Catan Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Big Huge Games

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Compete with up to three other cultures to settle the newly discovered land of Catan. Fields of ripe grain, dense forests full of mature lumber and meadows whose blades of grass are cropped short by plentiful sheep all await your colonists. Sure, it's all in the form of a board game with a few simple rules, but you'll still feel smug when your road system and army become more impressive than any other on Catan.

Kyle Ackerman

Any developer working on a version of Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan starts with a brilliant game. The only question is whether they screw it up. Big Huge Games created the electronic version, called Catan, for the Xbox 360's Xbox Live! Arcade. And not only is Catan brilliant, it's the best electronic version of Settlers of Catan out there.

For those of you unbfamiliar with the award-winning board game that is now more than a decade old, the board is a random arrangement of 19 hexes representing a recently settled island. Players build roads, settlements and cities with the resources produced by each of the various hexes. While throws of the dice keep things uncertain, the game turns more on clever strategies and successful trading than pure luck. Settlers of Catan is unbelievably elegant, simple to learn, and has players competing to colonize Catan rather than battling one another directly.

The traditional game is for three or four players, but expanded versions support more. There have been many variants on the original, ranging from Starfarers of Catan to house rules that stop players from falling victim to really bad dice. Catan is a perfect implementation of that three and four player game, right down to the option to use classic house rules that make it less likely for players to suffer from early ill luck.

There Really Weren't Enough Eights!

From the basics through advanced play, Catan is perfect. The explanation of the rules is clearer than the rulebooks packaged with the physical board game, and there is an interactive tutorial that helps you "Learn As You Play." Then, once you understand the game, you can set about honing your strategies against other players and the AI.

With electronic versions of board games, the computer conveniently takes care of all the bean counting for you, but you lose the pleasure of handling the physical pieces. Catan more than makes up for that by tracking everything for you. Charts keep track of all the resources drawn, what resources are still out there, who is winning and who has been robbed (and how often). Having those charts lets you compete with your friend with the eidetic memory who always seems to win. The chart that keeps track of dice rolls is the ultimate vanity graph. Yes, the dice are random (unless you play with the dice deck option), but that doesn't mean the rolls in any given game are always evenly distributed. Now, if you really got screwed over by the dice, you can prove it.

Settlers of Catan is meant to be played against other people, but having a decent AI makes it entertaining to play when there aren't other gamers around. Other electronic versions, such as the one for the N-Gage, suffered from poor AI and were easily beaten. Catan lets you play against a variety of AI strategies (each in the guise of one of 13 famous historical leader) at three difficulty levels. At the hardest level, the AI puts up an excellent fight, even trying sneaky tricks like offering generous trades and stealing the resources back immediately after. The hard AI is sometimes difficult to trade with, but Big Huge Games has done a splendid job making Catan playable by yourself.

Blow Kisses Online

The real fun comes when you play against other humans, and Xbox Live! makes that easy. You can invite friends into customizable matches with whatever house rules you choose, or jump into ranked matches against players of (theoretically) equal skill. Certainly, the quality of these games always depends on the other players, but it's usually easy to find a match quickly. Voice chat over Xbox Live! makes the game just like playing with friends over the kitchen table, but Catan goes a step further. The trade interface is simplicity itself, making it easy to communicate your interests, regardless of whether you share a language. There are also a horde of emotes that can be quickly activated that let you gloat, yawn, identify the most dangerous player or simply express your anger at the dice. These make the game as enjoyable without voice chat as with.

Simply put, for $10, you get one of the best board games of all time, perfectly implemented (and even streamlined). And if you don't want to play the game as it traditionally looks, there is a skin that looks just like the (extremely expensive) collector's edition that lets players settle a 3D version of Catan. If you are connected to Xbox Live!, you should have Catan.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 9, 2007 3:42 PM.

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