Wednesday, May 10

Jack's Top 5: Number 5

As promised earlier, I'm going to review my current five favourite games. This list will probably surprise a lot of the more hardcore readers, as I really haven't played a lot of games. Every time I try to get to my local games group something comes up - so I'm limited to my collection and those of my friends. Having said that, I think the games in my top five are excellent, and stand a good chance of remaining there as I get to know more games.

Coming in at number five, the game which has sold 10 million copies over the last 11 years (according to SpielBoy including expansions and variants): The Settlers of Catan. Or The Kettlers of Satan, as Tim insists on referring to it. :-)

I've only played the basic version of Settlers, although I have heard from a wealth of sources that the expansions (especially The Knights and Castles of Catan) really bring something to the game. Settlers was one of the first 'German-style' or Eurogames to really score big and it's easy to see why.

Players interact throughout the game, reducing the amount of 'downtime' while you wait for the other players to complete their turns. Each player's turn begins with a die roll to determine which territories will produce goods this turn. Any player with a town or city on the corner of those territories gain those resources - so right from the very start multiple players get involved. The active player gets to propose trades with other players, leading invariably to the age old 'I've got wood for your sheep' joke, and then they get to spend resources on roads, towns, cities or cards.

The aim of the game is to earn 10 VPs through building towns (1) and cities (2), maintaining the longest road (2) and the largest army (2). In addition, some of the cards give you the ability to gain VPs too. Once a player has built a town or city those points are theirs for ever, however the largest army and longest road points can be stolen if another player out-does them in that arena.

Strategy enters the game right from the off, as players have to chose the locations of their initial towns. You place towns on the corners between two or three territories, and aim to get access to all the resources in the game through your towns. Each territory also has a number associated with it, which determines how often the resources are produced. Since the resources are produced when the territory's number is rolled on 2D6, you want territories with numbers near to 7. However, throughout the game players get to place the 'Robber' on a territory, stealing resources from an adjacent player, and stopping that territory from producing until the Robber is moved again. So you don't want to chose territories with numbers too near 7 as you can bet that those will be the most robbed, and hence least productive, territories throughout the game. Further strategies include going for the longest road or largest army, intentionally blocking another player's longest road attempt and building cities to increase your income.

In summary then, Settlers is a great game, undoubtably. It's fantastically successful, and it's easy to see why: continuous player involvement, fairly short game time, a wealth of options at every stage and plenty of strategising opportunities. In terms of production, the version I've got is so-so, the box has an average illustration, the cards and tiles are alright and there's no insert to organise the pieces within the box. However, the rules are very well explained, and the wooden pieces are beautiful. In addition, there are lots of 'play hints' strewn across the pieces themselves - from dots and colour cues on the number counters showing their relative production frequency, to the way the resource cards tie in with the tile design for the tiles that produce them. Also, the cost of purchases on the little 'shopping list' cards that every player gets, make the game easier to pick up and learn. Overall, I give it 8/10 on the BGG scale.

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