Board Game Night: Settlers of Catan
I came across a mention of this game a while ago, and had the article marked in my RSS reader. I had even talked with Ben about it recently, to boot. If you’re interested in a bit of the backstory, check out Wired’s article – Monopoly Killer: Perfect German Board Game Redefines Genre.
A group of us left work (Sarah, Masha, Nick and Erin, Ben L, Brian, Chris and me) and trekked over to Brian’s place. En route, we stopped off at a Jewel for some snacks, and a local wine shop for some drinks.
Folks gathered in the kitchen, chatting and filling up on snacks/wine.
At the onset, I have to say that the initial learning curve was a bit high. This was due, I think, more to the fact that we had a large group… and not so much due to the complexities of the game. To really get things moving, two of us had to go through the directions individually, and then we all slowly trudged our way through the first round of gameplay.
After a round or two though, everyone fell into a pretty good rhythm and I got the sense everyone understood the basic mechanics of the game.
Overall, the goal for each team is to acquire a total number of “Victory Points.” These points are granted based on certain things: how many settlements you have or how many cities you have. You can also get cards that give you additional “Victory Points.” If you do certain tasks (like amass the largest army or build the longest road), you can get a special card that gives you even more “Victory Points.”
Those “Victory Points” (VPs) aren’t something that you accrue and spend. It’s more like a total. From the start, because you have two settlements, you have 2 VPs. If nothing significant happens to you by the next time it’s your turn… you still have 2 VPs. The game ends when one person has a total of 10 VPs in a turn.
In order to build things, you need to use a combination of resource cards: lumber, sheep, brick, ore, and wheat. Usually, each team will always be needing one or more resources, which results in some pretty interesting bartering.
A big part of the game has to do with trading. On each turn, you have the option to trade with any of the other players. I’d argue that for our game night, at least half of our time playing the game involved a lot of negotiations, bartering, pleading, and conspiring.
There are a lot of other elements to the game, that I’m simply not going to be able to describe here. I’m not going to be able to do it justice. Doing a quick search online, I found an interesting online resource if you want to know more about the game.
The board, after the game ended. I’d say we played for about 3 hours total, starting at 8PM and ending a little after 11PM. Unfortunately, no one actually made it to the game-ending 10 VPs, so it was more or less a tie. I think that both Nick/Erin and me/Masha were close with 9 VPs, but by the end of the evening we were all ok with finishing shy of the official 10 points.
For some, I could see that the length of the game just sort of wore on. I wonder how well suited Settlers is for team play, as I can imagine things being a little easier/faster if we only had 4 players total (as opposed to 8). A big part of why the game was so long was due to the bartering/trading… but I also venture that that was one of the most enjoyable aspects.
The entire time you play this game, you always feel as though you’re on the verge of totally kicking ass. Even if you don’t have, say, a ton of resources to work with… there are always different approaches to take to try to get VPs. In the early stages when Chris and Sarah built a city, I thought to myself Ok, game’s over, they’ve already upgraded to a city. But as it turns out, there were other ways to advance… and the game seemed incredibly balanced in that regard.
The overriding sense of things was that there was always something big, just about to happen. Or that you were about to do something big. It made the gameplay very exciting, and I can see why the game is as popular as it is.
Despite the initial sluggishness of getting up and running, the game itself was fantastic. Were it a smaller group or a Friday, I could easily see playing the game until the wee hours of the morning with no problem, whatsoever.
A good night, playing a great game with some great folks. It was nice to hang out a bit with everyone from work, and be in a non-work context for a change.