Settling For Less

By Alec Meer on March 6th, 2009 at 12:45 pm.

Ask me what my favourite games are, and once you’ve snoozed through me banging on about X-COM, Dungeon Keeper and Planescape: Torment yet again, you might catch me trying to sneak The Settlers of Catan into my list. While the PC’s cutsey-management Settlers series is loosely based on it, they’re two very distinct entities.

Catan is a boardgame, as you probably know – a German boardgame about grain and sheep and tiny wooden roads. One of the things I’ve always liked about it is that, when describing it to anyone, their brows will furrow with the understandable concern of someone who thinks they’re trapped in conversation with a European farming enthusiast. Get them into a game, however, and they’ll slip into its fine blend of socialising and intense competition as if they’ve been playing it their whole lives.

It isn’t even slightly edgy to say Catan is my favourite boardgame, as its once-cult following seems pretty damned huge these days (and I have no doubt I’m preaching to the converted here), but it doesn’t stop it from being the case. One day, I will own enough money hats that I can cheerfully treat myself to the ridiculously lavish, £200/$300-ish 10th Anniversary Edition, but until then I make do with the standard cardboard jobbie. It’s still very nice, but there’s one problem – it needs real human beings to play with. It’s not always possible to lure other meatbags into my gaming dungeon, so what do I do?

Well, I find a version of it comprised of flashing pixels rather than pulped and compressed tree matter. The Xbox has a pretty fine adaptation in the form of XBLA’s Catan, made by none other than Big Huge Games, but mysteriously and sadly it hasn’t been ported over to our thundering personal computers as yet. Fortunately, there are a couple of options.

(Oh – I’m fully cognisant I’m posting about stuff from around 2005, thankyewveddymuch. So if you write anything along the lines of “old” or “gee, thanks for telling us something we already know, RPS”, you are a miserable toerag of the highest order. We write about what we’ve recently been up to games-wise here, and unfortunately we bunch of 30-something chaps just aren’t as cutting edge as someone fashionable like Vanilla Ice or Charles Dickens.)

Perhaps the flashiest – or rather, the closest there is to flashy – is MSN’s Catan Online. It’s a little chintzy and a little clunky, but it looks just like the real thing whilst also making a virtue of being a video-game – there’s better stat/point tracking, and useful extras like tooltips stating precise odds of how often a given piece is likely to pay out.

It’s got a fairly robust singleplayer mode as well as online play; certainly, the AI calling itself ‘Margaret’ (which I for some reason find more sinister than if it was called Killotron or I-Will-Eat-Your-Babies) gave me a pretty pulse-pounding run for my money when I played this morning. It’s not free, alas, but there is a trial/demo, complete with a tutorial that’s as good an introduction to this easy to learn, tricky to master build ‘em up as any.

Alternatively, there’s PlayCatan, which I suspect will be the bigger draw for Catan vets. Not least because, if you fork out for Premium Membership, you can lob in the Seafarers and Cities & Knights Expansions – two mainstays for many established Catan players. A recreation of the boardgame forms the centrepiece of a bizarre, Habbo Hotel-esque semi-MMO, where you wander around a 2D town with a customisable, goon-faced avatar, joining or watching games of Catan at your leisure. The brown’n'buttony interface throughout leaves much to be desired, but it’s free and it’s surprisingly populous – I suspect I’ll be back to visit a few times.

A quick Google also throws up the unofficial ‘Xplorers’ – also free, and this time including some of the expansions, though like PlayCatan it requires registration. Also popular is Java Settlers, which, with all its talk of leagues and ladders, looks a little too hardcore and competitive for my nervous soul.

None of these are a patch on the real thing, of course – combined with plenty of whisky and shouting friends, it’s as excellent an evening in as they come. Apart from RPS’s bi-monthly naked wrestling tournaments, of course.

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37 Comments »

  1. Dolphan says:

    My brother bought the board game after playing it at a friends. Thirty quid seemed a bit hefty at the time, but then we played it. It’s fantastic, especially with alcohol.

  2. Colthor says:

    Cool; I’ve been wanting to try the boardgame for a while, after hearing people rave about it, but requiring friends, socialising and spending money has put me off. But now I can try it without those things, huzzah!

  3. Malagate says:

    Would it be wrong for RPS readers to track down Alec’s abode and then ask to be shown into the dungeon for “a long session”? This actually sounds like a boardgame that would be enjoyable, rather than what happens at our gatherings where shite like pictionary equivalents keep on getting wheeled out.

  4. Kakrafoon says:

    Don’t play the Settlers of Catan BOARDgame; play the CARDgame! It does away with the hexagonal I-block-your-road-access fiddling, and it has much broader strategic options. It is essentially a two-player duel game, but we put together two basic games and made a four-player-game from it. It is hugely enjoyable, even if I lose constantly: I go for a big trade empire complete with fleets, harbours, markets and trading posts, thereby pissing all the other players off, while my girlfriend stays friends with everyone, quietly builds inoffensive infrastructure and municipal buildings like town halls and aqueducts. The other players then perceive me as the threat, burn down my buildings and sink my trading fleets and refuse to trade resources with me, while my girlfriend suddenly announces: “Well, that’s it, I’ve got 13 victory points, I win”. *silent angry mumbling*

  5. Tom Armitage says:

    Well, the boardgame is good, but Kakrafoon is right in that the cardgame is also good. Different, tho; it plays a little like two-player competetive solitaire, until you realise what options there are to interfere with the other player. The expansions for it offer a whole bunch of interesting ways to interfere with the other player, and it’s a lot of fun. Also, pretty. Best understood not as a two-player version of the boardgame, but a different game with similar origins, in its own right.

  6. Dolphan says:

    Staying unobtrusive so that people don’t cotton on that you’re about to win is very satisfying. I played one game where two other players were making ridiculous trade deals with me as they desperately fought each other for the longest road. I doubt playing online can duplicate the shock on their faces when I put down my last city and announced my victory :-D

  7. Kast says:

    A mate of mine has a good dozen or more boxes with various Catan games and expansions. I guess I’m going to finally let him show me how to play.

  8. Ging says:

    Never go quiet when playing catan, everyone else with a nonce of common sense will know that you’re close to winning and trade routes will shut down faster than, well, a fast thing being shut down…

    Also – I’ve got wood for sheep!

  9. Trademarked says:

    You know, I love how when RPS talks about things, people run off to try them, no matter how old or bizzare. It’s almost like a Dating website, but matching people to games instead of each other…

    If you start charging people, guys, I want a cut for coming up with the idea. ;)

    To the game: my first thought was “I wonder if my Mum would enjoy this, saving me from endless rounds of DVD-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Hmmm.

  10. Loren says:

    I jumped for joy only this morning when I found a travel version (produced by Capcom!) out here in Japan. With the rules all in Japanese I have a half-decent chance of persuading my work mates to give it a go too.

  11. Heliocentric says:

    Meer you are a loose canon you are off the case! I mean it, leave the board games alone or i’ll have your badge.

  12. Ging says:

    Catan is great for families to get into – you could also give Carcassone a go, which doesn’t have the trade aspect but can be just as (if not more) strategic than Catan.

  13. Ian says:

    How do we bet on the naked wrestling tournaments?

  14. Senethro says:

    Someone want to start and IRC channel or Steam group for RPS Catan?

  15. Morph says:

    Settlers!? Dull & luck based. You want to try Carcassonne or Puerto Rico for good classic boardgames. Or more up to date the new Battlestar Galactica board game is fantastic. Dominion and Race for the Galaxy are also favourtes of mine.

  16. GriddleOctopus says:

    Ugh, Carcassone is a needless road to nowhere, literally, and Puerto Rico’s complex completely deterministic system is too much for fragile human minds. Catan FTW!

  17. Lim-Dul says:

    Well – I don’t like TSoC too much since it’s too simplistic in my opinion BUT it’s perfect for getting non-boardgamers into playing a board game. =)
    Also – it’s MILES ahead when it comes to stuff that people usually associate with board games, like Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble and other crap so it’s worth checking out if all of the above are the only games you ever heard of. ;-)

    To see my recommendations check out my game list (I hardly ever update the “recently played” stats :-\):

    http://boardgamegeek.com/collection/user/Lim-Dul?own=1

    Harr – El Grande (sounds naughty ;-), the best game ev0r! Of course alongside Tigris & Euphrates.

  18. Fatbuoy1 says:

    My brother introduced me to this at Christmas, and I’ve been playing it pretty much once a week since. And almost every time I play, there’s somebody playing who has never played it before, and doesn’t want to because it looks complicated… Within ten minutes they’re addicted without fail

  19. Pantsmansoy says:

    My friend and I purchased the travel version of Settlers for our flight/trip over to England from Canada (9ish hours). We invented an imaginary 3rd person to play with us (his name was Oliver) so it wasn’t just a two-man staredown. We just rolled a die to see if he would trade, or what he would build.

    Oh the looks we got.

    We must have played the game 10 or 11 times over 10 days.

    Damn Oliver would never trade with me. Cost me a number of victories, the bastard.

  20. Myrth says:

    What no mention of Sea3D or their follow up of Cities Online? Of course, I can’t get the Sea3D site to load this morning, so I’m not sure what that means. :(

    Best I can do in the interim is to point you here for some photos and a description. Good times though. I’d get into week long ruts of playing this and nothing else.

  21. ulix says:

    “While the PC’s cutsey-management Settlers series is loosely based on it, they’re two very distinct entities. ”

    Ahem… no. Just no. You’re wrong.

    The first entry in the computergame-series came out in 1993 for Amiga.
    The boardgame came out in 1995.

    If at all, your statement would be correct the other way arround. Which it also wouldn’t.

  22. Jochen Scheisse says:

    For alcohol-based gaming I recommend RoboRally (Beer), Junta (Tropical Cocktails), Battlestar Galactica The Boardgame (Whiskey, Vodka) and Arkham Horror (Absinth).

  23. ulix says:

    Also, there is Brettspielwelt.de (with many English & French players) where you can play the base version (along with lots of other great boardgames) for free in a Java-based client.

    They have some great games, you can (among many others) play Carcassone, Caylus, Ingenious, Princes of Florence and Yinsh there (just to name the ones I like most).

  24. Ozzie says:

    There’s also [a href=http://www.mobygames.com/game/catan-die-erste-insel]Catan: Die erste Insel[/href], a German software conversion of the boardgame. I doubt that it was ever released in English, though…

  25. Ozzie says:

    There’s also [a href=http://www.mobygames.com/game/catan-die-erste-insel]Catan: Die erste Insel[/a], a German software conversion of the boardgame. I doubt that it was ever released in English, though…

    Ah, the missing edit function, a cause for much pain, anger and frustration…

  26. Ozzie says:

    There’s also Catan: Die erste Insel, a German software conversion of the boardgame. I doubt that it was ever released in English, though…

    Ah, the missing edit function, a cause for much pain, anger and frustration…

    Geez, but now it should work! :-/

  27. JonCormier says:

    Man, you forgot the best part – the Monopoly card! Trade away all of one resource, making everyone happy then monopolize it all back and build cities, roads or whatever you were planning to before you “loaned” it out.

    The trouble is, this only works once and nobody will trade with you ever again for the rest of the night or in the next game. So you need new people to introduce the game to… etc etc etc.

  28. qrter says:

    Ah, the missing edit function, a cause for much pain, anger and frustration…

    Create an account at the forum, log in – hey presto, you have editing capabilities.

    I know, deviously hidden.. but still, it’s there..

  29. Still annoyed says:

    “The first entry in the computergame-series came out in 1993 for Amiga.
    The boardgame came out in 1995.”

    Yeah, I’ve never understood where this misunderstanding comes from. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, and it just does not make any sense. I mean, even if you ignore the fact that The Settlers came out earlier than Settlers of Catan, there’s very few similarities between the two games. They’re strategy games and they have “Settlers” in the name. It makes as much sense as thinking Warhammer is based on Warcraft.

  30. Ozzie says:

    Ah, but there were times when I didn’t need a foum account to have the ability to edit a post! I long for them…..

  31. syrion says:

    Tigris & Euphrates and Samurai are excellent as well, and are less luck-based than Settlers.

    Of course, Go is the best board game of all time.

  32. Spanish Technophobe says:

    Anyone else think it’s pretty rich that someone who thinks that Settlers is too luck-based would suggest Carcassonne? I love Carcassonne, and Settlers looks like it’s up my alley, but every move you make in the former is all about the random tile you draw.

    Give me Cosmic Encounter or Borderlands or even the new Risk any day before you start railing on luck.

  33. Paul Moloney says:

    I would love to buy downloadable games for my week-old XBox 360. However, it turns out that my XBox Live gamertag, which I originally created for Games for Windows Live, has its country code set to the United States for some reason (i guess their developers don’t realise the rest of the world exists), and I can’t use an Irish credit card to buy Microsoft Points. I rang the support line today who say they can’t change it for any reason. Absolutely bizarre. I’m stuck with an XBox account that I can’t use online or can’t play downloadable content on.

    P.

  34. Calistas says:

    You can also play a game of Settlers in Second Life. There’s a fully automated version of the game available if you look around. Try a search for “Settlers of Second Life” in game.

  35. malkav11 says:

    However, that would require you to play Second Life. Not worth the sacrifice.

  36. NegativeZero says:

    We played the crap out of Catan at work, to the point that I can’t play it any more and still enjoy it. After a while it gets stale and you realise how much of the game is simply about luck. One player can completely dominate if the dice go their way.

    As a result, our lunchtimes have moved on to a wider range of european board and card games. Carcassonne with a few expansions is always good, and Alhambra, Dominion, Puerto Rico and recently Race for the Galaxy all get some pretty fun sessions too.

    Now if I could just convince everyone to commit to playing every lunchtime for a week, we could dig out my copy of Arkham Horror.

  37. c0wb0ys7y13 says:

    Just so you know, avoid Catan Online. It has THE WORST USER INTERFACE IV EVER SEEN IN A GAME! Their is no in game tutorial, so if you don’t know the rules, your shit out of luck mid game. It doesn’t clearly tell you that you cant build things. It doesn’t tell you whos turn it is. It doesn’t tell you where you can move the bandit. It has no turn timer, so one player can go afk and everyone has to either put up with it, or kick him.

    Its as if the game designers sat down and said “how little information can we give the player while still making the game playable.” I cant imagine anyone is so stupid that they would make a UI this bad. It must have been on purpose.

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