Luke Mitchell
02 Nov, 2007

XBLA Catan Review

360 Review | So how does the first board game on the XBLA translate?
The Xbox Live Arcade has proven that games played in real life translate well onto the Xbox 360. So far, one of the biggest hits of the console is Uno, which is more fun made by simplifying things such as dealing cards out to be just a quick AI reaction. It works because it’s fast-paced and you can jump into games at any time you like. Enter Catan, the first board game-to-360 conversion on the XBLA. Based on the infamous ‘Settlers of Catan’ board game that has sold somewhere around the 11 million mark, fans will be happy to know that the game is not at all any less fun than its real life counterpart. Non-fans will be even happier to know that this version of the game, in many ways, is much better.

For those who have no idea what Catan actually involves, here’s a brief rundown for you. The board starts with 19 hexagonal tiles positioned next to each other. Each hexagon has a number on it between 2 and 12, and at the start of each new match, each hexagon represents a different resource, including lumber, wool, grain, brick and ore. If you build a settlement that connects with a hexagon, and you roll the right number, you acquire that resource and can then use it to build other settlements.

The idea of the game is to get victory points, and to win an average match you're going to need 10 of them. There are different ways to earn these points, most commonly by building the aforementioned settlements, which are worth one victory point each. You have to build roads around the board to make spaces available for new settlements, and you can also upgrade those settlements to cities if you have the right resources. Think like houses and hotels in Monopoly.

Think long and hard about your next move...

Think long and hard about your next move...

Once you’ve got that down, you can start earning those victory points, which are also given for things like having the longest road (by building the most connecting road pieces as possible) or by using a variety of development cards which can also be made using resources, including getting 2 victory points for having the ‘largest army’ (achieved by drawing the soldier development card and using it on other players to steal a resource card). You may be thinking this sounds a little bit complex at this point, but fear not, it’s all explained very easily in an optional tutorial, and even without the tutorial, you’ll have things all worked out within a couple of games.

Where the fun really begins in Catan - especially over Xbox Live - is in the games trading system. If your settlements aren’t near a resource that you need or numbers you need simply aren’t being rolled, there is always the option to trade with other players in the game. In a very easy-to-use system, you simply put forward the resource card/s you are keen to trade away and pull backwards the resource card/s that you want in return.

This is where, like other successful board games, bargaining comes into play. Getting offered a card you want for a card you don’t really need at the time can seem like a very good thing to do, but you have to keep in mind that if you give them the card they’re so desperately seeking, that could be all they need to put together with other resources to build that last settlement that will win them the game. So you can decline the offer if you choose, or if you are willing to haggle, you can always modify their offer to something that suits you better and see if they bite.

Hmm... to trade or not to trade?

Hmm... to trade or not to trade?

The AI is fairly impressive as well – so much so that even the game's original creator has lost against it on the hardest difficulty. On the harder difficulties, the AI will think carefully about each trade, and if they feel you’re getting too far ahead of them, they literally will not trade with you any more. This again changes the gameplay experience, as they seem to be constantly thinking a couple of steps ahead… as you should be also.

As the first board game to feature on the Live Arcade, Catan is diving into some somewhat untested waters. The biggest test will be to see whether or not players are keen to sit down and play a board-game on their TV which could potentially last around 30 minutes or more. Those who are unsure might be wise to download the trial first, just in case, as this game is a love or hate kind of experience. But we can safely say that even if you have the slightest interest in board games, it’s definitely worth the purchasing price, and we are definitely looking forward to some other big-name board games popping up on the Xbox Live Arcade in the future.
The Score
If you have some friends who like this game, it’s definitely worth the asking price, as online play is really a blast. But if strategy board games aren’t really your style of gaming, then Catan probably won’t change your mind.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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