The island of Catan is ripe with resources. Develop settlements, cities, and ports to best obtain the resources Catan has to offer.
Style of Game: Family
Play Time: 60 to 90 minutes
Theme: Farming and Settlement Development
Number of Players: 3-4
Main Mechanics: Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Route Building, and Trading
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
I see the them blending with the mechanisms in a sense, you build roads to make your way to different regions of the island, you build settlements to expand your presence, it makes thematic sense. Where this blend goes off the tracks is that game is driven by a dice roll that only allow one type of resource to be harvested. I understand you need a driving mechanisms to gather the resources but the dice rolling seems to overpower the thematic feel of the game so it makes an already dry theme, even drier.
Most, if not all, versions of Catan offer variable setup. This version is no different, but it does only offer puzzle like pieces to fit together so it limits the variability a tad.
Once the board is constructed players should take all the pieces of their color.
Each player will have an opportunity to place two settlement pieces and two roads, one extended from each settlement on the board and collect the resource types of the hexes that their starting settlement is adjacent to. There are also ports located around the outside of the board, near the water, that will allow players to trade resources for a better ratio than the initial ratio of 4:1 that all players can use at any time on their turn.
Below is a closer look at the starting settlement for the Orange player. He or she would receive an ore, a lumber, and a sheep resource card.
Once players have collected their starting resources play will begin. On their turn players will roll the two 6-sided dice provided and whatever the total is, the hexes on the board with that number will produce resources for any player with an adjacent settlement piece (or city piece later in the game).
The roll of 12 will produce resources from one hex on the board. In this case the Orange player will receive 1 wheat card for having a settlement piece adjacent to the number 12 hex. Had the Orange player had a city piece rather than a settlement piece he or she would have received 2 wheat cards. Players will receive 1 resource card per settlement adjacent to the activated hexes and 2 resources per city piece adjacent to activated hexes.
After players collect their resource cards from the activated hexes the active player will have an opportunity to trade resources with the other players or the bank (supply of resource cards). Once trading is complete, the active player will have an opportunity to build new structures on the board or buy Development Cards. In special cases, when a 7 is rolled, the active player may move the robber. The robber will sometimes allow the active player to steal resources from another player and it will always provide the active player the choice of blocking another player's hex from producing resources until the robber is moved.
There are bonuses available throughout the game that can be exchanged from player to player based on the dynamic of the board and the Development Cards that have been played. These bonuses are given to the player with the longest continuous road (with at least 5 roads) and the player with the largest army (based on Knights Cards from the Development Deck).
Each settlement piece a player possesses on the board is worth 1 victory point, each City piece is worth 2 points, each bonus is worth 2 points, and there are Development Cards that give 1 victory point. If a player ever has 10 victory points through any combination of these ways of scoring, that player immediately wins. There is no way for players to tie because a player may only score victory points on their turn.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy, Quality of Design, and Replayability.
Catan does not suffer from a lack of strategy. There are world championships in Catan so to say players cannot be better than others at this game would be wrong. Where the game suffers from a strategical standpoint is that the game appears so simplistic that it almost buries the strategy too deep for some players to uncover. There is definitely a benefit to understanding where to place your starting settlements, there is a benefit to getting to trading ports, and there is a benefit to understanding where to place the robber. There are different degrees of comprehension of this game for sure. With that said, it is not the hardest game to unravel and comprehend. It is the kind of game that if you see a player use a particular strategy it is very easy to copy their strategy, either in the current game, or in your next play. I enjoy that Catan will reward a smarter player, yet anyone can see what resources they have and what they can build. This allows multiple levels of players to play at the same time. My complaint is that you can be extremely limited by the dice rolls and if other players aren't willing to trade with you, you are going to progress slower than the other players. You are not eliminated because of this but you can sit in frustration turn after turn after turn... I never know how I am going to feel at the end of this game. Did I win or lose because I deserved to, or did I win or lose because the dice were on my side.
Depth of Strategy:
3.0 = A simple strategy will give you an advantage but it isn't necessary to compete.
Catan, this edition at least, falls into the category I consider to be pseudo-variable setup. I understand the modular board allows you to have a different setup from game to game but the combination of how they implemented the randomization in this edition and the fact that the difference in setup is literally just which number is on each resource each game gives a very fake feel of randomization after about 5 plays or so. The replayability in this game comes strictly from the fact that it is good for introducing new gamers to the hobby so there are plenty of opportunities to play the game for those who are frequently getting new people into the hobby. For all other groups, minus those who are really into this game, the replayability dies quickly because of the bland feel of the gameplay and the pure frustration it can cause.
2.5 = Only fans of the genre/game will likely play this game often.
Dice Rolling Dice rolling is a mechanism that seems to be loved or hated depending on the player. For me, I really only hate dice rolling when it is implemented in an undesirable way. Catan manages to mess up dice rolling in my opinion because on my turn not only can I miss and not help myself, but I can help you immensely and all you had to do was sit there and receive your resources. I can only think of a one other mechanism that is as frustrating in any game I have played. I played this as my gateway game so I played it a lot with a naive acceptance of this mechanism, but if you introduced this game to me now, having played a lot of other games, I would play this one time and be done with it because of this mechanism alone.
Hand Management: The hand management aspect of this game is about as standard as it gets so there is no plus or minus from this mechanism. It is a necessary mechanism, it does it's job and it doesnt help or hinder the gameplay in any way for me.
Route Building: The route building in this game is probably the best mechanism for me. I do enjoy the competition for the longest road bonus and the competition for claiming regions of the board. Since there are limitations on where you can place new settlements there is added emphasis on building roads quickly and strategically. While I do enjoy this mechanism, it is very simplistic and becomes very repetitive from game to game.
Trading: I want to like this aspect of the game so much but it falls so flat for me. Now, that may just be for me and the people I play this game with regularly. Trading is the kind of mechanism that is very group dependent and my group seems to let it fall flat. As I started getting closer to losing my interest in this game I turned to the trading mechanism to save it because I thought it would spice the game up. Unfortunately, I found that to truly benefit from trading you have to either give up more than you want or convince someone else to give up more than they want to give up. That leads to a lot of scenarios where no one will budge and nothing gets done. The occasional one for one trade will occur with relative ease but that can be hard because the same resources typically become abundant or scarce for each player so it is hard to offer anything other players don't have and if someone does have something that is scarce they can hoard it and have a huge advantage over the other players. The trading in this game does not seem to go well in my group, but again, this is a group dependent mechanism and this aspect of the game may be great for your group.
Quality of Design:
2 = One or two flaws ruin the experience.
Catan came into the market with a bang and I think because of the timing of its arrival it took off. With time, gamers seem to have moved away from Catan but the game has found its spot in the industry as the perfect game to reach the masses that have not found the hobby yet because it is located in major retail stores and it gets a ton of exposure.
The design offers new aspects of board gaming that a lot of people are not familiar with so the game is intriguing, but once the players wise up to the flaws this game has, they seem to move on to new games or the expansions that seem to spice the game up enough to re-engage players. I have gone the route of finding new games with better designs and mechanisms, not the expansion route. I think it is widely accepted that Catan is a good gateway game, and I am not arguing that, but I would suggest finding some of the newer and better gateway games in the market these days if you are in need a gateway game for your collection. Even if you are just getting into the hobby, I would try some other games before I would try this one unless you are picking up several games to start a collection.
I keep this game around because it is an icon in the industry, but it does not get off the shelf much at all anymore.
Overall Rating -
You would really have to try hard to convince me to play this game at this point.
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