cards." You simply play them and follow the instructions. They include: Year of Plenty - you gain two resource cards of your choice; Monopoly - all players give you all resource cards of a single type that they possess; and Road Building - you place two road segments as if you'd just built them.

Once you've finished trading and/or building, you pass the dice to the next player, who rolls them to begin his turn.

The object of the game is to be the first player to earn ten victory points. Victory points are earned in the following ways: Each settlement is worth one point (thus, the game begins with all players having two points), each city is worth two points, and each Victory Point Card is worth one victory point. In addition, there are the "Longest Road" and "Largest Army" cards. Each of these two cards is worth two Victory Points. Whichever player has the longest road of at least five continuous segments gets the Longest Road card (the card can be stolen by another player who exceeds your current longest road section). The player who has played the most Soldier cards gets the Largest Army card, so long as he has played at least three Soldier cards. This too can be stolen, if someone plays more than you.

The basic game is designed for three or four players, although an expansion has been released that allows for up to six players by increasing the number of tiles in the game board, as well as the number of resource and development cards. There is also the Seafarers expansion (and the 5-6 player Seafarers Expansion) that allows players to build ships across the ocean and explore new territory. There is also the "Cities and Knights of Catan" expansion, which has a lot of additions and alterations, mostly centred around upgrading cities to metropolises and using Knights to defend against the robber and to attack other players. There's also the Catan Card Game, the Catan Dice Game, a kid's version of the game, and several spinoffs, including the "Starfarers of Catan" and "Settlers of the Stone Age," to name just a few.

I really like this game, although the randomness does on occasion screw things up quite horribly (I've seen a game where the dice simply refused to give one of the players any resource cards at all, and at the end of the game, she still only had the starting two points and had managed only to build a couple of road segments). It's fun to plan and scheme, and as one friend put it, "it doesn't sound like it'd be fun, you know, trading wheat and wool and stuff, but once I played it, I loved it!"

So that's my overview of Settlers of Catan. I'm sure you've already played it, but if you haven't, I recommend giving it a try. But whatever you decide, remember to always

Game on!

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