Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Settlers of Catan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Settlers of Catan. Show all posts

Monday, October 22, 2018

European board games before Catan

Game designer Rob Newton asked on Twitter what people would consider "classic literature of the board game world." Fellow designer Jonathan Weaver responded in three categories - citing Chess and Go as "ancient literature," Monopoly as "classic American literature," and then added, "whatever the predecessor of Catan is would be classic European literature." Some time ago, I was inspired to go back and look at what board games Americans had available to them when Monopoly arrived.  Now I was faced with a similar question for Europe before Catan. I already knew that Clue was originally English and Risk came from a French design, but Weaver's response made me realize that I really couldn't identify other European games released prior to 1995. Surely Catan couldn't have been the first popular European board game, so I felt that some self-education was in order.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Shep's Games

Work has been crazy lately.  It interferes with my gaming at home, playing with my friends after work, my weekend gaming opportunities, my podcasting, and my blogging.  I spent the last week on business travel in Denver, Colorado, and I was determined to find some way to get some gaming contact after-hours.  A little internet searching turned up Shep's Games, and on blind faith I showed up there at about 6:00 pm last Thursday hoping to find some open gaming.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 2: Friday

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Continuing my recap of PrezCon from a couple of weeks ago, Friday turned out to be a long and eventful day.  I started with Saint Petersburg (designer Michael Tummelhofer alias Bernd Brunnhofer, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande), a game that I never get to play as much as I would like.  I finished third in a heat of four players - not surprising given the level of competition I typically find at PrezCon for this game.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Countdown to PrezCon

Okay, it's that time of year when my favorite convention, PrezCon, happens in Charlottesville, Virginia, the week of President's Day.  I've got a preliminary schedule laid out, which is pretty much carved in sand - except, that is, for Pillars of the Earth, which stands like an immense cathedral, a great pillar, on the landscape of my convention plan.  (I'm running the PotE tournament, so I'm pretty committed to it.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tsuro, Settlers, and Time Travellers

(c) Calliope Games.
Used by permission
One of my posts last Thursday described my initial impression of Tsuro of the Seas, a recent variation on the Calliope Games gem Tsuro (designer Tom McMurchie; artists Shane Small, Cathy Brigg, and Sarah Phelps; publisher Calliope Games).  Playing TotS made me want to revisit the original Tsuro, which my good friend Grant Greffey had given us for Christmas a couple of years ago.  As it happened, we had in turn recently given a copy to our friend Jeff, so on the occasion of having a number of friends over for dinner and games, he was happy to break it out and give it a spin.

Monday, March 5, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - Part Three

Image courtesy
of GMT Games
Down in Flames
While not strictly a wargame in the truest sense, I enjoy the dogfight card game Zero! (designer Dan Verssen; artists Mike Lemick, Rodger B. MacGowan, and Mark Simonitch; publisher GMT) from the Down in Flames series for its atmosphere as well as its quick play.  My friend Keith F. and I played a heat with only the occasional stumble over the rules, which were a bit rusty in my recollection but which the game master Richard Phares was happy to straighten out for us.  Each of us took a turn as an element of two Zeros against two F4F Wildcats, and each came away with one shoot-down apiece for a dead heat draw between us.  I didn't compete in any subsequent heats in the DiF tournament because I had too many conflicts with other events, but I was glad to have this old favorite make an appearance in my PrezCon experience this year.

Settlers of Catan
Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used
by permission.  All rights reserved
Every year I harbor the fantasy that I will have a shot at winning at Settlers of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair).  The PrezCon SoC tournament is a National Championship Qualifier, but with over 60 people competing every year, it's always a longshot.  This year I won in my first heat with some a very fortuitous initial settlement placement.  I had a nice variety of production with my first two settlements only four road segments apart, and I was able to build to a port as well as gain the Longest Road.  One of my opponents was Virginia C., a very friendly, expertly competitive SoC player.  Also at my table was Jason C., who'd beat me in SoC at PrezCon last year, as well as his father Gary.  Several times over the course of the game, Virginia openly preferred to trade with Gary and Jason before she would consider a trade with me, more out of respect for my board position than anything else.  Fortunately, everything panned out in my favor, and I qualified for the quarter final.

In the quarter final, my opponents were two very experienced players - Mark B. and Martin H. - and one novice, young Niccolo S., who had played and won his very first game of SoC earlier that morning.  What ensued was the wildest game of SoC I had ever played in my life.  Martin ran out to an early commanding lead by building five settlements, the Largest Army, and the Longest Road to gain a quick nine points.  Mark and I each had five or six points, and Niccolo four.  Young Niccolo was in the best position to steal Longest Road from Martin and knock his lead down, so we took every opportunity to trade brick and wood to Niccolo.  Longest Road went back and forth a few times before Niccolo locked it down for good.  Mark and I had each worked our way up to seven points, so the game was even and the competition got fierce.

Actual die roll during PrezCon 2012
Settlers of Catan quarter final
Meanwhile, the game had run so long that we ran through the entire deck of development cards (something I'd never seen happen before).  All trading pretty much stopped as we all got up to eight points each.  The dice rolling got pretty crazy, too.  At one point we'd rolled a "seven" six times in seven consecutive throws.  The craziest die roll was when a die actually landed on its beveled corner and stayed there.  The last three dice rolls of the game were "12," "12," and "two."  And the winner was young Niccolo, who eked out a victory over the three of us veterans who had essentially held each other down from winning.

Crazy game.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trading styles in Settlers of Catan

Seth Brown posted a nice essay about trading strategies in Settlers of Catan on About.com.  His strategies are very much in line with my own, and his article makes a nice summary of considerations for resource trades.

Resource cards in Settlers of Catan.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
His post got me thinking about some different styles of trading I've seen when playing among friends or in tournaments.  For my part, perhaps the most basic approach to a trade is to ask for what you need and offer what you don't.  It seems almost trivial, really - I need wood, I've got an extra wheat, so I offer one wheat for one wood.  In a friendly game, that's about as much thought as it takes.  I've even seen people approach Settlers as a co-op game, although they don't explicitly think of it that way.  They don't mind being helpful, and they enjoy building until at some point someone says, "oh, look, I've got ten points, I guess I win.  That was fun!"

A friend of mine has a son, on the other hand, who has a killer instinct for the barter economy of Catan.  His sense for which resources are going to be in demand is uncanny, and he invariably knows when to press a hard bargain on a trade that anyone else would have accepted on the first offer.  Because he is such an effective trader, he typically wins, and the people around the table look at him and ask, "how do you do that?"

I played in one tournament at PrezCon against a fellow who was a shrewd trader.  I specifically remember one interchange where another player said, "I need brick."  Shrewd Trader said, "what can you offer me?"  Brick Guy said, "Do you want a sheep or a wheat?"  Shrewd Trader immediately answered, "Both."  Neither of the other two of us had brick to trade, and Brick Guy had essentially admitted (if not in so many words) that he needed neither the sheep nor the wheat and therefore could spare both.  So Shrewd Trader held out and got the best deal.  Needless to say, Shrewd Trader advanced to the quarterfinal.

But playing hardball can backfire.  In another tournament, one guy at my table said that in his gaming group, nobody would trade straight up, one card for one card.  The active player, the one whose turn it was and therefore who would be able to build, had to offer at least two-for-one just to get people to consider a trade.  He said trading was not at all common in his group, and he was astounded at how freely the other three of us at the table would trade among ourselves.  He ended up in last place at that game.

So perhaps the lesson here is that a barter economy is still an economy.  A market equalizes when supply balances demand, so if one player is a hold-out and demands, say, three wheat for a brick, anybody else who has a brick can make a better deal than that, and the "price" of brick goes down.

Different people have different ideas about when a boycott is appropriate.  One practice I've seen is a hard-and-fast policy never to trade with anyone who has eight or nine points.  I try to be more flexible than that, but not by much.  I'll trade with someone who has eight points if I'm confident that I'm not enabling a big move (based on the number of cards my opponent has and whether a two-point turn is within striking distance) and if it gives me a sure point - and even then, I'll give it very careful consideration.  Others never trade with the leader, regardless of how early in the game it is.  A few even refuse to trade with anyone who has more points than they do, which can really shut the market down if everybody takes that position.

Sometimes its very tricky to balance the need for a trade with the potential edge it gives an opponent.  In yet another tournament game, I had six points, behind a very good player who had the lead with seven.  He made me a respectable trade offer, and after some hesitation, I accepted, over the objections of the other two people at the table.  As I handed him the card, I said, "I have a feeling I'm making a deal with the seven-point devil."  He gave a little half-smile, and sure enough, he stayed just out of reach of the rest of us until he won the game.

The infamous Monopoly card.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Making an offer generally requires that you have to reveal something about what you have, but that can be risky when someone could have a "Monopoly" card.  Some people like to be cagey about the way they pose deals, like, "if you had brick to trade, what would you want for it?"  I've described before the "Monopoly give-back," in which you freely trade a lot of one resource away for everything you need, then play the "monopoly" card to get it all back.  As non-confrontational as Euro games are intended to be, there are opportunities to take an opponent down at the knees.

So trading style sometimes comes down to a function of strategy, but it is also an artifact of the personality of the players.  Since boardgames are at heart a social activity, and since trading is inherently interactive, it makes sense that trading styles will vary according to the individuals playing the game.  That quality of sensitivity to the individual playing style is, I think, part of the appeal of Settlers of Catan.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A weekend of gaming

On the occasion of our son's birthday, his good friend and his friend's mother Sue Cochran came to stay for the weekend.  The boys played computer and video games in the basement; we played boardgames in the dining room.

We started with Cities and Knights of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair), a favorite variant on Settlers of Catan.  Although Catan usually remains close a contest throughout the game, this time my wife Kathy pretty much ran away with it by exploiting a very profitable wheat port.  She left Sue and me in the dust and won handily.

Sue had played Agricola only twice before and wanted to try it again, so we played the family version (without occupations or minor improvements).  Sue outscored both of us on major improvements with the well, the pottery, and a cooking hearth, and Kathy got her farm running strong on grain and vegetable fields, but I was the only one to renovate to a stone house, which proved to be the difference in my very close win.

Sue next introduced us to Iron Dragon (designers Darwin P. Bromley and Tom Wham, another Mayfair title), which turned out to be the big game event of the weekend.  I read up on some of the reviews ahead of time, and a few comments were less than enthusiastic.  In the interest of simplifying the game somewhat and perhaps shortening the playing time, I convinced Sue to allow us to play without the event cards, which at least one reviewer described as randomly bad and not in general an improvement to overall gameplay.  She also agreed to make the "Rainbow Bridge" connection between Bluefeld and Octomare a permanent portal, which greatly simplified access between the new and old worlds in the north.  I can see that some fans of the game might think that we deprived the game of some of its challenge and flavor, but I think as an introductory session (in the context of wanting to play other games as well), the adjustments proved reasonable.

One reviewer expressed frustration at having to discard route cards frequently in order to find profitable assignments, but we didn't find that true in our session at all.  Admittedly, there were a number of times early in the game where it was necessary to spend more money building rail lines than would be collected in the final shipment, but I considered those costs to be an investment in infrastructure.  Many of the rail lines built early in the game turned out to be useful for multiple subsequent shipments, as well as the basis for a more extensive network later in the game.  Seldom did any of us discard route cards (if at all) in our session. 

In the end, I got to the point where I had enough surplus cash to extend my network to satisfy the victory condition of being connected to seven of the eight major cities.  After that, it was just necessary to complete several major shipments to reach a cash balance of 250 gold pieces to win the game.  All in all, I would say that it is a fun game, despite being a bit idiosyncratic in its design and execution.
Image courtesy of
Outset Media

We wrapped up with a game of Word Thief (publisher Outset Media), which my wife usually trounces me in.  I had a ridiculously good string of luck and managed to use all seven cards in three consecutive turns - a total of 60 bonus points.  I did win the game, but only by 27 points, which means that I needed two of those awesome turns just to keep my wife from crushing me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 2

After our game of Carcassone, I went to the vendor "Our Game Table" and bought a tile bag for Carcassone and box bands to replace broken ones at home. 

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
So, Saturday afternoon at Congress of Gamers found me sitting down to play Settlers of Catan (designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games) with Meredith M. and my good friend Grant G.  Settlers is an old favorite of mine.  Grant obtained Longest Road fairly early on, and he and Meredith seemed pretty evenly matched until she linked two road networks to steal Longest Road from him and jump to a commanding lead.  I was able to catch up to her, and we were tied at nine points when I had in my hand exactly the cards I needed to build my last settlement and win the game.  But fortune would not smile on me, because before I could take my turn, Meredith bought a development card and turned up the University of Catan for her tenth and winning point.  Argh!  Victory snatched from my grasp!

Sunday I brought my son with me to Congress of Gamers to meet his friend (whose mother Sue C. ran the Catchy Quips vendor at the convention) and play RoboRally (designed by Richard Garfield, published by Avalon Hill [Hasbro]).  Our session was a crazy one, with ten players on three connected boards.  The game master, Marc Houde, randomly changed one of the boards every three turns.  At one point, the second objective flag sat on a conveyor belt, a literal moving target.  It became clear that the game could go on forever, so after three hours with only a few of us having touched the first flag, Marc announced that the first player to touch the second flag would be the winner.  One player got to the flag but was carried to oblivion on the conveyor belt before he could declare victory.  Much later, my friend Keith F. was able to capture the second flag and win the game, four hours after we started.  There is a lesson hear about adding random complications to an existing game design.  The result can be an unintended convolution that makes a game unnecessarily long and potentially frustrating and draining.

Because RoboRally ran so long, I missed the Puerto Rico session and instead spent a little time and money at the Harmony House vendor picking up parts for a prototype of an interplanetary mining game idea I've been kicking around in earnest.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Finally came the game I'd been looking forward to most - Agricola.  Again, Virginia C. was at my table, along with a woman named Helen and the game master Eric Engelmann.  Our table was the only one to use drafting, whereby players keep some cards and pass the rest to other players before the start of the game so that each has the opportunity to assemble combinations of favorable cards and dispose of those least applicable to a strategy.  My big early move was bringing out the wet nurse so that every room I added to my house came with a baby.  I had a few other interesting occupations and improvements but still felt as though I was behind the group until some late moves to plow and sow, as well as to renovate my hut to clay and build fences near the very end.  I just missed second place to Helen by a point, but Virginia took a commanding win with a five-room stone house and 13 points in improvements.  With that, Virginia swept the EuroCaucus category for the entire convention.

After all that competition, I had a fun session of Castle Panic with my son and his friend.  CP is a fun cooperative game, and it was a nice light-hearted finish to a fun convention.  After that, we packed up and headed home, content to have played a solid weekend of games in good company. 

And fun in the company of good friends and new acquaintances, after all, is what playing games is really all about.