Catan is one of those gateway games that even those who aren’t deeply into board games are likely to know. While it isn’t the best game to play via an iPad, this is still a good example of a board game delivered to this format. Those who are familiar with some of the iOS version’s history will have certainly seen a marked level of improvement since it’s inception on the iPhone. Now it serves as one of the few examples of a game with an expansion.
For those of you unfamiliar with Settlers of Catan, it is a victory points based game where points are acquired through building a settlement (1 pt), upgrading settlements to cities (2 pts), building the longest road (2 pts), and having the largest army (2 pts). A typical game is played to 10 points – though as many of you will discover, there are many non-typical games included.
The majority of the game revolves around resource management. The board is composed of variable hexes surrounded by sea, and the five resource hexes produce either wheat, lumber, brick, ore, or wool. Players collect resources depending on which hexes their settlements and cities are touching when the number on that hex is rolled. These resources are then used to build roads, settlements, cities and buy development cards.
Players must be careful not to stockpile cards as when a seven is rolled (statistically the most likely result) a robber becomes active. Players with more than seven resources must discard half (rounded down). The robber is then moved to one of the current hexes, stealing an additional resource from a player on its border and thereafter blocking that hex from producing resources until the robber is moved again.
The heart of the game’s strategy is embedded in trade. Due to the random nature of resource acquisition, it is almost impossible to win without trading with the other players for precious resources. Players can either secure the use of one of the ports for maritime trade, but more often than not a player must rely on domestic trade with other players.
There is great freedom in what can be traded, and many of the best strategies for the game revolve around trying to monopolise certain resources to simply trading and stealing resources back. Often, players in the last two hurdles of victory will find their collaborators imposing trade embargoes, and so it is something of a balancing mechanism.
Because of this randomness, the game can be a bit unpredictable. It is possible for the fates of anyone to rise and fall, despite the best laid plans. Similarly, there are sufficient diversity of viable strategies that having a secure lead or monopoly in one area will guarantee victory.
Something should also be said about Seafarers of Catan. This is one of the original expansions for the game, and is available as an in-game purchase. Most players of Catan will agree that Seafarers did not add much to the game, and it is certainly not one that I would include in favour of the others.
Seafarers creates options for having multiple islands as well as building ships across the sea to land on them. These ships add to the longest route, and often landing on an island where you have no existing hold will give victory points too. The game also introduces a pirate as a seafaring version of the robber, and a goldfield that allows players to draw resources of their choice.
It also introduces a number of scenarios that allow players to experience different set ups of islands and styles of play. It adds a certain diversity to the original game.
The lack of human interaction was always going to be a bit of a let down for this game. Trade is the heartsblood of its fun, and even though there’s been a few revisions since the first iteration, the iPad as a medium for trading is going to be a bit of a clunker. Normally in real life, trading is a fluid conversation between all interested parties. There can be a bit of an energy around auctioning, and this doesn’t translate easily to the iPad. It’s a stick point that you can’t do much about.
However, the game excels in doing all the mathematics for you and it especially comes into its own with the addition of Seafarers. In real gaming the scenarios were rules heavy and too much set-up for too little pay off. With the iPad taking care of all that, the payoff seems just right. Add to it a bit of flavour and turning it into a campaign and it becomes a real winner. Though I’m an old hat with Catan, discovering this campaign was a joy as I obsessively spent hours on it. It was always a case of just one more game.
Some of the nicer touches that are available in this game are the options to change the graphics of the tile-set for free, and you can likewise tinker with the various rules and set up options (including being able to turn off the absolutely annoying player commentary from AI – seriously, does that ever appeal to anyone?). This added to the multiple scenarios and it becomes something of a Catan Sandbox.
8/10: Because a single game can go up to 2 1/2 hours, this is a great travel companion for those long voyages. It becomes a convenient accessory to gaming, but not one that I think would replace a real game with live players.