Catan is an adaptation of the excellent board game of the same name which has been around since 1995 and has maintained a good level of popularity over the years thanks to its simple enough rule set. It comes to us by way of UK-based simulation specialists Dovetail Games, who are best known for making games based around trains or fishing.
But of course, this isn’t Catan‘s first foray into the world of videogaming and we actually played it a lot on the Xbox 360 where it had a very decent version. However, that was a little indie game where as this one has a bit more weight behind it in terms of presentation and the in-game tutorials.
Speaking of which, getting started with Catan is actually pretty easy. We had forgotten most of it in the ten or so years since we last played but a combination of video tutorials (which are better than you’d expect) and in-game instructions make it pretty straightforward to get started, so even if you’re new to the game, you should be able to grasp its rules pretty quickly.
But, essentially, the way Catan works is that four players (any combination of AI or human) are allowed to put down two settlement camps on the board which is comprised of numbered hexes. As each player takes turns rolling the dice, any hexes whose numbers match the dice roll total will yield resources (of which there are five types). Those resources can be used to build roads or other settlements as well as upgrading settlements or buying cards that provide powerful bonuses.
Of course, you might not have a settlement in an area that provides all the resources and so players can also trade with each other to get what they need. But ultimately it’s all about slowly building up your resources and settlements in a bid to win VPs (victory points). The first player to ten VPs wins. So, mercifully, this isn’t one of those board games that will take all night to get through.
There’s more nuance to it all than we’ve got the time or space to get into now but essentially Catan is a reasonably simple example of a board game and that’s probably why we loved playing it before. And it works well as a videogame aside from element which is that in the board game, your resources are private, you don’t want your opponents seeing them. To get around that here, you can use your phone to connect to a website that shows you that information more privately. That’s a pretty elegant solution.
In terms of the controls, everything is well thought out here. Almost everything you need to do is shown with on-screen reminders of which button to press so if you want to build, trade or do anything else in-game, you can usually see what you need to press to do it. Only the camera controls aren’t shown but these are reasonably intuitive, and besides, once you’ve got the right view you’ll likely stick with it. Sure, you can zoom in to see hexes in more detail but you probably won’t bother.
That said, the big difference between this version and the old Xbox Live Arcade one is that the old game used flat images to display each hex where as this, the pricier version, has animated tiles with more going on. Now, yes, it does look better here and adds a little to the atmosphere but in terms of seeing in an instant the state of play on the board, it’s a little bit cluttered. Settlements and roads don’t pop off the screen as much as they did before and that’s a bit of a shame as we’re sure there’s a way to have high quality visuals while representing the in-game elements a bit clearer. It’s not bad in this version but it’s just slightly busy.
Aside from that, we’ve not got too many niggles aside from not being able to speed things up at all. The AI is quick to play its moves but even so, we’d rather not see the animations of everything all the time if we don’t want to. Sure, it only takes a few seconds for the animated dice rolls to complete but that time adds up. But really that’s only a minor annoyance.
On the plus side, this is Catan as we know and love it. In-person friends would likely be happier playing the board game version but if you’re short on numbers, this’ll do just fine. The AI is pretty ruthless (and, unfortunately, not adjustable) but in a way that doesn’t feel like unfair and while getting a win is definitely tricky, it felt like the game was generally an even playing field. That is except for one thing that may or may not be a bit of nonsense.
We’ve found on a few occasions that we kept rolling the same total in consecutive streaks. We assumed that this was just a probability thing and not an issue but looking into it, other players have complained about it too. Certainly, it definitely seemed odd that we should roll a total of five so many times in a row on our last match. There might be something to it but hopefully this will be patched out if indeed it’s not truly random.
Catan itself should appeal to most people looking to play a board game that is easy to get into. However, regardless of which version of this you play, it is essentially a dice game and therefore luck will play a big part in your success or failure ultimately. With four players and limited spaces to expand into, a lot of your chance of winning is down to where you initially settle. If you can get into an area with wood and brick that’s got a reasonably good chance of the dice matching its number, then you’ll be well set up for early progress but the dice will still play a massive role. Of course, there are plenty of strategic moves for you to make along the way and that’s all good but don’t expect this to be as advanced as some of the crazy board games that are out there now that take an hour to set up and come with a book of rules that you could beat a horse to death with.
+ Nice, detailed looking board
+ Controls are well considered
+ AI does a good job
+ Second screen functionality is a very good idea
+ Tutorials are decent
- No options to speed things up
- No other game modes