Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

REVIEW: The Settler's of Catan Card Game

I found myself with some free time last Saturday and the wife and I decided to play the Settler's of Catan Card game - something we hadn't played in probably 18 months or so. I had purchased both the original expansion as well as the most recent one that adds a 6th theme deck as well as replaces a bunch of cards in all the decks to newer versions for clarity and improved game play.

I spent a few minutes replacing the affected cards in the main deck and then quickly perused the rules to re-acquaint myself with the way the game works.

Basically, each player has a series of small, square cards laid out in front of him that represent his principality. You have two settlements with a road in between and 6 regions that each produce a different resource based on the die roll. The regions get placed on the 4 diagonal corners to each settlement leaving a space above and below each settlement (and in-between each set of 2 regions) that is used to make buildings or add knights to each settlement.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek
Settlements can only have 1 card above or below them , cities (which like the board game are upgraded settlements) can have 2 cards above or below them. Also, the cards are color coded red and green and the red cards can only be built in the cities.

Each turn two dice are rolled, 1 production die (the number rolled determines which region in each player's principality produces a resource) and 1 event die (various things happen depending on who controls certain tokens or an event card is drawn from the stack between the players).

Resources are marked on the square region cards as a 0,1,2 or 3 and the card is simple rotated as the resources are gained or spent - very simple.

Finally there are 5 stacks of cards which contain all the green and red cards (buildings and knights) as well as yellow cards which can be used to directly hinder an opponent or help you in some way. Yellow cards once played are removed from the game.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek

The game is very similar to the Settler's board game as you collect resources from your lands, you build roads to expand your principality and you build settlements and cities to gain points (again 1 or 2 points like the original). The game is played to 12 points and there are certain buildings that will either give you direct victory points or will help you improve, defend or maintain your settlements and cities. There is no robber, instead one face of the event die is the Brigand Attack which means each player counts up all resources on all of his region cards - if you have over seven total, you lose ALL of your ore and wool! This is a little harsher than the regular game, but then again you are guaranteed a resource on every roll in this version too.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek
Trading amongst players is pretty non-existent, but that is OK, there is plenty more you need to concentrate on during your turn anyway.

Instead of the Largest Army or Longest Road bonuses, some buildings have a windmill (commerce) point on them and whoever has the most gains control of the Windmill Token which is also on a face of the Event die. Whenever it is rolled, the player controlling the Commerce token steals a resource from the other player. A similar thing happens with the building of the knights in the game except that now you are totally up their "Tournament Points" which is one of two values on each Knight card. Instead of stealing from your opponent you get a free resource of your choice from the "bank".

That's basically it. There are some other rules that don't come up a whole lot, but this hopefully gives you the general idea of the game.

Now about that game we played...

We both muddled through our first few turns as we slowly remembered how to play. Mary took an early lead as the resources she needed kept coming up on the die again and again. Yes, I was gaining resources too, but the "6th" resource in this version is gold which is pretty useless until you get certain buildings or until you have 3 to trade in. Guess which number kept coming up? Yep. I had a lot of gold that I couldn't use, while she received a lot of clay which is very useful early on. Within a few turns she already had 5 points to my original 2.

We also went without a 1 coming up for nearly 3/4 of the game (believe it or not!) - and since this was wheat for me, I was hurting! Mary was sitting confidently in the lead the entire game as I was playing catch-up from the very beginning. This game has plenty of ways to mess with the other player however - something which I really like in a 2 player game.

The yellow action cards can destroy opponents buildings, force knights to leave a player's principality, steal an opponents cards and various other things to hurt an opponent. When you initially start the game each player selects one of the 5 stacks of cards to pick the 3 cards they will begin the game with. You may look through the stack and take any 3 cards you want without disturbing the order of the cards. This method also allows you to see if what cards are in that stack as at the end of each turn you replenish your hand back to a minimum of 3 cards. Knowing what other cards are out there can be very important!

I was lucky to know that 2 of the 3 yellow SPY action cards (which allow you to look through your opponents hand and take any 1 card and use it) were on top of the stack I had initially picked from. As I replenished my hand, I grabbed both of these and waited for the right opportunity to use them (I had already built an Abbey card which increased my hand size to 4 so it wasn't like I was at a disadvantage in hand selection either).

I picked the prefect opportunity to play my initial SPY card too, as Mary had just drawn the 3rd one in the deck. I selected hers and then immediately played it to steal a 2nd card from her - much to her chagrin. I grabbed a high value Knight card and then was able to build it. This gave me more Tournament Points and I stole the Knight Token from her and tie her in Victory points at 9 each. I already had the Commerce Token at this point by the way.

The tension was building as we neared the end game and things were pretty even - although 2 of my points could be taken at any moment. I made a mad dash to build the last settlement hoping to get an even larger advantage on resource production, but Mary managed to get the resources she needed first and she built the settlement before I could.

The last few turns I did all I could with Action cards to try and slow her down, but she was able to rebuild a building that doubled all of her commerce points that were from her fleet cards which stole the Windmill Token from me and gave her the 12 points she needed to win.

This game is every bit as much fun now as it was when I first got it back in 2003. There are a lot of different paths to victory and the game play is fast - there is very little down time when your opponent is taking their turn. Some have criticized the game for being too long or for the lack of trading amongst players, while others have called it "multi-player solitaire" as you have few ways to affect the other player during the game.

I personally don't see most of these issues in our games - we took about 90 minutes to play and in the last 1/4 of the game the victory point tally went up or down each turn for one of us. Granted there is little or no trading, but there are other elements that make up for that that are not in the original game. The many different effects of the buildings give lots of variety to the game play and there are combinations of buildings that are very powerful if you are lucky enough to pull them off. I really think that being different in some aspects from the board game makes this version a better one in some ways.

All in all, the Settler's of Catan Card Game is a lot of fun and after a few games, players will have all their rule questions answered and be able to just play and enjoy it. Strategies will slowly develop and the many subtle tactical nuances will become more apparent as players become more familiar with the many different cards.

If you are looking for a great 2 player game with all the flavor and fun of regular Settler's look no further than this great alternative.

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