Saturday, May 05, 2007

XBLA review: Catan (10/10)

Go buy Catan. Now.

No, really. Stop reading the blog, start the download of the full version, and come back. I promise, your ISP won't go anywhere while it waits.

I realize that the video-game community and board-game community don't overlap very much (and when they do ... eh ... how many people besides me bought Hoyle's Board Games?), so I'll have to explain. I will assume that most of you have never played Settlers of Catan. It's an outstanding strategy board game. (I played the original, and I believe the Seafarers of Catan expansion, shortly after they came out - my girlfriend's brother was a massive board-game fan, owning nearly as many board games as I do video games. A year in either direction and I might not ever have played it.) I can't do it justice, so I'll leave it to you to read the Wikipedia article, if you're interested in the background.

Anyway, I never played the PC adaptation, so I don't know how good it was, but when I saw Catan on, the first thing that came to mind was the board game. I was busy looking up something on The Godfather, though, so I forgot about it until tonight, when I saw the games I hadn't yet downloaded.

So I got it, and played it. I'm sure it's cool for multiplayer games, but for single-player, it's great too. There's a "learn while you play" mode, which was more than detailed enough for me to remember how to play. (There are customizable options in the game; the "tutorial" sets some of these to make it easier to learn, such as placing your settlements for you. It was confusing until the tutorial explained why it was happening.) Play it all the way through, and you'll have a decent idea of what's going on. (The AI plays on Easy, I believe.)

There are three skill levels, Easy, Moderate, and Hard. On Moderate, the AI is much more perceptive: for example, when you establish a decent lead or are close to winning, it flat-out refuses to trade with you. It's a good match for a moderately-skilled player like me. I haven't tried Hard yet.

After playing it a couple of times, you'll begin to see some strategies develop. The randomness of the board layout means that there's no silver bullet: a particular strategy might be good in one game and terrible in another, and the heavy luck factor can render even the best strategy meaningless.

The game moves along rather well, although you may not want to skip through the AI's turns, and if you don't, it'll still take about an hour or so to play. You won't notice, though.

Keep in mind that this is turn-based, not real-time. (For me, that's a big plus.) If you only like real-time strategy games, this will be an adjustment for you, but try anyway. If you dislike both strategy games and board games, then you're a fool. Come back and read this again when you change your point of view.

zlionsfan's rating: 10 hexes out of 10. Yes, I said 10. Now BUY IT!

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