09 July 2012

Settlers of Catan review

This will probably be my shortest boardgame review ever. This game is dead simple, and I guess much of its popularity derives from just that - simplicity.

Settlers of Catan is a 3-4 player game which takes place on an island full of natural resources that the players need to harvest and turn into roads, villages, towns or development cards in order to achieve victory. Each of the mentioned things yield various amounts of victory points and the first player to reach 10 points wins the game.

The board is made up of hexes featuring one of the following resources: clay, wood, stone, livestock and grain. These tiles are randomly deployed and you follow up by placing small markers with numbers on each hex. The numbers correspond to the results of rolling 2 D6 dice, and the number of dots featured on each marker show the statistical likelihood of you rolling that number on 2D6.

After having placed all tiles of the board on the table players roll 1D6 and the player who rolled highest starts deploying his starting village, then the remaining players deploy theirs. All players start with 2 villages and 2 road sections each.

Villages are placed at the intersection of 3 tiles and cannot be placed closer than 2 road tiles to another village.

Once starting villages are placed, the turn sequence is as such:

First player rolls 2D6, checks the result and compares it to the numbered markers on the hexes. Should a hex feature the correct number and be adjacent to a village/town then the player who owns that village/town draws resource cards. As such there is a constant stream of resources being dealt to players all the time. The current player may initiate in trade with his fellow players during his turn, and offer some of his resources in exchange for theirs.

Resources are turned into new villages, road sections, upgrading villages into towns (making you harvest 2 resources instead of 1 when your settlement is near a number generated by the 2D6 roll) or buy development cards. Development cards are divided into victory point cards, army cards and special cards granting bonuses for having a grain monopoly, largest army, largest road network etc.

The first player generates resources, deals resource cards to the appropriate players, builds new developments, initiates trade or buys development cards to boost his chances of victory.
When all this is done, the turn is handed over to the next player.

The game plays lightning fast and I don't know how many turns we managed to play before we had a winner, but probably 20 something turns in around an hour with 3 players.

Additional features on the board are the desert tile in the middle which is worthless, trade harbors along the edges allowing players to trade specific or unspecific resources at a set ratio for whatever resources they desire. There is also a highwayman, who if a player rolls 7 may be placed on an opponent’s hex preventing harvesting of resources featured on that hex and allowing the player who controlled the highwayman to steal 1 resource card from the targeted player.

The game is easy to learn, very fast paced, and fun. For me this game is perhaps a bit too simple, but then I'm a fan of "blockbuster boardgames" that are heavily themed. There is a bit of planning and tactics involved, but it relies quite heavily on the luck factor when it comes to generating resources, generating the board and generating starting positions.

The quality of the tiles, cards and pieces is quite OK. It's not Fantasy Flight Games quality and artwork, but then again this game does not strive to appeal visually on the same level as heavily themed games. Settlers of Catan is simply a more "classically styled" boardgame comparable to games such as Monopoly. Games that the whole family can play together. It's not necessarily something I would bring to a boardgame night with my game group.

5 comments:

  1. Now this is what I call an all-time classic.

    Nice little review!

    Thomas

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  2. Its a great game and that's a good review. I know a lot of hard core board gamers that still turn to this one on their regular board game nights.

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  3. I used to play the game long ago in Atlanta, GA. Now, I know someone locally that got it as a gift and is wanting to play it now.

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  4. The thing with Settlers is thats its so much less about luck then you first think when you play it. Ive been an avid Settlersplayer for about 7 years now and usually compete in Swedish Championship and even played at the World Championship twice. There is so many strategies and ways to play and with 4 good players its more strategy/skill then luck by far :)

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  5. @Palmen, we rolled (without exaggerating) 7 at least 20 times, at one time 4 times in a row (and two times in a row was very common). Pretty much the first third of the game was spent swapping cards with other players using the highwayman.

    That is until I popped open a DungeonQuest box and swapped the dice (one of the players stubbornly refused to change dice and kept rolling those fucking dice anyway – which ticked me off a little as the evidence against at least one of the Settlers dice we had been using was blatantly obvious). It was unbelievable how one die kept rolling either 2 or 5, 95% of the time no matter how much it was tumbled or what force was used to roll it. At the same time almost no clay was generated at all by die rolls which forced us to trade resources in the trading ports for clay. The clay trouble combined with the constant highwayman results left me rather unimpressed. I know the results in our game were pretty extreme, but it did reveal the weakest link of this game.

    I can see strategies and basic tactics being used, use of roads to block other player off, positioning settlements in the right places, racing towards an important harbor and so on. But at the end of the day an awful lot is tied to the constant rolling of 2D6. A bit too much for me to be comfortable with the way it plays out.

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