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At Spiel Essen in 1995 we (myself, my wife and board-gaming friends) encountered a game that was to change board gaming around the world in the way that 1993s Magic the Gathering™ forever changed card gaming. The board game was, of course, SETTLERS of CATAN, designed by Klaus Teuber and published by Kosmos verlag. SETTLERS not only changed the lives of millions of board games players, it also changed the life, financially, of the designer, putting him as one of the pre-Kickstarter - millionaire designers (along with the favourites like Reiner Knizia, Matt Leacock, Uwe Rosenberg, Stefan Feld and a few others).

CATAN, from Kosmos, Mayfair, and now Catan Studios, was the first Worker Placement, Land Management, Resource Trading game to catch and hold the imagination of millions. The rules are fairly basic and easy to understand as is the game, and its many colourful components would draw new players awe-struck, googley-eyed and transfixed in a trance towards it.

After that first year of Catan, game after game after game suddenly appeared - the age of the genre was here. Many of the games had similarities to Catan, some improved upon its gameplay, some never came close, but no matter how the mechanics were fiddled with Catan itself kept rolling along. Now 26 years later Catan is bigger than ever and still the 'Mummy & Daddy' of the genre.

 

I have had my issues with Catan after the initial amazement died. In fact it is only one issue and that is the rolling of a 7 on the dice. The effect of the 7 can be devastating, especially in competition games and in games where there are three players. I have been castagated by some players of Catan for my reasoning about the 7 effect, but others, apparently including Catan designers, have agreed with me.

Think about this, it actually happened. I was in a 3-player game with a friend and my wife. We had all chosen reasonably well on the board as for which numbers and resources we had covered. The game started quite well for my friend and for Fran, my numbers just weren't being rolled and when a 7 was rolled by either of them they placed the Robber on my best chance of gaining resources and taking one of the few resource cards I had managed to collect. This went on for 5-6 rounds with me never collecting a resource, while all the while Fran was getting cards and building her settlements. My friend wasn't as lucky as Fran but had a few more cards than me (who had none at this point). The Robber is a double-damage whammy and is spiteful and not fun.

The luck of the dice changed and for the next few rounds I scored a few cards, Fran continued to build, and my friend went without. When I told some Catan players this is why Catan aggravates me, their answer was 'well you can always trade 4 cards to get one of what you want'. They were completely missing the points that a) I wasn't collecting any cards and b) to make that trade you need 4 of the same type which was never possible because at no time during the first 30-45 minutes of the game did I have 4 cards of any type (and thus there was never any single resource I required).

By the time I managed to collect a few cards Fran had won the game. She hadn't enjoyed winning because it was all by luck (dice rolls) and my friend and I didn't enjoy it because we were, neither of us, never at the races. I believe I wasn't the only one with my issue because in virtually every other edition of the game (and some expansions) the role of the Robber was changed - still appearing on a 7 but with various/different effects.

In CITIES & KNIGHTS for example "if a '7' is rolled on the dice, no hexes produce..." As in the base game, the hexes on which the Robber sits do not produce, and when the 7 is rolled the roller may be able to steal a card from one player who has adjacent buildings. Also in Cities & Knights there is a third die, a Ship die, which is rolled along with the two regular dice.

CITIES & KNIGHTS is widely regarded as the number one expansion amongst Treasures, Dragons & Adventures, Explorers and Pirates, Seafarers, Traders & Barbarians. C&K introduces Barbarians and Knights - the latter being represented as round wooden disks on which (before the first playing) stickers are placed. There are 6 knights per player; 2 basic, 2 strong and 2 mighty - the strong and the mighty depicted by 2 or 3 rings around the stickers.

The Cities of Catan can be upgraded by square wooden pieces (city walls) which cost 2 bricks but help protect your cities from Barbarian attacks. The Catan island is usually set up by randomly placing tiles to form its regular hexagonal shape. There is a beginners set up (illustration D on page 4) which we used as suggested for our first game, and to be honest we found it to not be as easy as a beginner would like - for us, the design made it too easy to squash buildings together.

The Barbarians have their own movement tile and of course their own ship to move on it. The third die moves the Barbarian ship (when its ship icon is rolled). When the ship reaches the landing space (red circled square) they attack. Their attack strength is equal to the number of cities and metropolises (a Metropolis is a major city improvement that cannot be affected by the Barbarians, except that it counts towards their strength) owned by all players.

Catan's Knights that are active reduce the strength value of the Barbarians, according to whether the Knight is a No-Ring (-1) 2 Ring (-2) or 3 Ring (-3). If the Barbarians are still stronger than the combined value of the Knights one or two cities are reduced to settlements (decided by the strength of the owning player's Knights - least Knight strength means that player (or players in a tie) lose on city). If the Knights win, the player with the most strength of Knights gains a Defender of Catan card which has the value of one VP. Then, win or lose, the Barbarians return home and get ready to set sail again.

You need Settlers of Catan base game and then you can play Cities & Knights by using your favourite Catan tactics and not worrying about the Knights or the majority of the expansion, (but this is a form of Russian Roulette as the Barbarians will attack, and without Knights your cities are most certainly at risk as they will be amongst the lowest valued) or you can use the Cities & Knights replacement rules and enjoy a quite different Catan experience.

To be honest, which in fairness I always am, for our first game with Cities & Knights we didn't read the rules thoroughly (well actually one of us read them out loud and most of us heard 'blah! blah! blah! and took little notice of how the differences - the Knights for example - worked). This meant that we were having fun, building cities, updating them and then suddenly discovering that they were in dire trouble when the Barbarian ship landed - we really hadn't understood the consequences. Obviously this was a silly error by us, our core-gamer brains hearing what they expected to hear rather than what was being said. I am saying this, not to show that reviewers and core gamers can make daft mistakes, but to hopefully stop you, dear reader/player, from doing the same.

Our Catan session turned into a long discussion about the game. Not only the game we had just played but also our previous excursions into Catan. Up until playing Cities & Knights properly (second and following plays) again (I did play it many years ago when it first came out but my memory of that is faulty) my favourite Catan games were the specialised ones: Settlers of America (Trails to Rails), Star Trek, Game of Thrones, 2-player versions (I love these), Starfarers (the original had, in our opinion, a fatal flaw that allowed a winning strategy for every game), Rivals of Catan, I wasn't keen on the Travel edition, but I love Kids of Catan, in fact we still play it with young players and they always enjoy it.

There are also a number of expansions that have made Catan playable, including the one mentioned above, that have brought me and my gaming group/s, a lot of pleasurable sessions. Cities & Knight: the new cards, the Barbarians, the Walled Cities and of course the arch of the Metropolis all help to ensure that Settlers of Catan regains the glory it marvelled us with originally.                                       

The Cities & Knights expansion has cards (explained in the Almanac) such like Merchant and Resource cards which help players get over the massacres the Robber may cause. The Merchant Fleet card allows 2:1 trades, Resource Monopoly allows you to take resources given 'freely' by another player and the Merchant and Master Merchant are somewhat similar. Basically what I am saying is that once again the author has realised the imbalance caused by the Robber's actions and has found a way around them to the player's benefit.

Found online with a staggering range of prices, from nearly £40.00 down to £23.00, CITIES & KNIGHTS should be in your board game collection as long as you own the basic Settlers of Catan board game. The great thing about Settlers of Catan is that the base game and the expansions are still available now, 26/7 years from its beginnings, so that new players can find it anytime, anywhere, and keep the game prominent in board gamer's thoughts and on their Kallax gaming shelf systems.

I still don't like playing SETTLERS of CATAN but I do enjoy playing SETTLERS of CATAN with CITIES & KNIGHTS. Always check out your local games store

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021