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Subject: Session Report: “Barons of Catan” (an Advanced Settlers Experience) rss

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Date: Sat 21st Jan 2012, Play-time: 4 hours (partial play-through)
Players: 3 - Jacob (red), James (white), Mike (blue)


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Never heard of “Barons”?

Barons of Catan” is a fan-written rules variant for Settlers of Catan, which uniquely integrates both the popular Settlers board game with the stand-alone card-game. If you own both games, this is a new way to integrate many of the best elements of both, for a massive, immersive settlers experience quite unlike anything you’ve played before! Combine your Island-exploration with your trade fleets, your hex tiles with your magical citadels, and your robber with your valiant knights, in an intensive fully-featured gaming experience. To find out more about the rules and sign-up for play-testing, see this thread: www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/664375

‘Barons’ is designed for optimal play with 4 players. This was our first 3-player foray, but the game balance held very well. Standard rules are to play to 10 victory points; this might not sound much, but VPs are much harder to come by in Barons (settlements, cities and citadels are all worth 1 fewer victory point than usual, and there are no easy points for longest trade route or harbourmaster) – as a result, and due to the increased detail of the rules, a game of barons is an epic gaming experience, taking many hours to complete. In this session, we played for 4 hours, and the leading player got to 6 VPs at the point when we had to stop play, so the game could easily have continued for another hour or two. Therefore, be sure you allow a good afternoon of gaming time for this one!

Currently, Barons is still in development and play-testing, so some of these rules are being updated and revised (for instance, the robber rules may be changed slightly following recent play-tests). But the session report below should give you a good flavour of the gameplay. Keep in touch on the forums to find out more about future rules version releases!

Note: due to the underlying concept of the game (combining the different board-game and card-game variants) Barons inherently requires that you own quite a lot of the different available expansions. We are playing today with elements drawn from Settlers, Seafarers, Traders & Barbarians and Cities & Knights, the Great River, Fishermen of Catan (board game), as well as Catan Card Game, Trade & Change, Politics & Intrigue, Knights & Merchants, Science & Progress, Barbarians & Traders, Artisans & Benefactors, and for the first time in this play-test, also Wizards & Dragons. Theoretically, you could tweak some of the rules if you were missing certain of these expansions, but for the best game-experience it’s great if you can get the full works!



In addition to this, a number of custom cards and tokens are needed for play; it’s beyond the scope of this session report to describe them all; for more details, contact the creator of Barons, BGG user Jacob Busby.

I’ve written this session report assuming you know the basic rules of the card and board game, but won’t know much about Barons; so I’ll explain a few things as we go along…

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Setup:

The board was set up with a standard central island of 19 hexes, and 4 surrounding unexplored islands (1st settlement ‘colony’ on one of these islands is worth 1VP). Note that we’re playing with two ‘river’ expansions (a 3-tile, and a 4-tile), and 6 fish-tokens around the coast. There are no harbours in Barons – because the card-game “trade fleets” are included, these serve the same function (provided you have a settlement somewhere on the coast).



Jacob rolled highest, so had first placement choice on the main island. He chose a strong inland location (10/grain,8/ore,5/clay). James took a spot on the other 8 hex (8/sheep,4/clay,5/spice) {note: spice in ‘Barons’ is produced on the river delta from the ‘river’ expansion hexes, and trades as a ‘luxury’}. Mike placed inland on (3/wood,6/sheep,11/ore) and (4/wood,11/grain,5/clay). James took a coastal location for his second (5/grain,8/ore,4/fish) {fish, like spice, are a ‘luxury’ item}. Jacob completed the starting locations with (3/wood,10/wood,5/spice) on the opposite side of the river delta.

All players now laid their starting roads / ships {a rule variant in Barons sees these placed after all players have placed their settlements}, with James choosing to place one ship from his coastal settlement. The map looked fairly spread out, although there was precious little wood available, and the region around the ‘6’ ore hex was wide open for expansion. All players start with 0VP, since a puny settlement is worth no victory points!



All players now received the starting resources from their second settlement (as per normal ‘Settlers’ rules), as well as 1 gold token and 1 favour token:

• Gold: There are no gold hexes in Barons; gold is obtained by trading in resources or luxuries, or occasionally winning it through tournaments or other special event cards. Gold can only be spent before the dice are rolled, (so you have to plan ahead a bit), and it can occasionally be lost to barbarian raids of other attacks, so holding too much is risky. But it can be spent on a 1-for-1 basis for any resource card, and it doesn’t count towards a player’s hand limit for corruption checks, which is very useful! In our game, gold is represented by small thumbnail-sized card tokens showing a gold nugget on a brown background (or you could use any suitable tokens you possess).

• Favour: if you have played the card game expansions, you’ll be familiar with the happiness points (represented by gold stars on blue circles). ‘Barons’ includes these as ‘favour points’ (or “favor” for all you Yanks out there!). Favour represents the happiness of your peasantry. You can gain a favour point by throwing a festival for your people (by discarding two luxury goods to finance the celebrations) or by special powers on cards. You can spend favour in several ways; the most important are: taxing your populace (costing you 1 favour per settlement/city and leaving you rather less popular!) to gain 1 gold, or discarding favour to pick from extra cards when drawing from the event deck (see later). The image below shows a favour tokens alongside the gold tokens we use – of course, you could use any suitable chits of your own choice.



Finally, each player receives 10 cards from the ‘basic’ development card-deck, and chooses 3 to form their starting hand. (These are the cards from the Catan Card game, and include things such as trade fleets, production-doublers (sawmill, iron foundry, brickworks) and low-value knights (e.g. the likes of Siegried Lackland). {As in the card-game, these cards can be played to ‘upgrade’ settlements and cities, with a limit of 2 green cards per settlement, +2 red per city. However, for simplicity development cards in “Barons” are not assigned to specific settlements, but form a general pool of ‘table cards’ in-play in front of the player. So a player starting with 2 settlements may build 4 green development cards, but these need not be assigned to a specific location; a ‘sawmill’ may be used to boost wood production on a hex adjacent to either settlement.} The hand-limit is 3 cards unless a player builds and abbey or similar development, as in the normal card-game. The remaining ‘basic’ cards are then shuffled together into a draw-pile for use in play.

With starting settlements in place, and starting cards and resources allocated, play is ready to begin!

Note: In the session report below, dice rolls are shown as [x]
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Round 1: {note: no event die for first two rounds}

Jacob: [9] – Jacob had no production income from this first roll. A special Barons rule states that if on your turn you would receive nothing, you are given 1 free ‘favour point’ (think of it as some sympathy from your denizens!). Jacob now had 2 favour points (FP) total, and being a cynical man (and since this meant he had 1 favour per settlement), he immediate spent his 2 FP to tax his 2 settlements, to gain 1 gold and be left with no favour (not a popular start with his citizens!)

James: [7] – James traded his starting 1 gold before rolling the dice, to ensure he had the resources to build his grain mill (gives bonus grain production on any one grain hex, but card exhausts after use, and does not refresh until start of that player’s next turn). In Barons, ‘7’ does not trigger the robber (the robber is on the event dice from the card game), so instead on a ‘7’ the player receives “inspiration” and may take the top development card from the ‘basic’ deck for free – meaning James could immediately gain an extra card, taking him back up to his hand limit of 3! Note you don’t get that +1FP if you roll a seven.

Mike: [7] – Mike already had the cards for his first road, so built this. He also received a ‘free’ basic development card for rolling 7, but unlike James had not built any of his existing cards, so had to discard down from 4 to 3 cards at the end of his turn. So far, in three rolls no-one had rolled any production at all!
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Round 2: {note: no event die for first two rounds}

Jacob: [11] – Finally, some production! (For Mike at least - unfortunately not for Jacob!) Jacob received his ‘sympathy’ +1 FP. But before he rolled, he spent his 2 gold (1 + 1 from tax in round 1) to get the resources he needed for his Sawmill (bonus wood production).

James: [8] – A good production roll for James, who just built up his resources this turn.

Mike: [5] – Because the event die was about to come into play, Mike played a cheap knight (Siegfried Lackland, 1-1) from his hand for 1 ore, ready for any ‘tournament’ rolls. The roll of ‘5’ means both James and Jacob gain a ‘spice’ token from the estuary. Spice is one of seven ‘luxuries’ in Barons (the others are: fish, coin, pottery, paper, cloth, ale). Luxuries are a special class of resource, which can be traded for gold and other cards, as we’ll see later. Each luxury card is worth 2 luxury points (LPs), except for fish, which are worth as many LPs as there are fish on the card (1-3), so are a bit more variable.

{Note: luxuries are represented by custom stamp-sized card ‘tokens’, as shown below}


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Round 3: {the event die now comes into play; “?” = event, “T” = tournament, “Y” = year of plenty, “C” = commerce (windmill), “R” = robber}

Jacob: [9][?] – First even drawn is ‘dance of the unicorns’, which has no effect as it’s far too early for any of us to have Wizards yet. Jacob gains another +1 FP (no production), and builds a road ready for his settlement.


James: [10][R] – Being a sporting fellow, James declines to play aggressively with the robber on the first turn, moving him to an empty hex. James gets +1FP for no production (this mechanism really helps in the early game, when getting nothing from a turn can otherwise leave you lagging behind the other players). Once again, James builds nothing this turn, (he is now accumulating a large set of resource cards).

Mike: [3][R] – Mike also chooses not to be aggressive with the robber for now (plenty of time for that later!), but the wood he gets this turn allows him to build the first settlement of the game, by the coast (4/Wood,8/Ore). Remember: regular settlements in Barons aren’t worth any VP at all; you need to do something more impressive than that to earn prestige amongst your fellow Barons!
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Round 4:

Jacob: [5][Y] – a well-timed year-of-plenty and a handy ‘5’ on the dice give Jacob enough for his settlement (10/grain,11/ore,9/ore). But before he builds it, he quickly taxes his 2 settlements, at a cost of 2FP (once he is up to 3 settlements, the cost for that +1gold will be 3FP, which he doesn’t currently have). Once again, Jacob’s peasants are unimpressed at his greedy ways and he is down to zero favour! Yet more spice for both Jacob and James this turn.

James: [6][T] – At the start of his turn (before rolling the dice), James has 8 resource, which is more than the corruption limit of 7, so he is automatically corrupt (not that in Barons, unlike regular settlers, you always have to make a corruption check at the start of your turn; this prevents players from building a strategy around simple mass-resource production). He throws away a grain card to go back down to seven (note: you discard down to seven cards, not ‘half your cards rounded up’). But because he has gold tokens, he can now spend these after the corruption check (but before the dice roll) to re-gain resources. He spends 1 gold for 1 wood, then rolls the dice. On the event dice, the tournament comes up, and as Mike is the only Baron with a knight to enter, he automatically wins +1gold. James isn’t too concerned; his resources allow him to upgrade his inland settlement to a city (worth +1 victory point, meaning at this point James is the only player with any VPs!). City production is different in Barons to normal settlers. A city will produce one of the appropriate resource, and also one luxury (in this respect, it’s similar to the ‘commodities’ in cities & knights). So if James rolls a ‘4’ for the hills hex, he’ll now receive both a resource (clay) and a luxury (pottery). These luxuries are powerful goods for trade, as will become evident. He also builds a second ship to explore across to the island near his coastal port, revealing a 2/ore hex. For his exploration efforts, he receives one of the corresponding resource and one corresponding luxury for that hex; in this case, the mountain hex gives him 1 ore and 1 ‘coin’. It’s great news for James; he now has ten luxury-points (LPs), enough to trade for 1 gold. {LPs can be traded at the rate of 10 for 1 gold, 20 for 3 gold, 30 for 5 gold}. He discards his ‘coin’, two ‘spice’, and the ‘fish’ token (showing 2 fish) he received at the start of the game for his second settlement. These 4 tokens are worth 2LP each, plus 1LP for each different type of luxury good (there is value in diversity!), so 4x2 + 3 types = 11LP (the extra LP worth is lost, much as when trading fish tokens in Fishermen of Catan). All in all, a great turn for James!

Mike: [6][C] – The ‘commerce’ event has no effect, because no player yet has any commerce points. Mike gets in on the ‘x2 production multiplier’ action by building an “Iron foundry” to boost his ore production. Because he has now built 2 of his original 3 card-hands, at the end of his turn he chooses to draw a new card from the ‘basic’ deck. He has to pay a resource (1 Sheep) for this, but seems happy with the card he draws into his hand! (Note: in Barons, un-played development cards are hidden, and form the player’s ‘hand’ cards. But unlike in normal settlers, good (resource cards and luxuries) are not held in the player’s hand or hidden; in fact, they are displayed on the table for all players to see).
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Round 5:

Jacob: [5][R] – Jacob follows suit in not using the robber to steal any resources – (yet!). He is now sitting on quite a pile of ‘spice’, but chooses not to build anything on this turn.

James: [9][R] – A ‘9’ gives James no production (so +1FP), but with favour in hand he now spends 2FP to tax his settlements. The tenuous gentleman’s agreement not to use the robber yet still holds…


Mike: [8][T] – Another tournament is good news for Mike who still has the only knight in play. He gains +1gold, and also builds a Weaver’s Shop this turn, for bonus-production on his sheep hexes. The ‘8’ allows him to use his iron-foundry for an extra ore, but he has to ‘exhaust’ the card (turning it on its side) as shown below. His knight card is also ‘exhausted’ (as shown), since he entered the tournament this turn, so he won’t be available for another tournament until he ‘refreshes’ on Mike’s next turn.


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Round 6:

Jacob: [7][?] – The event is a “comet” (from the Wizards & Dragons card game expansion), but thankfully this has no effect on any players at this stage. Jacobs draws a ‘basic’ development card (“inspiration” from the 7-roll) but is struggling a bit for resource production so can’t do anything else this turn.

James: [8][T] – before rolling, James decides to spend his 2 gold for 2 ore; he then rolls an 8 so gets ore anyway, but couldn’t have known (this is a ‘chance’ element in the gold mechanic; you have to decide what you’re likely to need before you roll the dice, as you can’t spend gold afterwards – it makes it quite a deliberation sometimes!). ‘8’ is an excellent production roll for James though, especially with his bonus-resource multiplier cards - so he has plenty of cards - more than enough ore and grain for another city already, so upgrades his other (coastal) settlement (he’s now on 2VP, in the lead!). He also buys yet another ship, to explore out to another unknown island hex, revealing 10/pasture, and so gaining 1 sheep, and 1 cloth (luxury). Despite having the only knight, Mike can’t enter the tournament this turn as his knight is still exhausted, so no-one claims the 1 gold.



Mike: [8][Y] – The year of plenty helps everyone out. Mike’s multiplier developments are refreshed and so he can double his ore-production (8 is coming up a lot). But despite that he can’t do anything else this turn.
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Round 7:

Jacob: [5][C] – Jacob trades 1 gold for 1 grain before rolling. Still no effect from the commerce event (no-one has built a single cheap trade fleet). He has enough cards to upgrade to a city (on 8/ore,5/clay,10/grain) taking him to 1VP. (*what, only just 1VP in round 7*??? We told you, ‘Barons’ is an epic Settlers experience!). The ‘5’ gives him yet more spice, and Jacob decides it’s time to go researching in the ‘specialist’ decks. Up until now, we’ve just drawn from the ‘basic’ development card deck, containing general, low-tech, low-cost cards. The really good development cards (and many of the cards from the expansions) are in themed specialist decks: e.g. “science” (for universities, alchemists, etc), “conquest” (for smithies, castles and more powerful knights), or “commerce” (for merchant guilds, counting houses and markets). To research these specialist decks, you have to pay the corresponding specialist luxury. (So science = paper, commerce = coin, etc). Jacob has a lot of spice, and spice unlocks the church research deck (containing things like the Abbey, churches, etc). He can pay multiple luxury tokens to “research” (draw and examine) more cards from the deck, but by default he can only keep one. The research system is ‘triangular’, so your first specialist luxury lets you draw 1 card; the second luxury of the same type lets you draw +2 cards (1+2=3 total), the third lets you draw +3 cards (1+2+3=6 total). Jacob pays 3 ‘spice’ tokens, so can draw 6 cards. He chooses one of these to add to his hand of development cards.



James: [10][?] – James trades 1 gold for wood before rolling, but then ‘10’ on the dice gets him only +1FP. It’s looking like a poor turn for him, but the ‘event’ turns out to be ‘Golden Times’; because both James and Mike have 1FP to spare, they each spent their FP to draw 2 resources of their choice each (suddenly a much better turn – and getting the ‘sympathy’ FP just in time was lucky for James!). He draws enough cards to build 2 roads, towards the ‘6’ ore hex in the far corner. Jacob is slightly peeved, as it cuts him off from some much-needed sheep hexes…



Mike: [8][C]. Still no effect from the commerce event. Mike can also finally afford a city, and places it at the 5/clay,4/wood,11/grain location, for his first VP.
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Round 8:

Jacob: [6][Y] – Flummoxed at missing out on one source of sheep, Jacob makes a dash for a spot on the ‘6/sheep’ hex, placing a road and a bridge (1wood,2clay) over the river. Even after spending his spice on research last turn, he already has gained enough to have over 10LP, which he trades for 1gold. He also plays the card he just drew from the ‘church’ specialist deck – an Abbey, raising his hand-limit for development cards to 4.

James: [9][R] – Yet another no-production roll nets James +1FP. But the string of 8s in the last few turns has given him enough cards for another settlement, which he puts on the 6/ore,9/ore,3/sheep spot. He has also acquired a large pile of luxury tokens – and has enough to trade 20LP for 3 gold (a better rate than 10LP for 1 gold, if you are prepared to save up!) – even after this, he has some spare, and spends 1 ‘coin’ to unlock the commerce research deck. He also spends 1 resource (sheep), for an extra card; note: because the cards aren’t all the same ‘coin’ luxury type, he doesn’t get the ‘triangular’ stacking benefit, so 2 goods spent just equals 2 cards to draw, (not 3).

Mike: [7][Y] – Inspiration gets Mike a free ‘basic’ development card, but with Jacob and James starting to draw from the superior ‘specialist’ decks, that suddenly doesn’t seem quite so great! He plays a second knight (pippin the short, 1-3), but is still 1 strength point short of the 3 needed to claim the ‘strength advantage’ token (note: both the strength and trade advantage tokens from the card game are included, each worth 1VP and held by the player with the most strength/trade points over 3, as per standard rules). Even after the inspiration effect, he only has 2 cards in his hand, so spends 2 resources to draw 2 cards from the ‘basic’ deck, and keep 1.
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Round 9:

Jacob: [2][T]: no-one produces on 2, so Jacob claims a favour. Mike wins the tournament (1 gold). Jacob builds another road towards his preferred location on the 6/sheep hex.

James: [8][Y]: Before rolling, James spends 2 of his gold from his last turn to gain wood and clay. An excellent roll for him on the 8, combined with a year of plenty, allows him to build a road and then another settlement (2 in 2 turns!) at the 8/sheep,3/sheep,5/fish coastal location (ready to explore the islands on this side of the mainland).



Mike: [7][C] – yet another inspiration (+1 basic dev card) for Mike, who already had 3 in-hand, so has to discard one at the end of the turn to stay within the hand-limit. Mike builds a bridge and a road towards the ‘6/fish’ on the coast.
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Round 10:

Jacob: [2][C] – Another 2 for Jacob! So another +1FP. Jacob is a bit stuck for resources, so uses all these FPs he is collecting to tax his peasants (yet again!) – this time it costs him 3FP, as he has 3 settlements/cities total. He also spends 2 coin luxury tokens to draw 3 (1+2) cards from the commerce research deck.

James: [5][T] – A five on the dice nets James a stack of luxuries (since he has 2 cities!), including fish and spice too! James gets 15LP worth in this turn alone, and combines this with luxury tokens he already had to spend 20LP on another 3 gold!

Mike: [11][T] – Mike gets ore and grain which gives him the cards he needs for a second city, on the 6/sheep,11/ore,3/wood spot (2VP). He discards 1 ‘coin’ luxury for 1 card from the commerce research deck (everyone is hoping to draw a good commerce card like the counting house, to claim the ‘trade advantage’ VP and start winning gold when the trade advantage is rolled on the event die!)
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Round 11:

Jacob: [5][?] – Jacob trades in gold (before rolling) and trades cards with James (after rolling) so he can afford another settlement, at the 6/sheep,12/clay,11/grain spot. The event is a ‘great tournament’; Mike is still the only Baron with any knights to field, so wins 3 gold!

James: [7][R] – James decides the time for gentlemanly restraint is over, and (slightly peeved at Mike for winning all that gold uncontested!) decides to put the robber on one of Mike’s hexes. In Barons, because you can see your opponent’s resources, you can choose which resource you steal (here, James chooses to take a clay off Mike). The ‘7’ gives him inspiration (basic dev card). But James’ main move this turn is to build a citadel (from the Wizards and Dragons expansion). This is a rather exciting first, as this is the first play-test where we’ve added in the ‘magic’ specialist deck! It’s an expensive move, as he must also buy a wizard to make the citadel of any use. He spends 2gold/2ore/1grain for the citadel, which he places on his 8/ore hex (an isolated mountaintop monastery, full of mysterious secrets!) and a further 1ore/1gold for “Ira” as his Wizard. Other Barons don’t think much of an empty citadel, but once there’s a magical wizard in residence, they are suitably impressed, it’s worth +1VP. James now has 3VP, and is in the lead! He even has enough luxuries in his hand to trade 10LP for another gold, ready to spend on the next turn.



Mike: [2][?] Mike spends his 4 gold for 4 resources before rolling. +1FP on dice roll for Mike (no production). Mike builds his coastal settlement on the 6/fish,9/spice,12/clay spot, and then spends some luxuries; 2 tokens to throw a festival for his peasants (gaining 1 favour – what a nice Baron!) and 1 cloth (produced from the 6/sheep hex) to explore the ‘conquest’ deck, (hoping for another knight so he can claim the ‘strength advantage’ for +1VP).
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Round 12:

Jacob: [7][?] – Jacob’s event is ‘Good Neighbours’, which reveals the top card in all the development card decks (including the specialist decks!) this is obviously very powerful, as you now know what you’re getting before you draw. Amongst other things, Jacob reveals a cheap knight in the ‘conquest’ deck, which he pays to draw with 1 cloth luxury token. He spends another 10LP to get +1gold.

James: [7][C] – James trades 1 gold for grain before rolling. Still no baron with the ‘trade advantage’ to benefit from the commerce event! James has lots of great development cards, and can still draw from any of the remaining cards which Jacob’s previous turn revealed, but he is a bit frustrated that he can only keep 3 in his hand!

Mike: [12][?] – Mike decides that allowing a random event to happen (by just drawing the top card) is a bit risky, since a civil war would hit his knights. So he takes advantage of a Barons rule: you may spend any number of favour to draw an equal number of extra event cards when an ‘event’ comes up on the die, then you can chose which of these to play! By doing this he avoids a card which would have rather hurt him, and plays ‘fortunate trade voyage’ instead, which at least has no effect for anyone.
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Round 13:

Jacob: [10][?] – Jacob trades gold for wood before rolling, then gets a ten for wood anyway – bad luck! The event is ‘master builder’, which is another very interesting one for the specialist research decks; Each player in turn (starting with Jacob) picks a deck to search and take a card of their choice from, before shuffling and putting back the deck. But the other players can’t pick a deck that’s already gone – so Jacob’s first choice is very helpful! He takes the ‘commerce’ deck (coin), now guaranteed that good commerce-card for the trade advantage which we’ve all wanted all game! James is also very happy with this event; he can search the ‘magic’ deck to find the perfect card to complement his new citadel and wizard! Mike gets sorry third choice, and searches the ‘conquest’ deck to finally find something to boost his knights and get the strength advantage. After all this, Jacob still has his turn to go; he spots a golden opportunity and quickly builds 3 roads, linking up his trade routes with both James and Mike. As the first player to do this, he claims the dominant trade route, represented by the ‘wagon’ token (from Settlers: T&B), and with it 1VP and also a critical commerce point (the first of the game, meaning he will win the gold when commerce comes up on the event die!) 10 is also a great roll for Jacob, but nobody else – all told, It’s a great turn for Jacob!

James: [9][R] – James moves one of his existing ships to the opposite side of the map to reveal a new unexplored hex (9/ore), claiming an ore (resource) and coin (luxury) in the process. But he can’t do much else this turn; he’s struggling for production.

Mike: [8][C] – Jacob’s dominant trade route commerce point pays off, as he gets 1 gold from the event die! Mike builds a flagship, for 2 additional strength points, winning the strength advantage at last (+1VP). He spends another 2 luxury tokens to get a favour point (festival) and spends a ‘coin’ luxury to research 1 card from the commerce deck.
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Round 14:

Jacob: [10][?] – Jacob trades 1 gold for 1 ore before rolling. Another 10 is great for Jacob! (Bad for James and Mike!) The event is a feud; because Mike has the strength advantage, he chooses to make James discard his lumber camp (not that James was using it much!). Jacob is swimming in cards, and builds a city, which he places on his 3/wood,10/wood,5/spice spot (+1VP).

James: [8][?] – James draws a ‘riot’ event, so Mike loses on of his knights (and grumbles about it a bit!). James and Jacob trade luxuries, so that they both have more variety (and hence more LPs, since every different type in your hand is worth +1LP). This allows James to trade 10LP for 1gold, he also builds a knight (Falk the Fair, 1-5), and pays 1 ore to ‘power up’ his ore wizard, which started on 2 power points, so is now on 3 (Wizard power can be spent in various ways, including on spells, but also influencing the dice roll! Our wizard power chits are red discs with stars on them, similar to our favour tokens).

Mike: [6][C] – Another commerce event gives another gold to Jacob with his trade advantage! Mike trades resources with James to build a smithy, boosting his one remaining knight, and spends a spare resource to draw a ‘basic’ development card.
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Round 15:

Jacob: [3][?] – Jacob draws an event… and it’s a plague! Since no-one has any public baths or aqueducts, we are all hit – and everyone loses at least some cards! (Jacob: 4, James: 2, Mike 1). Suddenly rather thin on resources as a result, Jacob can’t build anything, so trades in 10LP for 1 gold.

James: [7][?] – On James’ turn, the event is a barbarian invasion! Mike has enough military might to repel the invaders (total army strength greater than or equal to the size of your trade-network, i.e. number of roads), so his gold is safe. James and Jacob are both outdone, and lose all their gold – James loses 1 gold, Jacob loses 2 gold. (James could have spent wizard power-points to boost his military strength, but he chose not to). Coupled with the plague from the last turn it’s enough to scupper James’ turn too; he can’t do anything else.

Mike: [7][?] – After two disastrous event cards on the last two turns, Mike prudently decides to spend a FP to draw an extra card and pick the lesser of two evils! As it happens, the best he can do is the ‘Invention’ event, which slightly benefits Jacob, but it’s better than another plague! Mike also has few luxury tokens left, and trades 10LP for 1 gold.
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Round 16:

Jacob: [10][?] – It’s yet another 10 - great for Jacob, nothing for anyone else! The event is a civil war, so both James and Mike must put a knight of their choice back in their hand. A good turn for Jacob, very bad for the others… Jacob also trades 10LP for 1 gold, and spends 3 common resource cards to draw 3 ‘basic’ development cards, and keep 1.

James: [10][C] – Another 10 is great for Jacob, although at least James gets +1FP out of this, since he doesn’t produce on 10, but did roll this turn. The commerce event means another gold for Jacob too. Worst of all, James started the turn with 4 cards in hand (since his knight was returned to him on the last turn) but as he can’t afford to play any of them, he must discard one at the end of this turn. James whinges and grumbles abysmally at Jacob… cry

Mike: [9][R] – At least it’s not a 10! Mike decides Jacob needs some comeuppance, and robs a card off Jacob. It also allows him to build one of the knights in his hand (Conrad the swift, 2-1, but 3-1 with the Smithy), so he won’t have to discard a development card at the end of the turn like James did…
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Round 17:

Jacob: [7][?] – the repeated ‘10s’ in the last round mean Jacob starts this round corrupt and must automatically discard down to 7 cards. He loses 1 grain, but then spends one of his gold after the corruption check to get a clay to replace it. This allows him to afford the Merchant Guild, giving him 4 commerce points, and so securing the Trade Advantage! (+1VP). Those commerce points have an additional benefit in Barons, which he now exploits: when trading LP for gold, he can exhaust his merchant guild, to reduce the cost of the trade by 1LP for each commerce point on the card! He does this, effectively getting a gold for just 6LP from the actual luxury tokens (nice!). Of course, those 4 commerce points aren’t now available if the trade advantage comes up on the event die, but since he has one other commerce point from his dominant trade route, and no-one else has any, he’ll still win by default!

James: [6][T] – Because James lost his knight last round, Mike wins the tournament by default. James moves one of his existing ships to turn over another unexplored island tile. He reveals only open sea, but in Barons that does at least mean he gets to draw 1 fish token for his pains.

Mike: [8][T] – Another tournament, which mike wins by default. He builds a ship, to head towards one of the remaining unexplored island which James hasn’t yet visited. He also spends 10LP for 1 gold, and throws away one basic development card to draw another basic development card (this is permitted in Barons, much like paying any goods card (resource or luxury) to draw a basic development card, and means a play without any spare resources can still slowly ‘turn over’ the cards in their hand, if they are really stuck).
____________________
Round 18:

Jacob: [10][C] – Before rolling Jacob trades 1 gold for 1 clay. The roll then goes excellently for him; winning the gold for his commerce points and buying a knight (1-2), plus once again exhausting his merchant guild (which had refreshed at the start of his turn) to trade 10(-4)LP for 1 gold.

James: [8][?] – The event has no effect. James moves his free ship, to turn over an unexplored island tile, revealing plains; 1+grain (resource), 1+ale (luxury). Unfortunately the probability chit is poor (12), so it’s not worth settling here. He is however able to re-build his lost knight (1-5), and trade 20LP for 3 gold.



Mike: [4][T] – Mike uses his action card “Brigitta the Wise Woman” to control the production dice and (for the first time in the game) produce on ‘4’. On the tournament, for the first time there is a true competition, since all 3 ‘barons’ have knights to potentially field. In Barons, there is an element of chance in the tournaments; each competitor who fields at least one knight rolls a die, then adds up their total tournament points (from fielded knights), with the winner as usual being the highest score. This adds an element of randomness, so if two players have similar strength knights, either could win. In the event, Jacob declines to enter, and in the roll-off, James’s ‘5’ skill knight rolls high and comfortably beats Mike’s ‘1’ skill knight, winning James 1 gold. Mike then builds 2 ships, crossing to the undiscovered island and revealing a 4/hills hex (collecting the corresponding resource, clay, and luxury, pottery). He spends 10LP on 1 gold and 1 resource card on 1 ‘basic’ development card.
____________________
Round 19:

Jacob: [2][?] - Another 2 gets Jacob +1FP, but more importantly, he can use the cards he has saved up to build a coastal settlement (on the 5/spice,10/fish spot) to sail out to sea and begin exploring, hopefully before James beats him to the final unexplored island!

James: [2][R] - James trades 2 gold for sheep + grain before rolling. 2 Is coming up surprisingly often, but no-one produces on 2. It’s another +1FP for James, as for Jacob before. He does, though, rob Jacob with glee, taking ore, and then plays two very nice development cards: from the commerce deck, the counting house (3 commerce points) and from the magic deck: a dragon with strength 6! James takes the strength advantage token from Mike, taking his total VP to 4! (2 cities, an occupied citadel, and the strength advantage). Hungry for victory points, he spends 2 ‘pottery’ luxuries to explore 3 cards (1+2, triangular) from the ‘civic works’ deck (there are a number of cards worth VPs in that deck, including the fabled ‘Colossus of Catan’!).

Mike: [5][?] – Mike swaps 2 gold for sheep + grain before rolling; the event roll turns up ‘superstition’, which costs Jacob 1 card because of his abbey (but does not affect Mike or James). Unable to do much else this turn, Mike swaps a basic dev card in his hand to draw a new one from the top of the deck.
____________________
Round 20:

Jacob: [6][?] – Jacob swaps a gold for wood, then rolls. It’s another ‘plague’ event! Jacob loses 2 cards as a result, James and Mike lose 3 each. Jacob is left unable to build, so trades 10LPs (-4, by exhausting the merchant guild) for yet another gold.

James: [11][9][?] – James rolls an 11, but decides he’s fed up of seeing Jacob and Mike do well on rolls at his expense! So he spends 1 wizard power point to re-roll one of the production dice (when he does this, he can only re-roll one die, and must accept the new result - he can’t re-spend another power point). The ‘11’ becomes a ‘9’, which is better for him. He also plays his ‘joust’ using his (1-5) knight, beating Mike and so gaining 2 resources. Using his new counting house (3 commerce points) he is just able to afford 20LP to trade for 3 gold.

Mike: [5][R] – Mike robs Jacob for a card, and builds yet another (2-1) knight (3-1 with the smithy). This takes him to 10 strength points with his 3 knights and flagship, reclaiming the strength advantage from James who has 7, and putting mike onto 4VP. Finally, he spends some ‘pottery’ luxuries to explore the civic works deck, looking for cards which may be worth some VPs.
____________________
Round 21:

Jacob: [8][T] – There is another dice-roll for the tournament; this time Jacob and Mike both enter knights, but Mike enters more, and gets enough luck on the dice to win the tournament and the gold. Jacob has more important concerns this turn though. He builds 2 ships, exploring out to the last unrevealed island in a bid to beat James there. It’s a very fruitful exploration! Jacob finds 8/wood and 5/pasture – receiving wood and paper for exploring the first hex, and sheep and cloth for the second. He’s also discovered a very powerful location to settle, if he can build there – but he can’t afford to settle this turn... he does have luxuries to spend though, trading 10LP for 1 gold, 2 luxury tokens for a festival (+1 FP), and using the ‘paper’ luxury token he just picked up to research the ‘science’ specialist deck. A good turn!

James:[4][R] – James starts the turn with 9 cards; he is corrupt and so discards 2 grain. He robs Mike for a clay. Seeing that Jacob cannot be allowed to secure the 8/wood,5/sheep spot, james makes a bid to get there himself, building 2 ships; but he can’t afford the third ship he’d need, so is forced to settle just short, only on the ‘5/sheep’ hex. It’s enough to stop Jacob getting the better spot (since settlements must be 2 hex-sides apart), and it still gets James another VP (for his first ‘colony’ settlement on one of the offshore islands). He finishes his turn by spending 20LP on 3 gold, and then drawing a few cards from the ‘commerce’ deck, hoping to find something which will give him enough commerce points to steal the trade advantage (and with it the victory point) off Jacob! The game is certainly beginning to hot up, as all three players manoeuvre to hold back the other two rival barons...



Mike: [5][?] – The event this time is a fraternal feud, which Mike (holding the strength advantage) uses to take 2 cards off Jacob. He uses the robber move just to move it off his own hex, and builds another ship to explore his partially-uncovered island, revealing only seawater (and so receiving a fish token, at least).
____________________
Round 22:

Jacob: [5][Y] – The year of plenty comes a turn too late for Jacob, who has to make do with sending a ship in the opposite direction, discovering 10/wood (and receiving wood and paper). It’s a good enough spot and he decides to settle, gaining himself a VP for his first offshore colony. He ends his go trading 20LP for 3 gold; Jacob and James both have an excellent luxury-trade up and running, routinely bringing in 3 gold per turn now!

James: [10][9][?] – before rolling James trades 3 gold for wood and clay, to build roads. He then rolls a 10 – which helps Jacob far too much, so he’s not allowing that! James spends another wizard power point to re-roll one of the dice, resulting in a 9 this time. It’s enough – he builds his two roads, to cross over the island in contention with Jacob, and settle on the far side of the 8/wood,5/sheep junction – a very clever move for a good production spot! There is no VP for this settlement though, since he has already built an offshore colony for 1VP. He finishes his turn by yet again trading 20LPs for 3 gold, and also 3 ‘ale’ luxury tokens to explore the ‘intrigue’ deck (a great one for the later game, since it contains attacks like the arsonist, which can make all the difference in the late game when other players have very powerful buildings!). Unfortunately, it was getting late and James needed to head home, so we realised we wouldn’t finish today’s game, but we played on for a couple more rolls of the dice, to see if anyone could get past the halfway mark and make it to 6 VP...

Mike: [7][Y] – since this was the last turn he’d get, Mike went for a quick final VP. Paying 2 gold for 2 grain before rolling the dice, and then moving his free ship, hoping to find an island spot to settle on. Unfortunately, the tile revealed water, giving him a fish but no-where to settle. So he built his fourth and final city for another VP, along with a ‘house of the benefactor’ development card.
____________________
Round 23:

Jacob: [8][?] – For the final turn of the game, Jacob (who at this point was level with Mike on 5VP apiece) realised he could grab one last VP; he traded 3 gold before rolling for ore and grain towards a city, and very wisely spent a FP on the ‘event’ draw, to draw 2 cards and keep one of his choice. It proved a good idea; the top card would have been another plague! As it was, Jacob avoided the plague, and so kept enough cards to build his third city, and win that extra VP, getting just past the half-way point with 6VP! A good point to call it a day... but it would have been interesting to play on if we'd had time!

____________________
The Aftermath:

Final scores at the point when we stopped play were:

Jacob: 6 (3 cities, 1 island settlement, 1 for dominant trade route, 1 for trade advantage)

James: 4 (3 cities, 1 for occupied citadel)

Mike: 5 (4 cities, 1 for strength advantage)

It was close, and some of those VPs (trade and strength advantage) could easily have swapped hands, tipping the balance. Different players pursued different strategies (Jacob with commerce, Mike with knights, James with Magic and exploration) but all of them seemed to perform fairly well, giving good balance to the game; it felt like the player ‘in the lead’ was changing from one roll of the dice to the next. This seems (from play-testing) to be a strength of Barons; there are quite a few different ways to score VPs, and it’s not just about a monotonous production-engine strategy, which makes for more ways for a player to carve out their niche in the game. It would have been nice to finish the game; it could have been anyone’s to win, but we’d played for 4 hours and James had to leave. Barons does take a long time to play, but that really is an inherent feature of such an involved and complex game; you couldn’t make it play in 90 minutes and still have that feeling of depth and breadth. Some rules still need tweaking and fine-tuning (e.g. we need to play more with the magic deck to get the balance right, and the 'conquest' deck may be re-worked to split out the exploration and military cards), but based on all play-tests so far it seems to be a very enjoyable ‘tour-de-force’ Settlers experience!

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Bill Bross
United States
Michigan
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This sounds like it would be a pretty fun variant of Settlers - I could feel the epic nature of the game just from reading!
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Jacob Busby
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Excellent write-up, Mike. Very engaging!

Readers unfamiliar with the rules might be wondering why there was so little trading. In Barons you can only make one trade per turn (and at a 1-for-1 ratio to boot!) Players who share a trade network ignore this rule. This, plus the bonus for Dominant Trade Network, strongly encourages players to build road networks which connect to their opponents, as well as networks which expand their domain.

I'm still working on the rules, but if you want to see the prototype set, feel free to geekmail me.
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SebZ
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Hey, thank you for this brilliant and long review.

I really like to try your Barons Scenario, but i miss two card game expansions and babarians and traders... And i guess i cant get that in the old versions unless i spend a lot of money....

And whats more, i dont have heavy settler gamers around me... Guess i wont try.

But anyway thank you for the session, it made my morning!
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Jacob Busby
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I'm still writing up the rules, but one of the appendices contains a section on coping with the lack of components. Here are my notes, spelling and grammatical errors and all...

What to do if you are missing an expansion?

This supplement is unashamedly aimed the Catan completest, and players without some of the sets may need to adapt the rules accordingly. The following guidelines were written to help adaptations.

Playing without the Seafarers of Catan.expansion

Without Seafarers of Catan there will be no islands to expand to. This is not necessarily a problem, but it may make expansion difficult and will probably lead to fewer regional developments. You may need to play to fewer Victory Points. The Maritime deck will also lose some of its punch, as cards like the Ship Builder and Shipyard are significantly diminished by the absence of ships.

Playing without Cities and Knights of Catan expansion

The pieces used from Cities and Knights of Catan are:

• Merchant To mark the most auspicious baron.
• City Walls A minor defence against the Bandits. Hardly a major loss.
• Metropolis Tokens To mark a triumphal arch and victory over the Barbarians.
• Knights To mark Regional Development

These pieces may be purchased independently from online retailers such as www.boardgameextras.com, or you can easily create substitutes.

Playing without the Traders and Barbarians expansion

The Traders and Barbarians expansion provides rivers, bridges and fish. The loss of rivers and bridges is not significant, but the loss of fish and swamps is. You will need to add extra hexes to the starting island to make up the losses. It is recommended in this variant that the first desert receives a low value chit (a 2 or a 3) and that it produces incense. To simulate fish, presume that any township adjacent to an ocean produces one fish on a seven. Hence if you have several townships adjacent to the ocean you could find you have a bumper harvest on a seven. This effect should occur in addition to the standard inspiration effect which occurs on a seven.

Rivers can be substituted with The Great River, although you may need to use roads for Bridges. The Fishermen of Catan is also available separately.

Playing without the Artisans and Benefactors Card expansion

The Artisans and Benefactors card expansion was sold separately from the Catan Card Game Expansion. Simply ignore all the cards in the deck that refer to Favour. This will probably diminish the society deck.

Playing without Rivals / without Age of Darkness.

Additional tabs have been added to the card list spreadsheet to cover this loss. If you play without Rivals use the original sheet, and split the 100 cards into 5 decks of 20 cards each. There are no theme decks in this game, so luxuries should be used to trade for gold or host festivals instead.

A second sheet has been provided if you do not possess the Age of Darkness expansion. You may need to change the meaning of a few cards, so you will need to come to a consensus. For instance, prior to Rivals, the Bishop was a counter card for the Arsonist. Nevertheless, it should be feasible to arrive at a suitable conclusion for most cards.

Note that the decks are not sacrosanct. Feel free to modify the decks, adding or removing cards which you feel are appropriate. It is recommended that you try to keep the victory points cards to a reasonable level and that decks with “requirement” cards don’t go beyond 35 cards. It is also suggested that the event decks has no more than 40 events, with at least 2 Barbarian Invasions (to stop players stockpiling gold without forethought), 4 Plagues (to ensure that resources are always at risk, thus increasing the utility of the Aqueduct, Bath House, Pharmacy and Doctor) and 3 Civil Wars (which keeps heroes dynamic and ensures that the Auspicious Baron bonus, Church and Cathedral are all highly desirable).
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