Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 2

As promised, here's the second installment of my "Unofficial Guide to Catan." (You can read the first installment here.) This time around, we'll deal with all the spin-off games.

Settlers of Catan: The Card Game

I bought this game & El Grande 10 years ago at Gamescape in San Francisco... both of them chock full of German text. Now, in the enlightened days when so many European games are re-published in English, it may seem hard to believe, but we played a lot of this game (10-20 plays) using the German cards & cheat sheets to look up the translations.

The Settlers Card Game takes the same basic "build settlements to harvest resources" mechanic from the original game and builds on it, adding knights, buildings w/special powers, fleets, action cards & event cards. Take it from me - there's a lot of game in here & a number of ways to pursue victory. This game is for two players, however, so there is very little trading. (Well, trading is allowed in the rules, but it is very seldom used.)

I'm a huge fan of the game, but I need to sound three warnings for those who are interested:
  1. It's a pretty vicious game... between the Arsonist, the Spy & the Black Knight, you can do some serious damage to your opponent.
  2. It's a memory game... to play well, you need to keep track of which of five decks certain key cards are hiding. If you don't like memory games, this is NOT for you.
  3. It runs just a tad long until you've played it a number of times... your first game will run 2 - 2.5 hours with subsequent plays finally reaching the 90 min. mark.
There are a number of expansions for the game as well... which Mayfair thoughtfully boxed together in the appropriately titled Settlers of Catan Card Game Expansions. This includes the first six expansions published in German - each deck offers a variety of new cards to spice up the game. The seventh expansion (Artists & Benefactors) has not been published in English & there is no timetable (yet!) for that to happen.

I really like having the expansions but I haven't used them much. All of them add extra ways to mess with your opponent, so that may help you decide if you need them or not.

To Infinity & Beyond...

Sci-fi games are unusual in Germany - which makes the fact that the Settlers franchise has two sci-fi games even more unusual.

The first to appear was The Starfarers of Catan - again, using the resource system from Catan but adding a different way of colonizing planets, action cards much like the card game, and an event deck. Even more notable was the large (8-9 inches tall) plastic "mother ships", which look like refugees from an old Flash Gordon serial.

Initial reactions to this game were mixed - while lots of folks liked the bits & the thematic gameplay, it tended to run long (2.5-3 hours wasn't uncommon) and sometimes fell into very predictable patterns.

IMHO, most of the problems with the base game were fixed by the appearance of the 5-6 player expansion... as long as you didn't play it with 5-6 players. Another alien race & 3 extra planetary systems made the game work much better (and faster!) with 3-4 players. (It actually works nicely w/2 players as well.)

And, just in case Herr Teuber & Kosmos hadn't taken enough of your hard-earned cash, they released a special set of painted resin alien figures for the game - which serve no purpose but to replace some cardboard tokens from the original game. Still, they look awfully cool & I'm glad the set I traded for included them!

The other sci-fi game combined the art & backstory as Starfarers of Catan with some of the mechanics from the Settlers Card Game to create a hybrid that may well be stronger than either of the games that birthed. Starship Catan is an economic game where you fly your trading ship around the galaxy, completing missions for the Galactic Alliance as you try to maximize your profits by establishing trade outposts & colonies. There's space pirates to fend off & aliens to trade with - all activated by a unique deck exploration mechanic that requires you to once again kick the memory part of your brain into gear.

This is a wonderful 2-player game... and it doesn't hurt that Klaus Teuber has released 3 print-and-play expansions for the game: The Space Amoeba, The Asteroid & The Diplomatic Station.

Adventures By Catan

Just a few years back, Herr Teuber took the Catan franchise in a new direction by creating a series of games called Catan Adventures (based, I think, on the Catan novel, which hasn't been released in English.) So far there are two games in the series.

The first, Candamir: The First Settlers, has each player in the role of an adventurer, helping to carve the first settlement out of the wilderness of Catan. It's an odd combination of exploration & resource management game, with some definite character-building elements. It's probably the least successful of Teuber's Settlers spin-offs, but I haven't traded my copy away yet.

The second, Elasund: The First City, is a city-building game with incredible potential for player interaction (and the requisite cruelty!) It's not a game that comes out a lot, but I really enjoy playing it with the right crowd.

Greasy Kid Stuff

In an attempt to hook kids into the franchise as early as possible (what? no Catan toddler toys - yet?!), there are two children's game using Catan as a theme.

The first one published is The Kids of Catan. It is a very pretty game of city-building with a simplified set of resources & wonderfully chunky wooden bits. It also has a price tag the size of a small midwestern town, so I can't recommend it unless you have money to burn. It work very well with kids age 4-7.

The second was just released in Germany earlier this year - Catan Junior. I have not even seen a copy yet... but it's on my "wish list" of stuff to play/acquire.

Roll Dem Bones

The other recent release (and the final game in the guide) is Die Siedler von Catan: Das Wurfelspiel... translated, that's the Settler of Catan Dice Game. It plays a bit like Yahtzee (roll the dice three times, attempting to make a score) but there's some interesting choices on the map-like scorepad. (Herr Teuber has also posted a variant scorepad that plays more like "straight" Settlers, but I haven't tried that yet.) I like this one - although there are better dice games, I like the Catan feel and the simple play. However, I don't recommend playing with more than 3 people per set of dice. (BTW, this has been very hard to find in the U.S. - the easiest way to order it is from German Amazon. [amazon.de])

More To Come

Back in the day (OK, just a few years ago), I ran a website called Game Central Station that had an extensive Catan section. Due to the evil Yahoo empire blowing up my site (hadn't updated it) and then some serious problems with FTPing things to the new site, I've never been able to restore that portion of the site. (This is NOT the fault of GameSurplus, who still kindly sponsor the site - and are a GREAT place to order games.)

So, I'm seriously thinking about putting some of that content up here. Look for it over the next few weeks.

3 comments:

NickDanger42 said...

You might have missed a couple Mark, although Mayfair/Kosmos calls them Catan:Adventures, I can see if you considered, and then discounted them since their base mechanics are a bit non-'catanish'. These would be Elasund:The First City and Candamir: The First Settler. In one way it's kind of like Catan and Cities and Knights... Candamir is mostly solitare, with IMO about as much interaction as base Catan, and Elasund is like C&K with much hosage possible.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Bob, did you read the whole thing?! They're in the post!

Candamir gets a C+, Elasund gets a B+...

NickDanger42 said...

I'da sworn I posted this after reading part 1. I admit I haven't read part two at the time. Odd. Oh well, I see you covered the subject quite throughly.
On a different note it is a bit freaky to see a much grown Braeden.
The world moves on, I stay still.