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Review: Catan - The First Island is The Best Island

June 17, 2010

The Overview

Not the Dharma Initiative. Not Dr. Moreau. Not nobody. No one has ever created an island anything like Catan: the First Island. Catan was first introduced as a board game in 1995. It introduced the world to the Euro-style of gaming and made Klaus Teuber, the creator, a household name. Multiple expansions have come out and it has been ported to many platforms. The iPhone version only includes the original game which is why it is subtitled "The First Island." Rumors abound that the iPad version will be out sometime in June and the Seafarers of Catan expansion will be available as downloadable content by the end of July. The game has infinite variety and replayability. With all the house variants available, and random tile layout, and the multitude of AI and human opponents to play against; each game - I hate to sound like a cliché...but here I go - each game is a completely different experience.

The Features

Catan can be played with up to 4 players in any combination of human or computer controlled characters. There are 8 AI personalities based on the Xbox Live version derived from tactics Teuber, himself, developed. He has even claimed that the harder AIs have beaten him more than a few times. Though the goal of the game is to acquire the requisite number of victory points (10 by default but can be changed in the initial game settings), there are multiple ways to gain victory points. Strategies for gaining these points abound: Will you build multiple settlements? Create the longest road? Build churches and markets with Development Cards?

The Breakdown

The Good Not only can you play with the standard rules, but every house variant I have ever run across is included. You can use the "Stack" method to make dice rolls less random, make the Robber "more friendly" by not letting it penalize players off to a bad start, etc. Catan has a good range of AIs: from Mary-Ann, who is almost a complete pushover; to the nicely balanced Jean; to Hilary and William who can steam roll a casual player (is that a Clinton joke with the names?). Did I mention that this was a faithful port of the original game? If you have ever played any other version of Catan, you know that although Kolonists for iPhone is a decent game, it had enough differences that playing it just didn't feel....right. The Bad Playing with multiple human players can only be done through hot seat. Internet play has been promised since the game first came out 8 months ago and the fact that it is not here - yet - has been one of the biggest complaints in the forums and on comments in the App Store. Exiting the game does not automatically save it...or at least it does not save it every time. Add to this the fact that it takes multiple steps to save the game and it can only be done on your turn and ten minutes of game time can easily be lost. This is not acceptable on a portable gaming device. A simple settings bug: AI characters often still make their annoying comments even after having that option turned off (and you will want it turned off - along with the in-game music - both can make you go insane - good thing you can play your iTunes music in the background). Personally, I would like a simple "Are You Sure?" confirmation button after pushing the Pass the Dice button. I have lost too many turns (and possibly even games) from accidentally hitting that thing! There are also a lot a of complaints from users that it eats battery life. I did not experience this - but then I pretty much played it while connected to a power source.

The Verdict

Why isn't Catan a "Must Buy?" Actually, it really should be if you are a strategy and/or board game fan. It is mostly just some minor interface annoyances and other issues that, if fixed, would make the whole game smoother. Plus the show stopper of not being able to play with other humans through a network causes it to fall short perfection. Is it worth the money, though? Absolutely! Settlers of Catan, the board game, retails for $35. For 1/7 that price, you get the full experience and you don't even have to hunt down other people to play with. Yet there are tons of complaints that this is ONLY the basic game. The point IS the basic game! You lose nothing in its translation from box game to iPhone! I am still jumping up and down that I can now play one of the greatest games ever anytime I want for only $5!

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