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!)