Almost three months after I bought it, I finally got around to playing the Settlers of Catan with my friends at college this evening. I’ve written about it before and there’s a more detailed description at BoardGameGeek but in brief it’s a very playable four-player strategy building game that features a lot of trading.
The other players, Kalli, Shakti and Andrew, looked a bit askance when I hauled out the various bits and pieces of the game but to their credit they were more interested in the peculiar way in which the board was randomised and the unusual rules. After about ten minutes of explanation and setup, we were able to start and everyone got the hang of the rules quite quickly.
Unfortunately since I’ve only played it once before myself, I gave rather simplified advice on where to set up initial settlements which had knock-on effects throughout the entire game; essentially Kalli and I were bunched towards one end of the board whereas Shakti and Andrew had more space on the opposite side (which admittedly also had the useless desert tile). This meant that while Kalli and I had an edge over the others in the early and midgame due to our proximity to the important resources (wood and wheat), we ultimately were undone by our lack of expansion space for roads and additional settlements. In particular, I had to resort to buying development cards in the hope of getting more points.
In the end, Shakti won after accumulating an enormous number of resources in a few turns from very lucky rolls of the dice (and to be fair, some very inattentive opponents) and going on a road and settlement building spree, racking up four points in single turn. I came in second with 8 points, Andrew had 7 and Kalli had 5.
The whole game took a little over two hours, which is very long by the standards of Settlers – games usually only take one hour. Obviously the fact that most people were beginners slowed things down, and also we experienced a debilitating lack of the brick resource in the early game, mostly due to an unlucky placement of tiles and counters. I imagine the next game should be around 90 minutes – still quite long, because we tend to take our time on exhaustively examining every single possible trade option.
We’ll also be a lot more wary and forward-planning in the next game, which should spice things up no end. The randomised board and the fact that we’ll choose our starting positions much more carefully will totally transform the game. Everyone really enjoyed it and we’ll probably be playing again pretty soon; I hope to try Hare and Tortoise and maybe buy Carcassonne in the near future as well.