Ever since I downloaded the Catan Dice Game Plus rules, I have wanted to play a variant using components from the original game to play, essentially a game resembling basic Catan, with the Catan dice replacing the standard resource roll. Some friends and I playtested this variant this past weekend.
The game essentially resembled the Dice Game Plus, with these differences:
1. we built smalln 'island' maps for each player out of Catan tiles, instead of using the scoresheets. We arranged the resorces in the same order, with the 3:1 harbor replacing the 'Gold' tile.
2. Because of (1), we did not require that players adhere to the prescribed distribution of settlements, cities, roads, soldiers, etc. that appeared on the scoresheet. The only prescribed structure was a starting settlement placed on one of the two availble port junctions. This allowed the players the freedom to expand as they chose to, with all the normal building rules applied in regards to spacing of settlements/cities as well as not allowing settlements/cities to built without the presence of roads.
3. we played with the following variant rules:
a. The 2:1 harbor could be purchased for 1 of the six resources. Everyone started the game with the 3:1 exchange ability
b. The 'Robber' could be hired and placed on another player for the cost of 1 ore, 1 wheat, 1 sheep and 1 gold. While the robber resided on your 'island', you could anly roll 4 resource dice on your turn.
c. The soldiers/knights/resource jokers could be placed on the tile of your choice (including the desert) and could be used either to turn a die into the chosen resource (per normal) or be exhausted in order to remove the robber from your 'island' exhausted soldiers still counted towards the largest army achiement.
The play diverged into a few strategies, some familiar from regular Catan games. Two players (blue & green) continually leap-frogged each other for the longest road title. Another player (Yellow), after an early, lucky role, earned the 2:1 harbor and tried to exploit it to maximize his building power per turn. The Brown player focused on buying soldiers and building cities early.
Blue & Green led (in turn) for most of the game, until about the 6-7 point mark, when one had hit the 15-segment mark first, locking down the longest road title. One of these players had also exhausted his entire supply of five settlements, meaning that he would have to concentrate on building cities to have any hopes of reaching 10 VPs.
The Yellow player made steady progress, but always lagged a point or two behind the pack, not having placed himself in the running for either 2 point titles.
The Brown player focused on the largest army title and built 2 cities and 4 soldiers, utilizing gold, and exhausting resource jokers quickly to focus on grain and ore for city building.
At about midgame (about 30 mins in), the point break down was as follows:
Blue: 5 VPs for 5 settlements and a 13 segment road
Green: 6 VPs for 4 settlements and the longest road (all 15 segments)
Yellow: 6 VPs for 2 cities and 2 settlements with 6 road segements and 2:1 harbor
Brown: 6 VPs for 2 cities and 4 soldiers with 6 road segments built
The game had stayed fairly even to this point and players had not tried to interfere with each others progress, other than Blue and Green's race for 15 road segements. This changed as the Brown player hired the robber, in an attempt to make it impossible for the Blue player to build cities. On his first reduced 4-dice roll, the blue player rolled exactly what he needed to build a soldier, gaining the ability to 'bump' the robber next turn.
The Green player to advantage of a good roll that earned her the 2:1 habor, as she could use the extra resource flexibility to build cities. She also quickly began building soldiers, focusing on ore and wheat for city building.
The Yellow player had effectively stalled, unable to get the right mixture of resources (even with trading) to buy anything worth a VP, but built more roads, as opposed to building nothing, since there is no way to save or trade resources.
The Brown player once again hired the robber to keep the Green player from building cities and was able to keep the other player focused on building soliders (needing protection and the resource joker ability) while he built the remaining roads and settlements he needed to win with 10 VPs
The game anded after almost exactly 60 minutes of play.
Reflections from the group:
Most players agreed that the mixture of traditional and dice gameplay still captured alot of the Catan feel, while speeding up the game and giving the players more satisfaction per turn, as you are almost guaranteed to be able to build something each turn. The differences came in the choices made. I think the Brown player's lessened focus on settlement and road building paid off, as most players found themselves with a steep hill to climb after (essentially) all their roads and settlments had been exhausted. It would be intersting to play again to see how strategies would change and if there would be more robber interference.
Thoughts put forward after the game:
Most players wanted to try this variant with multiple players on the larger, default island, where the tactics of blocking other players off and building close to certain resources would come into play. Some players wanted more building restrictions placed on soldiers - in regards to their being restricted to developed areas that were near roads, settlements or cities. If played with multiple players on the larger map, there would certainly have to be some revisions addressing the building of soldiers and harbors. Also after the robber was invoked, most players wanted the soldiers to be able to bump the robber to another player's island, instead of simply removing it from play, so that it would mirror the original game more, although it was agreed that the rule allowing soldiers to forfeit there resource joker ability to bump the robber felt balanced.
It felt just about right to me. I wish there were ways to inject more player interaction into it, but given the 'express' nature of the dice rules, it did retain alot more of the Catan feel than I expected. I think playing on the big island may lose alot of the speed that this variant brings. I do agree with others that there should be some restrictions regarding the buidling of soldiers as it does seems a little weird to have the ability to build six soldiers without ever having to build a single road, settlement or city.
I'd be curious for other's insights into this variant.