Gavin Kingsley
New Zealand
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While waiting for our fifth player, we knocked off a couple of games of For Sale, and then when we had all arrived, we gathered our Catan components to decide what game to play. Our friends had a new copy of the basic Settlers still in its shrink wrap while my wife had new copies of the Great River and the Event Cards to try. The group consensus was to try for a Seafarers scenario and thumbing through the scenario book for five to six players we decided that Greater Catan looked interesting. In those earlier, innocent times we had not realised what a monster we were taking on.

Our first difficulty was setting up. Every other Seafarers scenario we had tried lists all the components you need in a little table and, deceptively, the Greater Catan scenario also includes such a table. So we carefully counted out terrain and started placing it to form the mainland (including the Great River). But with the mainland in place we realised we did not have enough pieces to place the islands. Huh? Reading the set up prose, we found the instructions to set up the mainland in accordance with the five to six player expansion. Okay. Recount. Now we have the mainland but what goes in the islands? Again, the terrain chart was not helpful but the prose said to use the terrain from the standard game, so breaking into the shrink wrapped second game, we got the board down.

Oh, by the way the scenario says it lasts three hours. A bit of a surprise when most scenarios last an hour and a half but, okay, we can finish by half past midnight. Oh, and the Great River adds two victory points to the required victory conditions so the target will be twenty, not eighteen. Maybe there is a lesson here in reading the scenarios rather than thumbing through and looking at the pictures?

While placing the initial settlement it quickly became apparent that with five players we were not all going to have equal access to the Great River. White and Red secured their spots while the rest went elsewhere for better resources. At last White was poised to start the game with only a little grumbling from Yellow about how easy Risk was to set up in comparison.

The early game was characterised by a severe shortage of sheep. Only Yellow had any chance of of getting wool so as a consequence, Yellow could extract a steep price on most trades and there was a fair bit of trading overseas at four to one as people tried to bootstrap themselves out of their starting positions. Yellow consequently suffered from the attentions of the robber until in a mid game its attention shifted to Brown who had started to open up a margin on the pack.

By now the Event Cards had made their presence felt with an earthquake disrupting a few plans and Red wondering what happened to the two (sitting behind the year end marker). There were a few calls for the return of the dice but we continued as we started.

The end of the early game was marked by Red begging White for a trade so Red could block Brown from completing a roadway across the mainland and so securing the longest road from White. After this blocking manoeuvre was completed, Brown was in an almost landlocked position with only one coastal town and with almost no roads left but with a healthy points margin on the rest. Blue and White had both started explore off shore islands, while Yellow had consolidated the pastures and had a good coastal position with a couple of ports. Red was also landlocked and looking a bit of coast to claim.

The mid game introduced the shock of number pieces leaving the mainland to start to populate the islands. Brown's and Red's positions on the mainland rapidly weakened as White and Blue exported number tokens offshore. As the mainland started to look barren, Blue started to look dangerous even though she still trailed Brown on points.

The end of the mid game was marked by a battle between Brown and White for the longest road, briefly won by Brown for eighteen points total but in the end Brown was never to win that honour again and slipped back to sixteen points, level with Blue who was exploiting her offshore empire to great effect and enjoying her largest army. At this stage we were over three hours in to the epic and lids were starting to droop.

The end game was a struggle between Blue whose largest army was unchallenged and who also briefly secured the longest road off White for a temporary high tide mark of eighteen points and Brown whose mainland empire was now largely barren and whose offshore presence could not make up the difference. Both players struggled with getting points on the board as the game crept into the morning.

In the end, four and a half hours after opening the boxes, Brown staggered home with a a victory point card revealed for twenty points. Blue was pipped by a narrowest margins, also having a hidden victory point card for a total of nineteen points and needing only a few resources to take the longest road off White for the final time. Yellow came in third with a potential challenge to the largest army hidden in his resource cards.

Greater Catan was epic in scope and relocating the number tokens opened up a whole new dimension in game play. Brutal game play, even. We never fully exploited the Great River and the Event Cards were a mixed blessing. Conclusion: maybe a shorter scenario next time?
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