Catan is a serious strategy game that’s all about amassing resources to spread your territory. But unlike most similar strategy games, you won’t find armies duking it out. Instead, you rely on your ability to amass resources like lumber and bricks in order to combine them to build roads, towns, and cities. Instead of focusing on how many battle-hardened warriors you can recruit into your army, you’re worrying about how much wool you can stuff into your barn.
Actually, that’s an enormous oversimplification, because this game is deep enough to drown in. The whole idea is based on the German board game Settlers of Catan, and if you’re not familiar with the rules, you’ll want to set aside a good half hour to work through the extensive tutorials on your first boot-up. And even after you’re introduced to the core concepts, you still probably won’t feel adequately equipped to play through a match, because it’s too much information to soak up all at once.
Let’s talk about hex.
Nineteen hexes make up the game board. When you start a match, each player lays down two towns and two roads along any corner or edge of the hexes. In any given turn, depending on the roll of the dice and the numbers on the hexes, you might receive resources from the areas touching your towns. Forest hexes provide you with lumber, field hexes give you grain, etc. If you’re not getting the resources you need, you can also trade with other players or the bank in order to gain land. To mix up the gameplay, there are cards you can purchase that give you various advantages, and there’s also a robber character that steals resources.
Because you don’t have an army at your disposal, once an opponent has laid a road or started a town, there’s no way for you to gain control of that land. An underlying scoring system tracks players’ points, and the first one to 10 (or whatever number you set when you start the game) wins.
Please note that we’ve barely even scratched the surface of this game. You’ll need at least eight more tutorials’ worth of information in order to play, and after that you’ll have to consult the in-game almanac regularly. You can play against AI opponents or friends, but the multiplayer mode is limited to pass-and-play and doesn’t add much to the experience.
That’s some serious strategery.
The core presentation is clean: the graphics are crisp and colorful, and the music fits the medieval setting nicely. However, a number of the icons used in the game aren’t explained, so you’ll have to do a lot of tapping through menus to figure out what each one stands for. The trading interface is equally unintuitive and difficult to decipher.
The bottom line is that after putting in so much time and brainpower to learn the rules, we found that playing against computerized opponents on the tiny screen just isn’t very fun. It’s a slow-moving game that involves lots of die rolling, resource collecting, and trading. It was designed to be played on a table with friends, not on the go, and not on a handheld device. If you’re interested in the game, buy the tabletop version, because something is definitely lost in the translation.