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Xbox 360 Review - 'Catan'

by Steven Mills on May 20, 2007 @ 2:14 a.m. PDT

Catan for Xbox Live Arcade puts players in the role of colonists on a newly discovered island, where they vie for control of valuable territory and resources through strategy and trading. The game can be learned in just minutes, but will challenge players of all skill levels, even the experts!

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Big Huge Games
Developer: Big Huge Games
Release Date: May 2, 2007

Back in 1995, a German board game designer by the name of Klaus Teuber released "Die Siedler von Catan," or "Settlers of Catan," in Germany. Within a short amount of time, the game spread across the world, translating into 25 different languages and selling over 11 million units. The game mechanics are fairly simple, but mastering it can be quite complex. Basically, players collect resources and build roads, settlements, and cities in an attempt to gain the most victory points to win the game. The ultimate goal, in general, was to be the first one to obtain 10 victory points. This board game, "Settlers of Catan," is the basis for Catan for the Xbox Live Arcade.

The easiest way to break down Catan's gameplay would be to simply explain the rules and "how to" of the game. At the start of each game, a series of hexagonal pieces are randomly placed to create the actual game board. Each piece represents one of five possible resources: wool, grain, ore, lumber, or brick. In order to accumulate these resources, you must have a village on the corner of that specific hexagonal piece. Using these resources, the player has the ability to begin building roads, villages, and later in the game cities, while trying to halt their opponent's expansion.

At the beginning of each round, two dice are rolled generating a random number between two and 12, and each hexagonal resource piece corresponds with one of those numbers. Depending on the number rolled, that resource is distributed to each player with a road or development located on that hexagon. Some players may end up receiving nothing, or a certain resource may not be generated for a long time. This forces the trading of resources amongst one another in order to successfully obtain what you need to build toward your goal. A robber is also placed on a random hexagonal piece at the beginning of the game, which prevents resources from being harvested from that piece.

As I mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of the game is to obtain 10 victory points; you get one point per settlement that you have, two points per city, one point per victory point development card (which I will talk about later), two points for having the longest road in the game, and two points for having the largest army in the game. The first two are rather self-explanatory, so I'll skip onto the next one. To obtain the longest road, you must command the longest chain of roads on the board, but this feat can change during the game. If an opponent creates a longer road than yours, you will lose the two points, and he will gain them. To obtain the largest army, you must have deployed the most soldier development cards (which I will also explain later).

After rolling the dice on your turn, you have five options. Your first is to build something new, such as a road; a settlement, which collects resources via the pieces to which it's connected; or a city, which upgrades a settlement to a city and collects twice the resources. Or, you can choose to use one of five possible "Development Cards." When the soldier card is played, you can move the robber to the piece of your choice and steal a resource from any adjacent settlements or cities. When monopoly card is played, you choose a certain resource, and all other players must give you all of their resources of that type. When the road building card is played, you get to place two new roads on the board. For the Year of Plenty card, it takes any two resource cards and adds them to your hand. Finally, the victory point card isn't played but gives you an additional victory point per card.

The second option is to potentially trade resource cards; you simply choose what you are giving and what you want, and the other players have the ability to accept or decline your offer. The third option, Port Trade, is similar to this in that you can trade four of the same resources to the bank in return for a single resource of your choice. The fourth option is the ability to play a development card, and the last option is the command to end your turn.

Graphically, Catan is beautiful for the Xbox Live Arcade game it is. It's a simple board game, but Big Huge Games did a good job of designing the board in 3D, and the interface is simple and uncluttered. One of the cool features is the ability to choose from tons of emoticons to use on yourself and your opponents. You can smile, show affection, or even explode your opponent with a fireball! These emoticons are beautiful, and I often entertain myself between rounds by blasting myself with a cool little fireball!

The audio soundtrack is quite enjoyable and has a nice flow to it, which sets the mood for the Catan world. While writing part of this review, I had the game playing in the background to enjoy the music. The sounds, such as dice rolling, card dealing, and resource gathering fit their actions well and make the game as realistic as possible.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of Catan, is the competiveness. If you do not have the ability to play online, you have the option to play against well-designed A.I. Catan has 13 unique AI players with distinct personalities and play styles, providing just the right difficulty you may be looking for. Playing against other players, however, is where I feel the fun is really located. Playing against others online is fun because your play style may win or lose the game for you.

Aggressiveness may give you a great head start, but who would want to trade with someone who is trying to dominate the game board? Being able to communicate via a headset also makes it much easier to persuade opponents to trade with you or to go against another player. Catan comes with a friend's leaderboard so you can compare your skills to that of people on your friends list. However, one thing that really upset me about the multiplayer of Catan is the fact that it's a great family game, but there is no "local" multiplayer or "on the couch" multiplayer. This was somewhat disappointing but doesn't alter the actually gameplay experience at all.

Catan is a well developed version of "Settlers of Catan," and truthfully, I think Big Huge Games was just the right company to do it. It played very smoothly and is without a doubt is the next best thing — if not the best thing — to playing the original version of "Settlers of Catan." Despite the fact I couldn't play with my family and friends locally, the only other flaws I found were minor — perhaps a better trade system, or a bit more detail to the backgrounds and other art on the screen. The truly amazing thing is, each game lasts about half an hour, and each and everyone is different from the last.

Score: 8.5/10

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