Catan Review: Settle This

by panappticon on November 13, 2009

in Game Reviews,The Best Games

Catan for iPhone is a portable version of the award winning and popular (from what I read anyway, I’m no board game fanatic) Settlers of Catan board game that’s been made for the iPhone/iPod Touch with the full support of the man (myth and legend, naturally) who originally created the game, Klaus Teuber.

Let’s just get a few things straight up front-

  1. The last board game I played was Monopoly about 3 years ago.
  2. I do not own any board games.
  3. I generally don’t like playing board games due to the difficulty in finding people to play with when I’d like to play then, so I just gave up on the whole thing altogether (sad, I know).
  4. I’ve never even heard of Settlers of Catan prior to receiving a promo code to review this version on the iPhone (I understand there are a few other electronic versions out there as well as expansions for the board game itself).

With all that out of the way, I can honestly say that Catan on the iPhone is a (mostly) outstanding, fun, and stimulating game that I can pretty much recommend wholeheartedly to anyone with any interest in it at all. The general gist of Settlers of Catan is that there are hexagonal tiles as the board, each one representing a particular resource and having a number (when the number on the hex tile is rolled with the dice, if you have a settlement adjacent to it you get resources from it). You create settlements (which you can upgrade to cities), build roads, and engage in general mischief occasionally when you roll a 7 (which brings out the Robber, which you can use to your advantage to starve your opponents of resources), all in the aim of earning the determined amount of Victory Points in order to win first (you can change the amount of victory points needed to win in the game’s options).

Overview of the Catan game board. The hexagonal resource tiles are randomized for each game.

Overview of the Catan game board. The hexagonal resource tiles are randomized for each game.

That’s a super quick overview, if you’re really wanting in in-depth overview of the mechanics of the game itself before buying it, please head on over to Wikipedia. If you’re like me and just kind of start playing without reading much beforehand, there is a pretty comprehensive tutorial system in-game to get you up and running fast. I even managed to win the first game I played against 4 AI opponents!

Victory!

Victory!

Even though I’m not a board game fanatic, I really enjoy the game mechanics, strategy, and just overall theme of the game itself (as  odds are I would, since the game is fantastically popular among people who know things about board games and has sold over 15 million copies) and find that the iPhone adaptation (mindful that I have not played either the board game or any other electronic versions) is quite good.

The game zooms in and out when resources are doled out from the hexagonal tiles. Somewhat distracting, but nothing to really complain about. Also, bask in the glory of mid-90s style PC game graphics!

The game zooms in and out when resources are doled out from the hexagonal tiles. Somewhat distracting, but nothing to really complain about. Also, bask in the glory of mid-90s style PC game graphics!

The graphics are definitely mid-90s PC game style graphics, which could either be charming or a bad thing depending on your tastes. I did not mind them and find them charming in their own way. Overall game UI is pretty intuitive and easy to figure out. I suppose if there is something to complain about on that front, is that there is a lot of starting and stopping while waiting for opponents to do stuff (the computer opponents make comments which you have to dismiss, etc that can get annoying at times–although you can turn that off in the game’s options). Also, when the dice rolls and resources are given out from a hexagonal tile, the view of the map zooms in and out and moves all over the place, adding some slowness to the game, however I didn’t really mind that too much. The thing to keep in mind is that when you want to play this game (especially like I do, with 4 players) you aren’t going to pick it up and be done playing in a couple minutes. Catan is definitely a 15-20 minute minimum playtime game, and that could easily stretch longer if you’re playing with multiple human opponents or just depending on how the dice rolls are in the game. Which brings me to perhaps my final complaint with the UI of the game–it would be nice if there were an option to NOT have the dice animation each time the dice are rolled, that alone could probably shave a couple minutes off a game.

The dice rolling animation quickly becomes tiresome the 30th time.

The dice rolling animation quickly becomes tiresome the 30th time.

Perhaps the biggest grievance I have about Catan (and hopefully it’s one that will get resolved in an update) is that there appears to not be any auto-save capability. You have to literally (and I know, this sounds ludicrous for an otherwise high quality premium iPhone game) go out of your way to manually save a game you are in (and the save button isn’t even in an easy to get to area of the UI–it’s buried in a sub-menu). When you’re 29 minutes into a game and 1 victory point away from winning and never having saved because you assume that the game would automatically save the state of the game for you, receiving a phone call and losing all progress is a nightmarish experience that should just not ever occur at this point in the App Store’s lifecycle. Period. Note to all iPhone Developers–these are phones and as such, phone calls arrive at unexpected times, the iPhone does not multitask yet, so auto-saving where a player is so a game can be resumed–especially when games are long and losing progress would be especially irritating–should be standard practice by now.There is no excuse for this and is the main reason the Verdict is lower than it should be.

The main game UI when it's your turn. Trade, buy Development Cards, build stuff, and then go out of your way entirely to click on the Cog to manually save your game (boo to no auto-saving feature!)

The main game UI when it's your turn. Trade, buy Development Cards, build stuff, and then go out of your way entirely to click on the Cog to manually save your game (boo to no auto-saving feature!)

The only multiplayer modes included are a hotseat multiplayer for playing with the humans around you, or the ability to add from 1 to 3 additional computer AI units to play against. What would really make Catan an absolute killer game is the addition of local WiFi and online Internet multiplayer. The game is slow paced enough that latency really isn’t an issue, and it would be really fun to have an online ranking system, matchmaking, chat, etc. Plus being able to trade with real people is just a lot more fulfilling and engaging than having to trade with computer AI. I sincerely hope the developers are either currently working on an update to add online Internet multiplayer or will consider doing so as it would really add an immensely fun dimension to the game.

Expansion--the keys to victory!

Expansion--the keys to victory!

Other areas for improvement for Catan would be to have updates add gameplay from expansions to the original game (again, I’ve never played the original game or the expansions, but I have noticed a lot of people who have note that the expansions really add a lot more fun an depth to the game and that’s always a good thing to have), either as free updates or DLC (I’m personally not a fan of DLC in a lot of cases because they usually end up being nickel & diming situations, but in this case I think it could work to have a $1 or $2 DLC fee to add an expansion or two to really add to the gameplay).

Extensive game options let you tailor your game to your taste.

Extensive game options let you tailor your game to your taste.

Overall Catan is a fantastic game for the iPhone and should be seriously considered by anyone even remotely interested in board games. I’ve never heard of it before playing it on the iPhone and it’s easily one of my go-to games now when I have a bit more time than average to play a game. Graphics are somewhat dated but have their own charm, sounds are good, and overall gameplay is fantastic. This is NOT a fast paced action game and games can easily take 20-30 minutes or more, so set your expectations accordingly on that front and I don’t see how you could be disappointed in Catan for the iPhone. Lack of online multiplayer and any sort of auto-save ability are the biggest disappointments but will hopefully be added and addressed in an update (auto-saving at the very least simply MUST be added). Expansion packs as either free updates (in a perfect world) or as paid DLC (in the real world) should hopefully be expected in the future. Settlers of Catan is an immensely fun board game that makes its way to the iPhone in a pretty outstanding way–just don’t expect frenetic non-stop action and enjoy the “charming” graphics and somewhat slower paced nature of the gameplay (faster dice animation would be welcome) and be rewarded with a fantastic gaming experience.

Panappticon Verdict: 92/100A fantastic portable version of Settlers of Catan that hits (most) of the right notes and is a satisfying slower paced gaming experience on the iPhone. Online multiplayer, the addition of auto-save, and game expansions (either free or as DLC) would really send this one over the top.

Catan

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