Home > 1, Video Games (Main) > Somewhat Thorough Review: Catan for XBLA

Somewhat Thorough Review: Catan for XBLA

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My latest and hopefully long term endeavor into the world of Xbox Live Arcade (as I brace myself for the onslaught of full price titles this fall) is Catan, as in Settlers of Catan.  It’s a board game us nerds have at least heard of.  For those of you that haven’t:  Catan hails from Germany where apparently most board games aren’t very confrontational and are still at the height of their popularity.  All that turns out to be a good thing because while this game doesn’t have you taking much away from your opponents and focuses more on your own prosperity it still delivers great fun, endless possibilities and more backstabbing that would be thought initially.  The game has sold 13 million units in total so you can put it in the category with World of Warcraft titled “Stuff that’s incredibly popular yet still deemed ‘nerdy’ “.  

One thing about Catan is that it’s really not worth it to try and simply describe the rules to someone without them playing it.  Like many games such as Magic:  The Gathering, Axis & Allies, Diplomacy, etc. the rules are pretty daunting at first.  However after 2-3 games you get the basics down and learn more every time you play.  In the case of Catan you and your opponents are inhabiting a newly discovered island.  To do this you must hoard, share and trade resources, namely wood, wool, brick, wheat and ore.  Where you place territories on the map and the roll of the dice will determine what kinds of resources you’re able to use and how much.  Admittedly it sounds a bit pedestrian at first but there’s a bit more to it than that.

A large part of being successful in Catan is trading resources with other players.  Deals will be attempted on just about every turn, everyone trying to gain an advantage without giving much of one to their trading partner.  There’s usually not much to go around of one or two resources in any given game so wheeling and dealing is fun but will also keep you on the edge of your seat lest someone else gain something valuable you don’t want them to have.

Another great thing about Catan that scores big points in my book is that even without considering the randomness of the dice the game is still 100% unique pretty much every time you play.  The reason is because the “board” is actually a bunch of hexagons each representing one of the precious resources and they’re arranged at random before every game.  This means every experience will be different for players as far as where to place territories, roads and also in predicting how the game will progress.

Along the way you’ll be trying to remember what resource cards your opponents are holding, moving the “robber” piece around trying to put a stop to someone else’s production, and factoring in the different probabilities that the dice will roll a certain number (don’t worry the game helps with this).  At certain points you might grow an affinity for other players and you will definitely grow resentment towards others but that’s half the fun.  The beauty of this game is that on the surface it seems we’re all just moving up in the world together and one person just happens to win (most games are very close).  However after a few matches you realize that the thin line between winning or losing requires you to be frugal and opportunistic in order to nudge past your opponents to victory.  

I know I’ve spent most of the time reviewing the mechanics of the game itself and the reason for that is because those are the things that will determine whether you like it or not as opposed to how it runs on Xbox Live.  For the purposes of being (again, somewhat) thorough I can tell you the game runs great on a console and much like Magic:  The Gathering it takes care of a lot of busy work that makes the physical game longer than it has to be such as distributing cards every turn.  

Normally a reviewer would give this game a modest score no matter what because well, it’s a board game being played on a console and there’s only so much it can do right?  Wrong.  This game is what it is:  a classic board game ported to perfection on the Xbox 360 system.  I’m not sure why mainstream media types look for explosions and gun play in games like this because they certainly don’t take points away from games like Grand Theft Auto for their “lack of strategy.”  But I digress.  The game is awesome if you like this sort of thing so:

9/10 without question.

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  1. Chris S.
    August 13, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I agree, this is definitely my favorite board game of all time, and when I found out it was on XBL I was ecstatic, I didn’t have to beg people to play it with me! haha.

    • August 13, 2009 at 7:42 am

      Glad to hear it man. I was new to the game but knew of it pretty much since it’s inception, now I love it. Hope you enjoyed the review and stop back again or scroll through my old posts and let me know if you see something you like or have suggestions.

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