Catan (Xbox Live Arcade) Review
Posted by Damian Sarcuni on 05.04.2007
The age of colonialism is back. Mary! Bring forth the spiney nettles! We have much barn raisin’ to do!
There’s a certain type of person out there, and perhaps you are this type of person. The kind of person who feels they were born in the wrong time period. The type of person, I mean, who longs for an age where life seemed so much more epic, revolving around human conflict and classic romantic takes on history. I’m talking about a person who reads through a global history book and when they get to the part about colonialism and spheres of influence they say to themselves “Wow, what a great idea!”
Catan is a game for this type of person. Based on the popular board game Settlers of Catan, this new Xbox live arcade release is a strategic epic in the style of Risk. The object here is to colonize the fictional island of Catan, creating the largest and most successful colony before your opponents can. There are several ways to build up settlements in Catan, but each of these is still rooted in the classic board game “wait your turn and roll the dice” system.
Known for its addictive and thorough gameplay style, the Catan series of games has been a hit both online and on the tabletop. The Xbox live version of the game bills itself as requiring only a few minutes to learn yet a lifetime to master. Considering the obvious depth of the game, that’s indeed a strong claim, but one the game package itself can only partially live up to. Catan is not without its learning curve, though the Xbox live version does handle most rule questions and challenges in a context sensitive manner. While not quite as complex or lengthy as a game of Risk, Catan does take a good amount of time to play.
Gameplay comes in several phases, mostly involving the collection of resources. With each roll of the dice, players obtain resources and use these to build more settlements. Those settlements earn players more resources depending on each dice roll, and this system continues throughout the game. Players can also use their resources to build up their roads and armies, which will earn them bonus points towards their ultimate colonization goal. Supplementing this is the trade system, a constant throughout the game. Trading resources with other players is a vital key to victory, and fortunately the trade system is not overly complex or difficult to learn.
The graphics on the game are surprisingly good for a board game, particularly when using the “living world” skin. Dice and mini-soldiers animate with realism even on the small screen. The game board is colorful and rotates in full 3D, complete with zoom function. Though the action is difficult to follow for newer players, Catan sorts things out nicely and after a few quick plays it does become easier to follow along.
The music is repetitive but soothing, and overall gameplay is relaxing. I cannot say that Catan is quite as addictive as advertised, but it is a nice casual change of pace even from other strategy games. While playing against computer opponents can be quite a pain (they always seem to roll a 7 right when they need it the most) and waiting for your turn can be an arduous task at times, Catan is easily one of the most relaxing ways to waste an hour that I can think of.
While Catan is not quite as simple and not quite as addictive as advertised, it’s a great change of pace from more frantic games even in the strategy genre. It only takes a few tries to fully understand the specifics behind the game, and the reward is a lengthy and relaxing game that you’ll find yourself going back to for an occasional break from the day to day online experience.