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Subject: Unboxed Review: Settlers of Catan rss

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Chris Bowler
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Hey guys, this is my first post here. Last week I started a new board game blog http://unboxedbgb.blogspot.com/ and I thought you guys might appreciate it if I re-posted it here too.

As the game that got me back into board games in the first place I think it’s only right that Settlers of Catan be the first game to get the Unboxed treatment.

Concept

So, what is Settlers of Catan about? Well when I was first asked if I wanted to play I assumed it would be similar to the computer game Settlers and I guess it kind of is, just without the complexity.
You are a Settler on the new island of Catan. Your aim is to build a thriving settlement and achieve 10 victory points before any of the other settlers. Unlike in a computer game however there is no war aspect to the game and no way for players to be eliminated, a common element in most modern games, particularly eurogames, after all where is the fun in not being allowed to play any more?

Game Play

The game works thus:
There is an island made of 19 hexagon tiles, each tile barring the desert tile has a number between 2 and 12 on it, with two of each number, except 2 and 12 (there is no 7). There are five different terrain hexes, each of which generates a different resource (Lumber, Brick, Ore, Grain and Wool or as they are called in my games Wood, Clay, Rock, Wheat and Sheep) Trading different resources allows you to build different structures (Roads, Settlements, Cities or Development Cards).

Each player takes it in turn to place a settlement and a road, then a second settlement and road but with the last player placing first and the first player placing last, ensuring a more even spread of resources amongst players.

Play then begins, on their turn the player rolls the dice and any player who has a settlement on the numbered hex that is rolled takes a resource of the correct type. If they have a city on that resource they take 2 resources. The player who rolled may then either build or pass the dice.

If a seven is rolled the robber comes into play. The robber, a black pawn, stops production in whichever hex he is placed in. Using the robber you can prevent the other players getting the resources they need. When you roll a 7 you move the robber to a hex of your choice and take a card from any player who has a settlement boarding that hex. Also whenever a 7 is rolled any player with more than 7 cards must immediately discard half, which is often devastating!

Play continues in this way until somebody has 10 victory points. Points are scored as follows, 1 point per settlement, 2 points per city (cities can only be built as an upgrade to a settlement) 2 points for owning the longest road (5 or more roads) and 2 points for owning the largest army (3 or more soldiers). Points can be gained through Development cards too. These cards can give you soldiers, which allow you to move the robber and count towards the largest army, they can give you structures worth Victory Points (usually 1 but if you’re lucky 2) which you keep secret until you have enough points to win or they can give you special actions, such as road building or taking resources.

Sounds Kinda Dull?

If I hadn’t already agreed to play it before I learnt what it was I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and said “Sounds kinda dull…” But I promise you, its not. The strategy and player interaction in the game is fantastic. The randomly generated island means that no two games are the same. Although some places are better to build than others, this not like monopoly where owning Mayfair and Park Lane will grant you an almost guaranteed win. Rolling the dice adds a further random element to the game, you may well have built all your settlements on good numbers, but if they don’t come up you might as well have built on 2 and 12.

Although in the base game you only have 4 building options there are still plenty of choices to make. For example do you hold the 8 cards in your hand and hope no one rolls a 7 so that you can build a city on your next turn, or do you use all your rock, wheat and sheep to build development cards instead? Do you build inland or along the coast? There really are endless strategies to employ and the expansions to the game really do expand your options greatly.

Unboxed?

So, what do you get for your money? Nowadays you can buy Cluedo or Monopoly for around about £15 and for £20+ most people (non-BGG people) expect an interactive DVD to be included in the package. Well Settlers of Catan will set you back around £25 and when you open the box you will get:

19 Terrain Hexes (Tiles)
6 Sea Frame Pieces
9 Harbor Pieces
18 Circular Number Tokens (Chits)
95 Resource Cards (19 of Each Resource: Ore, Grain, Lumber, Wool, Brick)
25 Development Cards (14 Knight/Soldier Cards, 6 Progress Cards, 5 Victory Point Cards)
4 "Building Costs" Cards
2 Special Cards: "Longest Road" & "Largest Army"
16 Cities (4 of Each Color Shaped like Churches)
20 Settlements (5 of Each Color Shaped like Houses)
60 Roads (15 of Each Color Shaped like Bars)
2 Dice (1 Yellow, 1 Red)
1 Robber
1 Games Rules & Almanac Booklet

Sounds like a lot right? Well, its not, but it is all very nicely produced. The tiles are all unique, so despite there being 4 pasture hexes the image on each is different and that’s a nice touch. The settlements, cities and roads are just coloured blocks but they are wood rather than plastic and they look pretty nice on the board. The number chits are nice and solid and feature a number of dots on them so that players can tell at a glance how often that number might come up. The resource and development cards are all nicely done with some lovely artwork.

The rulebook is very well done, complete with a set up for beginners and the almanac which gives a full rules explanation for any question that comes up during play and its easy to reference. The almanac also offers options for experienced players, which is nice.

Possibly my favourite aspect of the design of this set though is the fact that the tiles were double sided with sea printed on the back. When combined with the seafarers expansion this really expands your options for different set ups.

Replayability

Settlers can be played over and over again (and is), even within the same gaming session (I find most players want to play it at least twice before changing game and it’s not uncommon that I will play 5 or 6 games in an evening.) The island changes each game, as does the availability of resources through the randomisation of the number chits and harbour tokens.

Sometimes, not very often, play can be bogged down, especially by a lack of Clay and Wood in the early stages of the game. Sometimes players can be cut off from building by other players and this can lead to a very dull and frustrating game for that player, but in general Settlers is very fair, it promotes player interaction and due the variety of ways to win it is often a very close game.

3 or 4 players?

Settlers is best played with 4 players for maximum interaction and competition. When played with 3 players, there tends to be less trading as players can access resources more easily by themselves. Also in a three player game, going last is often more of an advantage than going first as you can choose the 3rd and 4th best building sites and often bag yourself an 8 and 6 in a descent position.

Other expansions offer 5 or 6 and even 2 player options. I will discuss the 2 player game when I talk about Traders and Barbarians.
However I have not yet played a game with more than 4. The nice thing about Settlers is that even during other players turns you take resources and get involved in trades so there is little downtime and everyone is always involved.

Still not sure? Check out the Catan website. The rules are available in pdf format here for all the games and expansions, as well as a demo for the computer game. (The full version is well worth buying just for the campaign mode).

Check out the blog for this review in full colour with pretty pictures. Unboxed: The Board Game Blog updates every other Wednesday (although with enough interest it could go weekly). Next week's post will feature Dungeonquest.

Thanks for reading guys...

Chris
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Ethan Van Vorst
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I have no Euros in my collection...actually I don't think I've ever actually played one. Unbelievable, eh? Settlers of Catan is one I've been wanting to get for a while because I'm told it's fairly easy to learn and fun to play. Is this something that my wife and I would enjoy playing together or would it really need those extra two people to bring it to life?

Great review, and welcome to BGG!
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T. Nomad
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Settlers does not work with 2P. But that doesn't mean it's not worth getting for 3-4P evenings.

Good review by the way.
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Travis Hall
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Brisbane
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StealthDonut wrote:
Is this something that my wife and I would enjoy playing together or would it really need those extra two people to bring it to life?

The standard rules for Settlers of Catan do not allow two people to play it at all. It is a 3-4 player game. (The game page provides this detail, BTW. You don't need to go to the forums at all for this info.)

There are fan-created two-player variants, but while some people like them, I don't think any of them has unmitigated positive feedback, so I'd advise you to be a bit careful if considering buying the game in the hope that you and your wife get a lot out of it without other players. My recommendation would be to check for games designed from the ground up to handle two players well.
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Chris Bowler
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The two player variant (which only appears in the Traders and Barbarians expansion) is not the best, its fine if all you have is two people but the game really only comes alive when you have 3 or 4. That said, a friend and I played dozens of games with just two players (no actual official 2 player rules) and it worked fine, but there doesnt tend to be much in the way of trading going on and if you havent played it 3 or 4 player the fun of the game may seem absent.

All that said (i hope it made sense) I hear that the card game version is the best way to play settlers as a 2 player game (as it is designed to be good for two players) I have bought that too but its wrapped up for Christmas (so expect a review on it sometime in January)

Erm... So, to answer your question... Yes, Settlers is great fun even though it kinda sounds dull (I play a lot of fantasy slash hack kill games and this is nothing like those.) and we play it as a family a couple of times a week til we all fall out over it. However without knowing your play styles and likes and dislikes I cant recommend it. Check out the reviews on here for the card game version though, its a lot cheaper, its designed for 2 players specifically, from what I've read it certainly has the feel of the board game and it currently has 7 expansions. (which as I understand it are not compatible with each other, but each one changes the way the game plays, giving different possibilities, meaning you can play one expansion at a time) and you can pick the whole thing up (in the uk) for £13 (base game) and around £20 for all the expansions.
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Alex Yeager
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I very much enjoyed reading your review, but I do need to correct one thing...

The Duke BGG wrote:

The tiles, which are thinner than the 3rd edition ones, are all unique,...


They are all unique, but 4th ed. tiles are actually THICKER by one sheet; the tiles are identical to 3rd ed. tiles in spec, except that a printed layer (the sea image) is now attached to the tile bottom. Trust me: it's the same tile printer and process as before, except for the new layer on the bottom.

I hope you continue to enjoy the game, and welcome to BGG!

Alex Yeager
Mayfair Games
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Chris Bowler
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Thanks for the info. I did write that bit from memory. My friend owns the 3rd edition and it always felt thicker to me. I will correct...
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Aaron Gelb
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very informative! Thanks a ton, I'm gonna get this game...as its one of the few games my non-gamer and female friends actually want to play!
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Chris Bowler
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Good to hear! Yeah, its quite good for getting non-gamers interested, then once you have them captured you can try and coax them onto better games! Good Luck!
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AlexYeager wrote:
I very much enjoyed reading your review, but I do need to correct one thing...
The Duke BGG wrote:
The tiles, which are thinner than the 3rd edition ones, are all unique,...
They are all unique, but 4th ed. tiles are actually THICKER by one sheet; the tiles are identical to 3rd ed. tiles in spec, except that a printed layer (the sea image) is now attached to the tile bottom. Trust me: it's the same tile printer and process as before, except for the new layer on the bottom.

I hope you continue to enjoy the game, and welcome to BGG!

Alex Yeager
Mayfair Games


The 3rd edition certainly felt stiffer than the 4th edition, not that I'm in the habit of bending the tiles. Skeptic that I am, and with access to both 3rd edition and 4th edition (and a set of 4th edition Seafarers, since 4th edition uses a frame instead of sea tiles), I finally decided to measure the thickness of the tiles since I referenced Alex's post in another thread.



Turns out that at least with my sets, 28 tiles from 3rd edition is 50mm thick, whereas 28 tiles from 4th edition is slightly under 49mm thick. So everyone's perception that the 3rd edition is thicker seems to hold water at first glance. As I noted, the 3rd edition seems stiffer. And the measurement seems to bear this out since we would expect the thicker tile to be more stiff assuming the same material.

Actually, this difference in stiffness could be what makes the tiles measure differently in the stacks I photographed. If I look at the bottom of the 3rd edition tile, I can see a noticeable rim around each edge caused by the cutting tool. This rim is much less prominent around the 4th edition. I would expect that the stiffer material would end up with a more permanent deformation around the edge from die cutting than something a little more malleable. So, unless I get hold of a caliper that can measure the center thickness of a single tiles accurately and precisely, without measuring the rim, I'll never really be confident in either answer. Perhaps I should quit wasting my time measuring my games and play them instead.
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