Billed as an "exciting & educational history" game Klaus Teuber's CATAN: MERCHANTS of EUROPE is another new look at his much repeated and popular SETTLERS of CATAN game.
Published in Europe by Kosmos and in English by MAYFAIR this is produced in a quality unknown to the majority of boardgames. The cardstock for the coins and counters is extremely dense, heavy card, unlikely to suffer damage through repeated play. The board and player reference strips are of the same heavy card and printed double-sided for basic and advanced play. The wooden pieces are regular for German published games. The rules are 12 pages of full colour printed on high quality glossy paper. By all appearances, this is a superbly produced game.
If you are hooked on CATAN, as so many thousands of players around the world are, then you will buy this simply because it has Catan in the title, this is what happens when you obsess over something; you buy it regardless of whether it is good, bad or indifferent.
I, on the other hand, approach each new CATAN game with a completely open mind and let the gamelay and new inclusions decide for me whether it is a game I would want to play regularly; the STAR TREK CATAN game, for example is an excellent version and diversion of the famous Catan franchise. Merchants of Europe has some good new inclusions but it has also added yet another nasty element that makes the Robber only secondary in the I can't believe this is in the game list.
Anyone who has read any of my reviews of Catan games will know that I thoroughly dislike the Robber. It doesn't balance the game it spoils it. It enables players to pick on each other by preventing them receiving resources as well as stealing a card from them as well - a double whammy of nasty. To me it is obvious that Klaus Teuber himself has some issue with the Robber because of all the parts of the game that get changed and addressed for each new version, the Robber is almost always high on the list of changes. However here we are with the Robber exactly as he was before, only now there is a new nasty in town as well.
What seems like a good idea at first, having number chits that can be placed onto blank circles on the tiles, thus ensuring that in not every game the tiles have set values, turns into a real nasty piece of work when you realise that there are only 2 chits for each resource tile type, yet there are more than 2 resource tiles per colour. Once the 2 spare tiles have been placed on the board if another one is required the player needing it removes one from another tile and places it on the new tile; this leaves the tile from whence it came without any possibilty of resources, probably for the remainder of the game - this is more than harsh.
One area that has been addressed again, not, in my mind as well as in other versions, is the fact that although it is still possible to go for many turns without receiving a resource card, you now receive a Gold Coin when your number doesn't appear on the dice roll - exception, no one gets a Gold if a "7" is rolled. As 2 Gold Coins can be used to purchase any resource this means that you can at least get one resource for every two times your numbers do not roll. Gold can also be obtained by building Trading Posts on City spaces along the Coast (where there is a City name and a Gold Coin value - eg. Cadiz 3 Gold).
There is no Longest Road bonus nor Largest Army bonus. The game is about moving your Merchants across the board, building Trading Posts and then constructing roads between the Posts. The idea of the game is to be the first to deliver all of your Commodity Tiles - the failing is that you have to deliver them to other players Cities, never to your own. I say failing because to get to other player's Cities you have to have roads for your Caravan (not Merchant) to travel along. A single player doesn't have enough road pieces to build enough roads and thus Caravans are supposed to use other player's roads. If another player decides they aren't interested in winning or playing in the spirit of the game - unlikely but mot impossible - then if they don't build roads you cannot travel on them. Why would someone do this ? Possibly because they are fed up with their failure to collect Resources - the dice not rolling their numbers and Gold Coins helping but not really making up the deficiency and thus decide if they can't win they may as well make it as hard, if not impossible, for anyone else to win. here I should note that Cities can only ever accept one commodity.
Merchants move along the dust roads between junctions - moving up to 3 spaces dot to dot on a regular movement action; the key words are up to. Caravans move 1-3 spaces dot to dot along roads (aka Trade Routes). To move a Merchant, basic game, you must spend 1 resource card - not sure if this is meant or that it is supposed to be the same as in the advanced game where this resource is specified as 1 Grain. Caravans are moved in both the Basic and Advanced game by spending a Salt. Resource cards are used to build Trade Routes, Build and Move Merchants, Build and Caravans and can be spent to obtain Development cards. Commodities are obtained by building Trading Posts. Trading Posts are built by moving a Merchant to an empty City space - the Merchant is then swapped out with a Trading Post from your stock. By taking a Trading Post from the stock you uncover a commodity - during set-up the commodities are placed under the Trading Post pieces on each player's edge of the board.
Catan: Merchants of Europe has some nice new ideas but fails to deal with the Robber problem and in fact exacerbates the nastiness by the introduction of not enough number chits to go on all the blank spaces on the resource hexes. As such there isn't, for me, enough of a difference in the actual game, even taking into account the merchants and caravans, from the original game.
Errata: I haven't double-checked for spelling errors or conflicts in grammar but on page 4 of the rules one of the bold headlines is Move Merchants and deliver commodity tokens: when the inference from the text that follows is that it is the Caravan being moved not the Merchant.