The Freefarers Of Catan: Expanze Impressions

By Alec Meer on April 4th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

The boardgame I’ve played the most times, by far, is Settlers of Catan – and that’s not something I expect to change by time I reach my deathbed. Sure, it’s obvious, but it’s also a sweetspot of strategy and competition, as early co-operation turns to bitter rivalry and even the merest mention of sheep can reduce grown adults to shivering balls of purest hatred. I gravitated towards Lukáš Beran’s free, boardgame-like Expanze, which made no secret of its Catanic ways, with mixed excitement and anxiety. Excitement: Catan! Anxiety: But is it just a cheap’n'nasty, slavish rip-off?

No, it isn’t. It’s based on Catan’s essential mechanics – the gathering of brick, wood, sheep, ore and wheat, and the spending of these on the expansion of your agrarian empire – but it goes off and does its own thing with them. Better still, it turns them into a surprisingly workable singleplayer game.

First impressions do suggest a straight-up Catan clone, but quickly you’re mucking around with new types of structures – Monasteries, Markets and Forts – which enable gathering, trading and building boons in addition to the more familiar roads and settlements. You’re also generating vast numbers of resources, able to wind up with, for example, hundreds of sheep in your corner, as opposed to the half dozen or so which characterise a more bounteous Catan hand. Building costs are in keeping with this – a town costs 30 of most resources and 60 of the rest, while you’ll need to rustle up 100 sheep and 30 corn for a Market. That’s probably not a terribly interesting fact to share – I guess I’m just amusing myself with the idea of turning up with a wheelbarrow full of sheep and asking if someone wants to swap them for some awning.

In singleplayer, trading rapidly becomes the key strategy: how much of something you’ve got decent amounts of are you prepared to exchange at a scandalous 4:1 rate for something you desperately need? And is better to spend/trade everything to try and hit the level’s objective as quickly as possible and hope the turn-timer doesn’t run out before you can make it all the way there, or to play the long game of gradually, expensively building the upgrades which turn exchange rates and resource generation hugely in your favour? The latter means enormous rewards, but with each level requiring the meeting of certain construction goals within an arbitrary amount of turns, it’s a hard fight to get to that point.

It’s well-designed, tight and challenging without being frustration. Those turn-counts might be arbitrary, but they seem very carefully arranged to ensure a little bit of sweating. Amazingly, I didn’t even once think ‘why am I playing a singleplayer version of a multiplayer game?’ as was the unfortunate case with Talisman Prologue, and that’s because Expanze has made its own rules to suit that structure, rather than attempted to brute-force someone else’s into something it was never designed for.


Ingame video – Indie DB

Presentation values are all over the shop unfortunately. It looks a bit Quake II, the menu text is in mangled English in a horrible font, and important concepts and features are barely introduced, let alone explained, but you’ll figure it yourself without too much weeping and screaming. I can’t begrudge it that given it’s free and in all other regards feels as thought it warrants a pricetag. I’m yet to try the multiplayer, though the occasional appearances in the campaign of rival ‘players’ lends a decent sense of the land-grab war I’d be in for there.

Expanze lacks the clean lines of logic and chance of Catan, but it spins off into its own game that merely evokes, rather than plagiarises, Klaus Teuber’s cardboard classic. Grab it for free from IndieDB, before the dev reverses his unwise decision to keep it freeware.

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20 Comments »

  1. Chris D says:

    “The boardgame I’ve played the most times, by far, is Settlers of Catan – and that’s not something I expect to change by time I reach my deathbed”

    That distant rumble you can hear is the sound of the engines firing up on the Quinnsmobile as it sets out on another mission to teach a wrongdoer the error of their ways.

    • Commander Gun says:

      Be positive mate :) It can only get better for mr. Meer. Maybe a day will come that he will experience a very good game instead. Suggestion: Play Age of Rennaisance (Avalon Hill edition). Report here how it was and in the same stroke, make it a Cardboard Children entry. In memoriam: Avalon Hill.

      • Soolseem says:

        I am an avid board gamer, and a big fan of Shut Up and Sit Down, but Settlers of Catan never really gets old for me.

      • Phendron says:

        Are we implying that Catan is not a very good game?

        • kimadactyl says:

          It’s just board game hipsterism. See also: Rab’s macho columns bashing any game that doesn’t make someone cry.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          Yes. At least until you change the rules completely. A few quick fixes in order of importance:

          * Find a win condition that is not Victory Points.
          * Flip and shuffle all the tiles before making your board. Unflip when you build near one.
          * Get rid of the robber. Seriously, fuck that guy.
          * Throw one to three d12s (depending on desired game speed) instead of 2d6.
          * Turn deserts into gold mines that give you a “useless” resource, but twice as much of it (good for bank trades).

          In my case I also made new rules for the Knight and VP-buildings. Some work better than others:
          * Knight: Change one die in the next roll to the number of your choice.
          * Palace: Each opponent pays you a tax of 1/5 of their resources at the start of their turn.
          * University: You may build at the end of each other player’s turn.
          * Library: Whenever you would draw a development card, draw two and choose one.
          * Market: For each card traded by an opponent, gain one gold.

          On another note, there’s also NetSet: http://home.earthlink.net/~mgardner0/

          • Phendron says:

            Most of those suggestions seem oddly convoluted and specific.

            The greatest strength of Catan for me is that is it is reasonably minimal, with just enough bells and whistles to make for compelling strategy. There is so little to the build options in the game that it becomes a lot more about the people playing and anticipating their expansion and trade habits.

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          jrodman says:

          There’s no need to imply it, it’s a bad game.

          It has a lot of things it does really well, but it’s fatally flawed. The trading and the building are good. The capciousness and the lost turns and the pointless backstabbing are awful. The pacing is uncontrolled and interminable games are common. Frequently a leader is obvious for 40 minutes before the game finally grinds to an end. Too many flaws for one game that takes too long to play.

          It really showed some brilliant fun mechanics with accessibility and the trading. There are other games that do this better. Traders of Genoa is a much more sophisticated, less accessible example.

    • Konil says:

      As Per Dr.Quinns orders, a healthy dose of Cosmic Encounter will make your days of Catan a thing of the past in no time. Success guaranteed. Side Effects: A deep life-long feud with your bestest mates.

    • vanosofmanos says:

      To be fair, Catan is a pretty easy game to get on the table for many people. Relatively quick set up, easy to teach to new players, and the expansions can liven things up a bit if it gets a bit stale. Plus, it plays pretty fast for those who are time starved. Granted, it’s not in my current board game rotation, but it’s one that I like to play every once and a while.

    • KDR_11k says:

      For me the next step after Catan was Puerto Rico (after that, Agricola). I got the expansion for PR included in the box of the PC version and it’s pretty useful for expanding the strategic options (e.g. a manufacture and port that reward monocultures instead of diversity). Though I guess being a geek makes me prefer games that don’t involve as much negotiation.

    • Giuseppe says:

      That game bores me to death… Settlers of Catan, I mean.

    • KristaMitchell says:

      before I saw the paycheck which had said $8505, I didnt believe that…my… neighbours mother woz like they say trully bringing home money part-time at their computer.. there uncle had bean doing this 4 only 9 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a gorgeous BMW 5-series. I went here, . http://www.Buzz54.com/money

  2. pertusaria says:

    I’ve played the two-player version of Catan more than the boardgame, but your description of how it usually turns out sounds very familiar.

    Edit: Played the first few levels of this, and it is indeed quite fun. Worth a download. Cheers!

  3. vanosofmanos says:

    I’ve got sheep, who’s got wood?

  4. Phendron says:

    The extra buildings and upgrades reminds me a fair bit of the Cities and Knights expansion for Catan.

  5. SuperCoolDude says:

    Those red mesa tiles look like poorly rendered nipples.

  6. El_Emmental says:

    IndieDB/ModDB/*something*DB no longer have download links for the game :s