I don't know if there is someone still playing this game because the last post was 2 years ago, but I'll still share my thoughts.
Settlers of Catan was the first modern board game I've played, and I really liked it until I realized it's pitfalls. When I read about Settlers of Nurnberg, it really sounded like it have solutions for most of the problems I found in Catan.
Strategic options - In Catan, most of the decisions involve around where to build your settlements and cities, which also affects the placement of roads. It's all comes down to which spot have to most statistical chance of activating, and which resources they produce, with some other minor consideration. The fact that you only make a maximum of 9 of this decisions per game (settlements and cities, and you often not building them all), with 2 of them at the game start, make most turns kind of empty of meaningful strategic decisions.
In Nurnberg each turn you have much more things you can do with your resources:
Toll Stations have a much bigger role then roads. You need toll stations in order to build settlements on roads, which limit your access to resources; You earn 1 VP for each road you control, in stead of longest road; The roads are also a source of income, either passively with event cards, or when someone manufactures a commodity; They have multiple benefits, but most are lost if you lose the road, and suddenly you have to pay for all the settlements you have on it. You can regain control on a road, and even lock it, but it's a very expensive war.
Factories placement have entirely different consideration then settlements. They allows for access to markets, betters sell prices, and the option of building towers, all which are useful. It's a very different decision then building a city, which is just an upgraded settlement
Commodities manufacturing & selling which actually means gold. Gold allow you to have better trading option with the bank, and have more stuff in your hand without fearing the robber, that make the game flow more smoothly; You need gold if someone control a road you have settlements in; Most importantly, it's used to build walls and towers, which is a major source of VP
Walls and Towers grants a huge VP bonus, but they are volatile because someone can out reach you, and in contrast to the other options, they don't benefit you in the mid game at all.
All this options means that you do something almost every turn, and each decision is often quite hard to make. This also allow for very different strategies: Controlling lots of roads, manufacturing a lot of goods, go for raw resources with settlements and markets, locking the high consul seats, or a mixture of several.
Trade options - The trade options in Catan mainly based on what resources you and your opponents need, with the occasional robber/knight threat. In Nurnberg, you have that, and more.
Threat with taking a road/council seat. The benefit roads is quite significant, and many times you can extort people so you won't take their roads.
Help someone if they will build a settlement in a road that is controlled by you in order to get income later; If they will take the road/consul seat from the leading third party; If they will produce a commodity that is shipped to a road that is controlled by you, etc.
Gold is often the little extra something that will seal a deal where some of the parties feel inferior because it's not leading, or because the resources they are trading is more valuable to the other party then the other way around
In addition to that. the fact that you don't have cities, have less markets, and that you can only build on roads which you have toll stations in, means that you really can't have everything you want. The more roads you expand to, the more resources options you have, but it's harder to control this roads, and this may prevent income and expose you to tolls
Luck - While exciting, the dice make some games of Catan really impossible for someone to win because their numbers just doesn't show up. It true it can be mitigated with trading, but many times it's not enough. The event cards are better because you can know the rough value of each spot on the board, while at the same time the resources themselves are still awarded randomly . The actual events themselves are also more subtle then the Catan event cards, and don't reward the leading players as they do. This is also the only random part of the game. No development cards or anything.
I think this issues weren't tackled as well in other Catan expansions and variants such as cities and knights. The additions they offer are mainly in the following areas:
Experience - The knights and barbarian invasion in cities & knight are an example for that, but in many other variants such as Settlers of America you can move something on the roads as well. I think this simulation aspects doesn't really add anything to a strategy game like Catan, and it just make the game fiddly and longer, and loses it's appeal after several games
More random awards and events - Such as the progress cards and improvements awards in cities and knights, or the fishes from traders & barbarians. Personally I like the fact that only the resources are random, and that you can strongly affect what you'll get. With progress/development cards you can't really tell what you'll get, so it's all about tactics when you use them. It's true you can affect what's you'll get with city improvements and such, but do you really need additional statistics based decisions other then settlements placement?
Personal Upgrades - In Vanilla Catan, the settlements improved your ability to get resources and trade with the bank. In cities & knights you have the metropolis upgrades, and in starfarers the ship upgrades, etc. What's common about those upgrades is that instead of getting the upgrade on the map, you get it in your personal area, so there isn't a competition on them. In Nurnberg, the roads, settlements, factories and walls gives you different advantages, and you have to compete on them because they are all on the common map.
The game does has it drawbacks though.
The robber mechanic still bothers me because it give some advantage to the player who drew the event card, as opposed to resources which are distributed regardless on who's turn it is. Now it's even slightly worse because there are no knights, and the only thing the banish the robber is an event.
The static layout is the main concern with the game though. It severely limit the replay value of the game, as there is no variety in the resource frequency and distribution across roads. Also, someone in the forum mentioned that the layout reflect the actual layout of Nurnberg surroundings, and I think it's far from optimal in gameplay perspective. There are 9 wood hexes compare to 5 of other resources, while wood and stone are most commonly activated. I guess they did it because there are many commodities that need wood and stone, but experience showed that other things are produced as much as commodities are. Also, all the hexes of one resource are adjacent from top to bottom, while the roads are arranged from left to right. This prevents interesting scenarios where there is a resource monopoly in one of the roads; or that you can't get some resource on your own and must rely on your opponents; or that the resources that needed to create a commodity are not found on the road that ships that commodity. etc.
There is also the weird decision of putting each pair of commodities in Nurnberg adjacent to one another, which means that you don't get additional benefit there, but this is a smaller issue
In summary, what I like about Nurnberg is that the choices in your turn are always Resources -> Advantage, where the advantage is known, immediate and not random. The settlements offer the only random award of getting resources in an expected rate in the future. The variety of advantages really opens up the strategic and trading options, and that fact that you need to compete on each and every advantage keeps the tension high. Simple but very effective, and true to the spirit of the original game.
- Last edited Wed Oct 5, 2011 10:19 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:05 am
An excellent review.
Our group has been playing it since 2001. Other Settlers games have come and gone, but this one still gets back to the table from time to time.
While the board layout is static, we haven't found this to be a problem. In fact, I'd say it helps a bit because veteran players don't have to study new configurations from game to game..
It's my favorite Settlers game. There are multiple competing strategies that lead to tough decsions and lots of tension in the game.
It's a shame that only a limited number of copies were published. I think many Settlers fans would enjoy it if they had the opportunity to play it.