Cousin Monica asked for a review of Settlers of Catan, and Kitty said earlier today, “You should get back to writing”, so I suppose the Fates are channelling hard for me to get back to the WordPress interface.
Settlers of Catan is what we used to call “board games” and which are now more generally referred to as “tabletop games”. The basic version is designed for 2-4 players (my opinion: optimum 3), and the first expansion is designed for 5-6 players (both 5 and 6 are worthwhile configurations to play). In addition to the basic game, there are other expansions (Seafarers of Catan, Seafarers Expansion for 5-6 players, Knights and Cities, just to name a couple) and a card game version for 2 players.
The premise of the game and the basic setup can be found on its wikipedia page, so I won’t talk about it here. I have an scale for games that goes something like this:
LUCK BASED ————————– SKILL BASED
A —— B —— C —— D —— E —— F —— G
“A” class games are like the two-player card game War. The B class games are games like Craps, when “strategy” consists of knowing what the odds are and that there are bad bets, but not much else. C class games are games like Sorry, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. There’s some strategy involved, but the game is heavily dominated by luck (pop quiz: why is Yahtzee not like Craps?) D class games are balanced right in the middle, about half luck and half strategy, like Risk and Acquire. E games edge a bit more towards strategy, but there’s still a decent luck element. F games are games that are heavy strategy, but there’s still a bit of luck involved, like Civilization. G class games lack luck entirely or almost entirely, like Chess, Checkers, and Go.
Settlers of Catan is an odd game; the dice play very, very significantly into the way the game rolls out, as does the initial splay of the board (the board is randomly generated each game, unless you’re playing one of the scenarios). However, there are many different strategies a player can choose to build his or her empire in the game, so you can compensate for a run of bad dice rolling. In addition, the game has a huge emphasis on haggling and horse trading, like Advanced Civilization. If you can pay attention to what is going on in the game and you have at least halfway decent luck, you can manipulate the outcome by monopolizing the trading cards that the players in the lead are desperate to get.
On the whole, I like Settlers of Catan (of course, the siblings will attest to the fact that I’m a fan of games where trading resources is a big component, so take that for what it’s worth… if you don’t like haggling, you’ll probably not be enamored of Settlers). Playing with four players on the normal board can be frustrating for one player, however, as the board placement can make it very difficult for four players to have equal opportunities in the beginning. You can wind up beginning the game so far behind that you’d rather play solitaire. Four players on the full six player board actually overcompensates; there are so many opportunities on the board that it’s not as challenging as it might otherwise be.
It’s best with 3 or 5 players. If you’re looking for a good 4 player game, discounting Bridge and Hearts and the like, I’d stick with Acquire or another relatively new game, Carcassone. Of course, Settlers is pretty easy for kids to pick up, too, so that’s an important factor if you’re looking for “family night” type games.