To finish up the evening, we decided to introduce out group's newcomers, DaveB and Celeste, to the old standby, Settlers of Catan.
We played with the regular 5-6 player setup, the enlarged basic island. We all placed our initial settlements and got started. Our expectations were that we'd be flush with brick this game, since the four brick hexes had the following production numbers: 6, 8, 9, 3. But the 6-brick hex was on the coast, and bordered by one of the deserts, and as a result wasn't initially desirable. We also thought wheat would be scarce, since its numbers included 8, 4, 10, 11, 12, 12. Paul tried to be optimistic, and placed an initial settlement on the wheat port adjacent to the wheat hex. Unfortunately for him, the prediction was accurate.
Jim was the first to increase his holdings. Some shrewd trading with the other players who were intent on building new settlements allowed Jim to collect all the ore resources and build the first city. But the others were pretty quick to answer, with DaveB building out to settle on the coast, a wheat port, while Dave built to settle the third and last settlement spot on that 8-wheat hex, and then quickly followed with a city on 9-brick/5-wood/4-sheep. Celeste and Paul also build out to new settlements in the island's interior. Both risked being cut off of expansion territory, and tried to build out as fast as possible.
Jim, meanwhile, was also pursuing alternative methods of gaining victory points. He was the first to buy development cards, two of them at one time. He also, in the process of expanding his territory, was the first to build a fifth consecutive road segment, and he claimed the Longest Road award.
At this point the island saw some settlement races. Both Dave and DaveB were eyeing a building spot with 5-ore, 10-sheep and 11-sheep. But after a couple of 9s being rolled, Dave earned enough brick to enable him to build the one remaining road and the settlement before DaveB could get there. It was soon enough that DaveB hadn't wasted a road segment to the build site, but it was still a settlement opportunity lost. Shortly thereafter, the sites around the desert were contested. Again Dave was involved, this time with Celeste. Dave had plenty of brick this time, but needed to trade for wood to build two roads. He then realized that this would effectively bottle up Celeste, and he hesitated. That's not something to do to a first-timer! And he brought that up, to which Celeste replied that he should do what he would do to, say, Jim. She wanted the learning experience. So he built the two roads and cut Celeste off from the shores of the island.
Meanwhile Paul, who is also in rather tight quarters, with Dave on one side and DaveB on the other, did manage to build out to the coast, and also built his first city. And DaveB concentrated his focus on the coastline, building out roads and settlements, eventually taking the Longest Road from Jim. But it would be short-lived. Of the five players, only two of us were in position to connect their two initial settlements, and Celeste was hemmed in. That left Jim, and when he did connect those settlements, he retook the Longest Road from DaveB, this time for good. Having built a settlement or two in the meantime, this now gave Jim the lead with 8 VP.
At this point we hit a series of 8s being rolled. Dave had both ore and wheat producing at that number, and he was able to quickly build two cities in quick succession, which took him to 8 VP as well. At this point, DaveB had 7 VP, Dave 8VP, and Jim 8 VP. DaveB had built out all his settlements, though, so needed to build a city to free up one of his settlements. Instead, he pursued the development cards. Dave had a few spots to extend more settlements, so he remained flexible, and in fact did build another settlement to get to 9 VP. He could win with another settlement, or a city, or Largest Army, or a VP card. Jim had 8 VP, but was kind of short on wheat resources to go all out with cities. So the development card race began.
In the effort to stop Dave, Celeste made a few favorable trades with DaveB that enabled him to buy two development cards. This let him take the Largest Army, and defend it for a couple turns. Jim and Dave continued to pursue the development cards, for a couple reasons. First, they were hoping for VP cards. Second, they needed to be ready in case DaveB faltered in his defense. And third, the resources being rolled really didn't allow for any other building to happen. We had again hit a roll of a single number being rolled, this time 6s. This tended to stagnate the game a bit. Paul also pursued the Development Cards as well. He had a different bit of luck, though. He played the odd soldier or two, but generally held onto his cards. As it turned out, he was the one collecting the VP cards, and when the game finally ended, he turned over three of them.
The game continued in this stalemate for a couple rounds. At one point, Dave had enough resources in his hand so that on his turn he could make the necessary trades to build another city for himself, earning that 10th VP. All he needed to do was roll anything but a 7 on his turn. And he rolled....7. Arrgh!
Eventually, after two hours of play, Celeste decided that she needed to get home, so she engineered one more favorable trade, this time with Dave. He picked up the one last resource that would let him build a road and a settlement, which gave him his 10th VP, and the win.
I feel bad about hemming Celeste in with my roads, especially since it was her first time playing the game. But she was a real sport about it, wanting the full game experience. And she's right: if I had the opportunity to hem in Jim, or Rich, or another more experienced player like that, I'd do it in a heartbeat.