Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 1

After the post on Catan earlier this week, I got a comment asking my opinion about a particular Catan stand-alone game... so I decided to offer my ALL of my opinions about Catan as a short guidebook.

The Settlers of Catan

This is the base game of the series... if you enjoy games at all, you should probably own a copy of this. It works well with 3 players but really shines with 4.

There are now four different ways to buy the base game:
  • Mayfair Games is the publisher of the American version of The Settlers of Catan... their 3rd edition version has been in print for nearly 7 years (I think.) If you go to a game store right now, this is the copy you'd pick up.
  • If you wait until early November, Mayfair is re-launching the Catan line with new art, component design & rulebooks. If you have some patience, this is probably your best choice.
  • SimplyFun Games, a MLM "party" model marketing company, publishes an introductory version of Settlers called Simply Catan. I haven't played it, but it's a very good-looking production.
  • Finally, you can do what I did and buy German copies of the game. Except for the Development card deck, there are no language specific components. (I'll write more about why I went w/the German set in a little bit.)

The Expansions

There are 2 big box expansions in English:
  • Seafarers of Catan, which adds ships, a pirate ship and variable boards with islands & land masses
  • Cities & Knights of Catan, which adds a complex system of development cards along with 3 new resources, knight pieces that move, and invading barbarians
The base game, along with both Seafarers and Cities & Knights, each have 5-6 player expansion sets that allow the games to be played with, you guessed it, 5 or 6 players. Here's some reasons you might (or might not) want these particular expansions:
  • Seafarers is, IMHO, a necessary addition to the game. The extra tiles offer a lot of variety to the game... and the added use of sheep (to build ships) helps balance out the die rolls a bit. (Though, in all fairness, one should always be aware that "sheep = cheap" and use the two sheep ports accordingly.)
  • Cities & Knights is much more complicated... and has a much longer (2.5+ hours) playing time. However, if you'd like to be able to mess around with other players more than in the basic game, this is the expansion for you.
  • I don't think the 5-6 player expansions are really required for anyone... the game bogs down a bit with the extra players. OTOH, the extra tiles are great for creating some larger scenarios.
There are a number of expansions published in German that have not be re-published in English:
  • There are two Historical Scenario boxes (Historische Szenarian in German) - the first with Cheops (a scenario set in ancient Egypt) and Alexander the Great (an auction-based scenario themed around the eastern conquests of Alexander); the other with the Great Wall of China (complete with invading Huns) and the Trojan War (where players take sides!) Each of these boxes contains a double-sided mounted board + components to play the scenarios included.
  • Das Buch is a hardbound book of Settlers scenarios & variants (all of which have been translated into English) along with the components to play those scenarios. They vary wildly in quality but there are 12+ scenarios & 20+ variants, so you've got plenty to work with.
  • The most recent large box expansion is Handler & Barbarian (which means "Merchants & Barbarians") which contains some previously published small "giveaway" expansions - Fishermen of Catan, The Great River, The Caravan, the Event Deck - as well as some other expansion scenarios that include new tiles. (Note: I haven't actually seen this one yet.)
  • There is also an Atlantis box set which includes many of the variants found in Das Buch.
  • There are a number of smaller box expansions printed by 999 Games (from The Netherlands) that look like they have "official" versions of some of the Das Buch scenarios.
  • Finally, there are some maps & scenarios that have been created for special occasions: one example found at BGG is Saggsden Gaden.

I'm glad I own the German expansions that I have - in fact, compatibility with all of the published expansions is the primary reason for owning an all-German set of Catan. The ones with the most bang for the buck (that I've played the most relative to their cost) are the two boxes of Historical Scenarios. For groups that like to tweak the rules a bit more than I do, Das Buch is an excellent choice. (And, here in a few months, I'll let you know about Saggsden Gaden, because I'm buying a copy even as I type.)

The Stand-Alone Games

There are also some stand-alone versions of Catan... all of which contain components to play the game.

  • Die Siedler von Nurnberg uses two maps - one of the city itself & one of the surrounding countryside - to involve players in the development of Nurnberg. This version uses a dice deck rather than dice to generate resources.
  • Settlers of Canaan & Settlers of Zarahelma are two religious themed stand-alone games. Canaan uses Old Testament ideas & feels very similar to the Cheops scenario from the Historical box, while Zarahelma uses Mormon lore to act as a backdrop for another temple building scenario. (Zarahelma has a strip board like Simply Catan rather than a fixed board.)
  • The Settlers of the Stone Age uses the Catan engine to play a game of expansion by prehistoric tribes across a map of the world.
  • The Struggle for Rome uses the Catan engine to simulate the rise & fall of various Roman generals.

In all fairness, I haven't played Zarahelma or Struggle for Rome - but it's important to note that I don't own any of these stand-alone games. I find that the base game & expansions give me all that I want Catan-wise. (There is a same-ness to the fixed board games that makes them less likely to see multiple plays.)

Next time, in The Unofficial Guide to Catan, Part 2, I'll talk about the spin-off games...

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