I like boardgames, as many readers of this blog will know, and recently I reviewed the excellent Ticket to Ride: Europe, a game which has been taking up far too much of my time recently. On Saturday night I dug out an old favourite of mine to show Becky, one of the few games I would compare with Ticket to Ride in quality - Settlers of Catan. I picked up the game back in 1996: Polly and I played it for months, and most of my friends have played it a few times. I bought it in a little game shop in Cambridge now sadly closed, and it is a testimony to how good it is that the Bury St. Edmunds lads made their own sort of copy to play till the they got the one they ordered! (Trust me – that’s a lot of work, you are much better off buying it!) Tonight I played tow games against Kevin and Luke – and despite not playing for over ten years now, I won both. I’m looking forward to teaching Becky the game when she comes down on Friday, she will love it I think.
I noticed before Christmas that my local W.H.Smiths stock it in their game section, so it’s a game anyone can pick up. There is also a travel edition, but to be honest I’d buy the full size version – expect to pay anything between £25 and £35 for it (more in W.H.Sniths as I recall) but if you like games, and are bored with Monopoly, Risk, and Cluedo (I’m not a great fan) this is a fun and fairly simple game playable in an hour to an hour and a half. And it is a really good one, a real classic. Five out of five as far as I’m concerned! In fact I would say even if boardgames are not your thing, then like Ticket to Ride this is a game well worth buying anyway.
So what’s it about and how does it work?
Well I guess the back story is some settlers have arrived on the island of Catan, and are building little empires. No fighting in this game – you can build little towns, roads and cities, and trade with each other. The clever bit is how the game works – the island of Catan is made up of a number of hexagonal tiles, which bear one of six types of terrain (not counting the surrounding sea), and each (bar ) produce a resource. There are plains which produce grain, mountains which produce rock, forests which produce timber, hills that produce brick, and pastures which produce wool. There is also a single desert – that does not produce anything.
Each time you play you shuffle these tiles face down and lay them in a random order, so the map changes. Then you place counters on top, that bear the numbers 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 8, 8, 9, 9, 10, 10, 11, 11, and 12. On your go each turn you roll two six sided dice, and the hexes with the corresponding numbers produce resources, assuming anyone has a city or town next to them. Yes anyone. So if I roll an 8 and Luke and Kev have a town each adjacent to a hex numbered 8, and that hex produces say wool, they both pick up a wool card and add it to their hands.
It’s really VERY simple; but an ingenious bit of game design. You don’t have to wait till your next go to get cards, and s the player whose turn it is can initiate trading at any time, well you have to be constantly involved – no time to dash off and check your email before your next go as with some games. The capacity to trade freely with other players and swap cards makes for a really interactive game.
So what do you do with the cards?
You build stuff. New towns, new roads, upgrade existing towns to cities, or buy Settlers of Catan special event cards which might give you a Monopoly on a resource for a turn, a Knight (explained later), Road building (add two bits of raod immediately) or a Breakthrough – a palace, tower, or some other architectural item which gives you a free Victory Point. The players with the most Knights (but at least three) gets two points for having the largest army, the player with the longest road gets 2 points, and each town is worth one point and city two points. As the game goes on and people build cities the rate at which resources are acquired speeds up (a city lets you draw two resources when a hex it is adjacent to is activated) and to my mind the game always seems to end suddenly, in an exciting last turn or two as suddenly a player gets to eight victory points and everyone tries to stop them.
Knights & Robbers
The observant will have noticed that when I listed the numbers above I missed out 7. That’s because when 7 comes up, the most frequent roll on 2 six sided dice summed (or 2d6 as gamers would say), the palyer who rolled it gets to move a big wooden token called The Robber. That player places the Robber in a hex adjacent to a nother player’s settlement, and steals one of their cards. More importantly that hex now does not produce ANY resources until the robber is moved – and that will only happen when someone rolls a seven again, or draws a Knight card from the Settlers of Catan cards, which allows them to move the robber. The robber is a real pain! While each settlement adjoins three hexes (settlements are built on hex junctions, roads along edges) and you can block each other by building raods and cities to stop your opponent getting a valuable resource, using the rober against them is a really effective tactic.
The problem with board games: and a solution – play Catan free now?
The problem with board games is simple; they are a social activity. That is of course also a huge strength – playing Settlers will require three to four of you with at leat an hour an a half free to sit around a table. It’s much easier to fire up the X-box and play some game, or even to play a game on the web. Of course I play Ticket to Ride on-line (see the review I wrote for details of how; but I did not think it was possible to play Settlers like this. I was wrong! If what you have read so far sounds interesting, why not give the game a go now? You will need to register, and download some software, but I have given it a go – and there is aversion you can play against robot opponents which is ideal for learning the game. However multicatan is very complicated even to an old hand like me, and i find the on-line version (which includes element sof the Seafarers of Catan expansion I have never played) quite confusing! Also unlike Ticket to Ride online, the online Settlers of Catan take place over a week, with you recieving email offers of trades from other playes. Well I have signed up fr a game (as cj.23 as normal) – and i’ll let you know how I fare!
Settlers of Catan: the video
Amazon offer this rather jolly little video that will teach you how to play the boardgame -have a look (includes sound!)
I’m still alive! I had an enjoyable board games evening last Friday night, and DC, Tom Nowell and Richard Lay came over for an hour and a half while we played a quick game of Condottierre, a fun card/board eurogame of Italian Renaissance empire building. Unfortunately DC then went down next day with the dreaded lurgy piggy flu, and so after a fairly depressing weekend in which I did not seem to achieve much (apart from being spaced out completely by some pills my doctor gave me) I spent much of Monday trekking about Cheltenham in the rain trying to get him his Tamiflu. Monday night Kevin and Luke came over for Geist, the rpg of the unquiet dead, and last night I slept much of the evening. I’m glad to say it sounds like he is on the mend. Yesterday was taken up largely in running errands for people, and my failing to get my PIN number right so my bank account locked – I never made it to the bank today, but I will tomorrow. So after many hours of walking all over the place in the rain, and aching dreadfully and feeling run down, I have been sleeping most of today, and am glad to report I’m feeling much better and am pretty certain now I don’t have the dreaded lurgy. Anyway that’s my excuse for not having written anything here for a week!
Hope everyone well, cj x
Nowadays my blog is filled with me talking about ghosts and stuff, and it’s probably easy for people to forget that I have a life outside of work, psychical research and religion. This post is about the street where I live, Normal Terrace, and the most important residents – the rulers in fact of our lane, the cats.
This morning my neighbour Chris called to tell me the sad but not unexpected news that Ziggy, aged 17, a lovely black and white puss had finally died. He had been ill for months, and in sharp decline the last few days, but so often had he recovered from the point where all seemed lost that his passing still came as a shock to me. In some senses I think it was a relief to us all – poor old boy, none of us wanted him to suffer, but the death of a beloved member of the community always hits home.
Ziggy lived seventeen happy years, with his sister Zag and the elegant Suki. Chris loves them all so much, and serves their imperious demands with a devotion many a cat owner will understand. I know we don’t have favourites, but in a sense Ziggy was her favourite.
My acquaintance with Ziggy began when I moved in to the street, maybe four years ago now. He and Zag were not the friendliest of cats – unlike the white lady who basks at the bottom of the street, or the beautiful but highly strung black fluffball Tina owns, Zig and Zag always kept thre distance. Attempts to pet them were rebuffed — and my cats never achieved more than a nodding relationship with those two. I really thought they were unfriendly, aloof little kitties, but I was always pleased to see them basking in the sun outside Chris’ house.
Then came that terrible day 18 months ago, when after a frantic struggle to save him, and a trip to Swindon it still hurts to think of, we lost Lisa’s beloved cat Marmalade. Some of you know the vents that followed, and how we have another fluffball now called Marmalade, but we will pass over that – the important thing is that among all the condolences, and the incredibly kind efforts of David Curtin who drove us on that last terrible journey, and brought us back in tears, the support from Tina, Lynn and all our friends in the street – well that was the day I cam to know Ziggy.
I was sitting on my doorstep, crying my eyes out. I rarely cry; I had not cried since 1992 until that day, but the dashing of our hopes just when we thought we had saved him had left me distraught. The sight of a grown man crying on his doorstep is not one many people care for, and I was therefore surprised when I felt a nudge. It was Ziggy – he came, climbed on to my lap, and nuzzled my nose. For the first time, and I had sat in the doorstep many times before while he regarded me warily, he had approached me, and now he purred and rubbed himself against me. I don[t know if he understood I was distressed or not, but I do recall the comfort he brought me. There were other cats, and always would be - Marmalade had gone, but all over the world new kittens were being born, who would live, play, hunt and wail as kitties everywhere do.
Ziggy and I became friends from that day onwards. I came to regard him as a good friend, and as Chris was unwell and I came to pop round more and more, for our little trips to the shops or afternoon chats, I came to befriend Zag and Suki as well, and when they were ill, I took them to the vets for Chris when they needed attention. Stephen Crickmore of Albion Lodge (by the Tesco on the edge of forever) is a wonderful, compassionate and highly skilled vet - and he always did Ziggy proud. Chris nursed him, with special diets, endless love and affection, and cared fro him as i cared for my beloved Crowley who left me on a dark December morning last year. I know the sting of loss - but also I know that there is comfort in friends, in the happy memories, and in the moggies who remain and make their demands of us. Zig will be yowling for his supper in a better place now, but it's hard to imagine a better home than that Chris gave him - his Paradise must look alot like that little house in Normal Terrace!
One day in February I was convinced our journey together, Ziggy and I. would be our last. I walked to Stephen with heavy heart - I did not so much lift Ziggy in to the box as pour him in to it, and he had not eaten for days. I was trembling as I walked down the road, and yet as I approached I heard a loud indignant yowl and the old boy sprang up, and started purring. Stephen gave him some shots, and he was able to live another happy six months. Yet Stephen knew his days were numbered, and we all knew one day he would move on, leaving us to go play with the other kitties who have gone before.
That day has finally come, and I recieved the call from Chris this morning. I cried — I’m sad and sentimental at the moment anyway– but I have a happy thought. Yesterday the sun beat down on Normal Terrace, and Ziggy went outside, walked over to the fence, up and down a bit, and then lay down on his favourite spot. Last night he sat on Chirs’ lap till minutes before the end when he leapt down, lay down in front of the fire where he often basked, and went to sleep one last time.
Tonight we are taking him to Gareth’s to bury him, and pay our last respects. I’m hoping to be strong for Chris’ sake: I know how good it was to have Kevin Sides there for me when Crowley died, and am still thankful to Malcolm for his help that day. So I’m crying, but not for Ziggy – I’m crying for us — for Zag and Suki, for Chris, and for all of his friends he las left behind – but I’m not crying for Ziggy. He lived a wonderful life, and died content and peacefully at a great age, surrounded by those who love him.
I just hope, when the times comes, we can all manage to be as lucky as Ziggy. Till we meet again Ziggy, love