Despite similar mechanics, I feel that Cities & Knights provides a vastly different (and improved) gameplay from Settlers of Catan. Ergo, I decided to pen this review which assumes no knowledge of Settlers.
In Cities & Knights of Catan, you try to achieve greatness for your principality on the newly-settled island of Catan. Some will attempt to bring civilization to as many uninhabited parts of Catan as possible, while others are content in a corner of Catan, building a small city-state with an amazing level of progress. All the while, barbarian raiders continually strike Catan, threaten to reduce grand cities to mere settlements, but defending Catan presents an opportunity for glory in battle.
Catan consists of a roughly circular island divided into hexes; each hex has a likelihood that it will produce goods and a terrain type that determines goods it produces. Settlements produce raw resources (clay, lumber, wool, grain, or ore) for the player based upon the hexes they border; when upgraded to cities they produce finished commodities (paper, cloth, and coin) as well. A barren desert which does not produce goods lies somewhere on the island; the ocean hexes surrounding the island are likewise unproductive, but may allow for enhanced trade opportunities. A die roll every turn determines which hexes, if any, produce goods for the players who have settled those hexes. If the dice indicate that all hexes, even uninhabited ones, are unproductive, however, players holding too many goods in reserve will instead have to discard half of them.
Resources can be used to build infrastructure on the island. First roads must be constructed, leading to uninhabited areas, and then settlements can be built along those roads. Settlements can be upgraded to cities in order to produce commodities, and city walls can be built to increase the safe hand size. Knights, like infrastructure, are built with resources, but every time your knight is used, he will require grain before he becomes active again. Your army is most useful in defending Catan from the barbarians, but knights can also chase away the robber, who prevents a hex from producing goods. Somewhat less frequently, your knight will be useful against other players, as he can block someone’s expansion or chase away another knight.
Commodities are useful for building city improvements in three areas: science, trade, and politics. Mainly, improving your city will give you a chance to draw Progress Cards, which have various effects. Science cards often give you resources or modify the island of Catan, while politics cards affect the players’ civilizations built on the island. The trade deck generally gets you goods from other players, or lets you trade overseas at a better rate. The third level of improvement in each track also has a related special ability that is always in effect. Finally, the player who reaches the last levels of improvement fastest gains a metropolis, worth additional victory points and immune to the barbarian raiders.
A player is unlikely to be able to produce all eight types of goods, so trading is vastly important. In addition to being able to trade freely with other players, the active player may trade overseas at a poor rate of four of any single good for one of any other good. Certain port spaces on Catan’s coast allow for trades at a three-to-one rate, while other ports allow only a specific associated resource to be traded away at a two-to-one rate for any good. The trade special ability allows for the trading of commodities at this two-for-one rate. Deals with other players often can be arranged at a one-to-one rate, and so, where offered, are usually preferred.
The nations of Catan have enemies other than each other, however. The barbarian ship is always on the horizon, and when they arrive, they fight a battle with the active knights of Catan. The more cities there are on the island of Catan, the greater the strength of the raiders. If the knights defeat the barbarians, the greatest contributor to the defense gains a victory point, but if the knights are not strong enough, the colony with the weakest army is pillaged, and one of its cities is reduced to a settlement. This is a hard hit in any case, but a player without any remaining cities also loses his ability to purchase city improvements, which is often a devastating blow. In either case, the barbarians return home and gather a new force with which to raid Catan. The robber also enters play the first time the barbarians arrive. A player may move the robber to a new hex with an unproductive resource roll, a Progress Card, or by chasing him away with a knight. The player who moved the robber selects one player who has settled the new hex, and may steal a good at random from that player; in addition, the robber prevents that hex from producing resources until he is moved away.
The game’s natural tendency is to force a player to continue along a path. Producing many resources will typically result in a player being able to sprawl out across the island to produce even more resources. Producing a lot of commodities instead leads a player to want more cities, which in turn will lead to more commodities in the future. Producing, instead, one type of good, will lead a player to need the port for that good, and so to want more of that same good. However, this natural progression must be overcome. Progress Cards are integral to winning, so a resource producer must eventually upgrade his cities. Knights, too, are vitally important. Without them, cities will be sacked and so, to keep his cities, a commodity-heavy strategy must pay some attention to defense. Focused traders, too, are at a disadvantage if they must trade for every resource except their specialty, and so they need some diversification to win.
The game involves a lot of chance, providing an exercise in adaptation and risk management. Much of the chance isn’t directly good or bad, but something that may or may not match your strategy…and if it doesn’t, you need to adapt. Sometimes you end up with different goods than you need; the challenge comes in making something of them either through trading or through different expenditures. Some Risks arise from the game, such as whether you will get the extra resource you need, whether you may have to discard resources, whether the barbarians attack, and so on. Other risks come from other players. They can play Progress Cards or move the robber to steal resources, block you in with their own expansions, or use their knights in various ways. That’s not to say that the dice never give a game to someone, just that they rarely do.
Knights provide a nice helping of interesting decision making. Obviously, if you have the least, you need to build more, but if you have the most, maybe you shouldn’t have them all ready to defend Catan; forcing a city loss on an opponent places a larger gap between you than does taking the Victory Point for defending. But then, if you intentionally lower your strength, the other players may increase theirs to the point where you will be pillaged.
While the frequency of barbarian attacks is all right later in the game, that first attack often comes too soon using the base rules. As players only start with one city, losing it is an irrecoverable blow, and so the players must be focused, from the time they choose a starting position on the board, on producing an active knight. This, in turn, leads to all players choosing the same starting strategy. A variant in the rules suggests not moving the barbarians the first two rounds; I find that this makes for a more interesting game, and would highly suggest at least doing this for the first round, and perhaps raising the Victory Point Objective to compensate for the easy start.
Some folks aren’t a fan of randomness at all, and they should stay far away from Cities & Knights. But for everyone else, I recommend it, especially those, like myself, who enjoy a game which forces adaptation and thinking on the fly.
Love live the Empress!
For the Motherland!
This is a very nice overview of C&K.
I personally love this expansion. It works best with 4 players, although is okay with 3. If you try it with 2 (which I realize SoC is not meant for, but you can find ways around it), it tends to lose some of its lust.
The reason I think it is such a success for me is that this game opens up the role of specializing. And thus, MANY more roads to victory. This, in my opinion, is why I love games like Caylus so much...multiple ways to win.
For example, in Settlers, one can win by being the:
Sure there are other ways to win, but these are generalizations. Now with the addition of C&K, you can also add:
-Defender of Catan
(I think I got all 3 metropolis' correct)
I just think this is a neat way to find different roads to victory...yes, there was a pun intended.
- Last edited Tue Jun 5, 2007 7:06 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Jun 5, 2007 7:05 pm