Tag Archives: Catan

The New Year – Nurnberg 2012’s Big Games

Another month, another big games show in Germany! This time around it’s the Nurnberg Spielwarenmesse – International Toy Fair for us non-natives – a trade show that is less about getting in there and buying stuff and more focused on things that will be out over the next few months. It has a bit more of a presence for games than something like the London Toy Fair (although that is definitely improving – this year’s event was infinitely better than 2011 for boardgamers) which can be simply put down to the cultural difference; German people play more than British families. Thanks to that, it’s a good place to discover some of the new Euro hotness that will be hitting our tables in early 2012.

I’m not there (sad face – too busy working on Secret Projects which are soon to be revealed) but I’ve been keeping an eye out on some of the titles that have captured my interest. Here’s a few highlights that we’ll hopefully be covering here on The Little Metal Dog Show in the near future.

Wurfel Bohnanza

One of my not-so-guilty little pleasures is the rather splendid little card game Bohnanza, an explosion of trading beans and making cash money. It’s a gloriously simple little affair, plays quickly and works whether you’re new to the hobby or an old hand. It’s all about making deals, though if you can’t do that, you’re allowed to force your crap on other players. AMIGO  Spiel are releasing a dice version this year – in fact, it may well be out in the stores already – where players are given certain sets to collect. Some are easy and worth a little, other more valuable ones are trickier to get – and other players are allowed to steal dice you’ve rolled. It could well be a great little addition to the franchise.

Kaispeicher

An expansion to Stefan Feld’s The Spiecherstadt, this adds a wealth of new elements to an already excellent game. By adding new buildings, ships, actions and orders, Feld has increased the opportunities for players to gain advantages while making life tricky for their opponents. Auctions aplenty and loads of chances to screw over your fellow gamers? What more can you ask for?

String Railway

After what seems like ages, String Railway is finally getting a reprint! This Japanese game is now seeing a wider release thanks to FoxMind, though I reckon they’ve missed a trick by changing from the original packaging… A simple game of connecting stations using different lengths of coloured string, it’s a matter of just getting more victory points than the other players. It’s an interesting concept, ridiculously quick to play and well worth trying to get your hands on a copy. Good call by FoxMind to get it out there again.

Carcassonne Minis

There’s going to be a total of six new mini expansions for everyone’s favourite tile laying, castle building, meeple placing gateway game released at Nurnberg under the catch-all title of Carcassonne Minis. They’re cheap (3 Euro a go) and range from interesting to just plain odd. The full list is as follows:

The Messages: a second meeple on the scoring track potentially allows players to get bonus points.

The Ferries: adds new rules for roads by bringing in little boats!

The Flier: allows for movement of a meeple to a new area at the risk of losing it on the throw of a dice

The Goldmines: more bonus points are available by collecting gold bars placed on tiles

The Robber: scupper your opponents’ progress by having a Robber meeple steal their points

Mage and Witch: Add a point per tile with the Mage, halve the points of a feature with the Witch

Every time a new expansion comes out for Carcassonne there’s always cries that the game has jumped the shark… what’ll happen when these six hit the stores?! Personally, I really want to get my hands on Mage and Witch and The Robber – both look like they could add some interesting elements to the game. English language versions will be made available through Rio Grande in March or April of this year, but as the game’s pretty much language independent anyone could use these.

Star Trek Catan

The ultimate expression of nerdiness, surely? Yes, it’s just a rebrand of the regular Settlers of Catan, but it’s all Star Trekked up! Based in The Original Series universe, there’s all new resources to collect (including Dilithium, of course), building space stations around planets and a Klingon vessel swooping in on the roll of a seven – excellent! There’s also a new element introduced in that players are given characters at the start of the game granting them special abilities during their turn. While some folks are complaining about the Monopoly-isation of the Catan brand, I reckon this one’s a fun addition to the series.

LEGO: Star Wars: Battle of Hoth

On the other side of the geek spectrum, this is one I’ve actually managed to try out – there’ll be a full review to come soon. LEGO have made a great effort in recent months to get into games, most notably with the rather ace Heroica game system. Battle for Hoth is another one from their game range that has a slightly more mature vibe about it despite having the cutest AT-ATs in the history of mankind as playing pieces. It’s a very light two player strategy game that could easily act as a way in for younger players to something a little more hardcore, requiring a bit of forward planning and a willingness to take the odd risk. A very nice use of the Star Wars franchise that will hopefully spur LEGO to keep on trying something different with their games.

Wallenstein

The big reprint so far for 2012 has got to be Wallenstein, Dirk Henn’s much loved game of area control during the Thirty Years War. The fantastic combat system using a dice tower and incredibly balanced gameplay has had gamers clamouring for a new version for years, and now Queen Games has stepped up and produced something a little bit special. This remake also includes two expansions that allow for special actions and bonuses that can be claimed through the game, adding yet more to the Wallenstein experience. It’s a tightrope of a game where you need to work to increase your power while ensuring that your people are well cared for. Ignore the peasants and you could well have a revolt on your hands…

There’s plenty of other games available (as well as those still to be announced) as the event continues over the next few days up the 6th of February. After that… well, it’s the New York Toy Fair from February 12th to 15th. Who knows what we’ll see there?

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Tales from the Fireside – Rival Turf

Settle down, settle down (do you see what I did there?) – Campfire has a Rival for his (and your) attention.

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In my nascent board gaming days I played gateway games on Xbox Live. This was new turf and there were a lot of games out there, some looking surly, some flipping coins in a menacing manner and I had to affiliate myself with one of them if I was going to survive gaming’s mean streets.

I played Ticket to Ride. It was okay! I thought it wouldn’t be because, you know, trains, but I was happy to be wrong. I played Carcassonne. That was even better! I joined its gang in an initiation rite that involved a song and dance number and a meeple tattoo in an intimate area, and for a while we had fun.

Then I played The Settlers of Catan, and it’s here things became difficult. Settlers is all about human interaction, about trading resources with other players, saying you have wood for sheep and then tittering when you realise how rude it sounds but I was playing it against artificially intelligent adversaries and not a one of them of whom understood knob gags.

I didn’t enjoy it, and they ended up hounding me from the game yelling “GET THE HUMANOID” as they did so.

I’d wanted to like it, this godfather of modern gaming, because without it all of this would be fields and sheep and stones and desert. But I couldn’t because it was dry, like desert sand. I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. But I was willing to reconsider it. In 2009 Wired called Settlers ‘The Monopoly killer!’ and if anything would make me change my mind about a game it’s the possibility that, with enough encouragement it might one day stab Monopoly in its stupid, ugly face. So I picked up a copy of Rivals for CatanSettlers’ younger, pocket-sized, two-player iteration: the Jedward of the franchise, if you prefer — and hoping to Vasel it wouldn’t be dull I got wood for sheep and got stuck in.

Rivals for Catan isn’t a dry game: it’s a game of tears, of blood and of sweat. It’s a game of cruel winters and even crueler dice throws, and then, just as you’re about to cut up Uncle Morris for food to survive the snows, it’s a game about winter festivals, lights in the darkness and community in the face of certain starvation.

 Most of all, it’s a game about trading. You begin with two settlements connected by a road, end with a 17th century Milton Keynes, and develop the former into the latter by trading resources found in the surrounding countryside. At the start of each turn you roll two dice, one of which is the event die (more on that later) while the other determines which of these regions provides you with gold, wool, stone and all the other resources familiar from Settlers. Ingeniously the resources stored in each region are indicated by symbols around the card’s edge; you keep the edge with the correct number of symbols turned toward you, and when you acquire more or trade them away, you turn the card 90 degrees to indicate the new amount. In practise it’s rather like tapping cards in Magic: The Gathering only as you keep tilting the cards this way and that it’s more like tapping – TO THE EXTREME!

You can store a maximum of three resources per region but can trade three of the same kind of resource for one of any of the others in your principality. This comes in even handier after you build trade ships, which let you swap two for one of certain resources.

Turning cards to trade resources has a rather lovely feel to it, like playing combos in Dominion or cranking the gizmo in Mouse Trap. It’s also useful for bamboozling your opponent, fooling them into thinking you’re about to buy an expensive city card with the stone and wheat you’ve saved when really you’re going to play a gold ship and swing the trade advantage in your favour.

 What? You don’t know what any of these things are yet? Oh, well, I suppose I’d better tell you.

 You see, though you only start with a couple of settlements in due course you build new roads, new settlements, new expansions and new cities. Each player begins with a hand of three cards that can action cards, buildings or units to can build and populate your settlements with. Actions are played and discarded, while buildings and units are paid for with resources and placed either above or below your settlements. Settlements can be upgraded by buying city cards, and both cities and settlements are connected by roads. Every time you place a settlement you draw two new region cards which show you which resources can be harvested from the newly discovered countryside.

The buildings and units you place each provide a different advantage, whether it’s a lumber camp doubling the production of neighbouring forests or Harald, a beardy man who hits people with his hammer. Hammering Harald, Candamir the Axe-Happy and all their equally psychotic chums are a useful lot to have on your side, for reasons I’ll explain later.

Now, let’s go back to the event die. It’s another six-sider: two sides tell you to draw an event card, while the remaining four each trigger different events. Based on the event die you might get extra resources, have your opponent steal a resource from you, or be subjected to an attack from a wicked brigand party that steals all your gold and wool, so they might, I don’t know, make pullovers and bling, so they keep warm while looking well expensive in the winter, innit.

Some cards have special points on them, and how the event cards and die affect you depends on which of these you have in your principality; for example, if you have the most skill points in the game and event die rolls a Celebration event, congratulations, you get a resource of your choice while your opponent gets nothing. If you have three or more strength or trade points in your principality and your opponent doesn’t, you get to pop a lovely wooden token on one of your settlements, which gives you an extra victory point at the end of the game.

Now I know some of you hate victory points whatever ridiculous reasons. While you are playing for victory points in Rivals, you’re not playing for many of them. The basic game ends when one player accumulates seven points and considering you start with a point per settlement, you only have to grub five more together to win. You’ll do this by increasing your trade and strength advantages and by expanding your principality, building roads, settlements, and cities, and other buildings, depending on which of the scenarious you’re playing.

Though I’ve been talking about the introductory scenario Rivals comes with extra other sets of cards, each of which adds a new slant on the basic gameplay. If you’d rather hoard gold in caches, mint coins and fend off pirates ‘The Era of Gold’ is the scenario for you. If you’d rather play an aggressive game competing for strength and worrying about riots then ‘The Era of Turmoil’ is right up your street.

Rivals’ tiny box contains a lot of bang for your buck. The cards are a little flimsy but they’re beautifully illustrated to show your settlers going about their everyday lives. The dice are chunky, the manual is clear — alarming so; it reads like a playschool teacher guiding you through gluing together your first macaroni collage — and the wooden strength and trade advantage tokens are so lovely you’ll be fighting over them before you even start playing.

In any game, it’s the ingenuity that wins me over. At first I thought Rivals was just as dry as I’d feared; too often turns would pass by in which I was incapable of making any move bar rolling the dice. I’d wait for resources I needed to turn up and it was as if, uninspired by my lack of gaming skill, my little workers had given up mid-construction.

I was, of course, doing it wrong.

You don’t wait around in Rivals for Catan because while you’re slacking off your opponent is not. Dreamy, meandering excursions into the countryside are all well and good for Jane Austen books but Rivals is about building cities and hoping you’ll survive — and no city was ever built by picking daisies. It’ll take a while to get the hang of this. You’ll run out of room to build more expansions and forget to build roads and settlements beyond. You’ll get caught up on hoarding resources — like I did — only to lose them all in a bandit attack, and by saving resources for one specific purchase you’ll commit the cardinal sin and neglect to trade.

I traded The Settlers of Catan for Rivals and I’m glad I did. It might only be for two players but for the money you won’t find a a better hoarding, trading, building, Monopoly-killing experience.

Just don’t tell your friends you have wood for sheep. I don’t think they’d appreciate it.

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Contact Campfire Burning – as always – via email: campfire@littlemetaldog.com. And don’t forget to check out his splendid blog which can be found at http://campfireburning.wordpress.com/

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Catan You Dig It? – The Struggle for Catan review

The Settlers of Catan is one of those games that even the most casual of gamers recognise. As one of the legendary titles that has earned the badge of Gateway Game, you can find it not just in Friendly Local Game Stores but also amongst the shelves at bookstores and the aisles of supermarkets (well, if you’re in the USA). The first time I saw a copy of it in Target? Blew me away. I even grabbed a copy and ran up to my wife to show her and make sure it was real, to prove that I wasn’t dreaming. Of course, she dismissed me with a derisory look because – as we all know – the streets of America are paved with copies of Trails to Rails and they’re used to that kind of thing.

Catan, along with Carcassonne, is a massive franchise. Originally released back in 1995, Klaus Teuber’s Settlers is currently on its Fourth Edition, not counting the ever-increasing spinoffs that keep the players interested and the money rolling in. There’s been dice games, console versions, artisan made tables, limited editions involving chocolate (and a beautiful Japanese set that I crave involving Megaman)… Catan sells. Thankfully, the games that contribute to this juggernaut are generally pretty good, including the recently released Struggle for Catan.

If you have any familiarity at all with the original game, you’ll be 90% of the way to understanding Struggle. A turn is very simple – trade resources, build something if you can, draw more resources… and that’s it. By collecting sets of resources and trading them in you collect roads, knights and settlements to get points. Settlements can be upgraded into cities (and enhanced yet further) to score even more and the first player to ten points wins. See? Exactly like Settlers, the difference being that there’s no board, no pieces, no tokens… nothing. Just the cards. So many cards!

No 'Wood for Sheep' jokes, please.

The resources deck you’ll know already – the usual combination of Wheat, Brick, Ore, Sheep and Wood. A player’s turn starts with trading to get the resources you’re after, normally from the five cards that are available to all called the Market. You may also draw a card at random from another player, giving them back a card of your choice from your hand. The final option is to trade with the draw stack, throwing a card on the discard pile and replacing it with the top one. Where you can trade is actually down to you owning at least one Road card – if you don’t have any, you’re limited to only trading with the stack.

Roads and Knights cards come and go - but you WILL need them.

The double-sided Road cards and Knight cards – one side showing a point icon (marked ‘A’), the other showing a benefit (marked ‘B’) – are the cheapest buys in the game. When you pick these up, they’re to be laid in separate piles on top of each other in an ABAB fashion – having four Roads will give you two points and allow you to trade two cards, for example. Knights work in the same fashion except they allow the drawing of an extra resource card should the correct side be facing up. There is a limited supply of both these cards, but if it runs out, fear not – you can still buy them! You just take them from an opponent, as decreed by the Destiny Card. This simply sits in middle of the players showing whether you take from the player to your left or your right (of course, in a two-player game it’s not used as that would be pointless). Some purchases give instructions for the Destiny Card to be flipped so your Roads and Knights are never 100% safe. Cities and settlements, however, are yours the moment they hit the table in front of you.

Settlements grow into Cities, Cities can then be expanded.

When a Settlement is bought, it scores you another point. Upgrading it to a city (by paying the resources and flipping the card over) gives you an extra point and also has an immediate effect on the game. The cards are shuffled at the start of play to randomize them and when turned over reveal either a Market Day (where all five currently available resources are discarded and replaced with five new ones) or a Brigand Attack (meaning that anyone with more than seven resource cards must discard down to that number immediately). Cities can then also be extended, a further upgrade that can be expensive but definitely worth doing, granting not only extra points but also a permanent boon for you. Roads or Knights can be protected, resources can be used as wild cards, that kind of thing. Getting a City Extension quickly is often the key to a swift victory.

And here's what they can eventually become!

And swift it will be. Even with a maximum four players you can finish a game in around 30 minutes. The rules are so streamlined that even novice players will grasp them quickly, yet Struggle for Catan isn’t a game to dismiss lightly. Sure, it’s not the deepest game in the world but it never claims to be. Even the German subtitle, Das schnelle Kartenspiel, means Quick Card Game. It’s an enjoyable diversion that will appeal to many, just enough to scratch the Catan itch, particularly if you don’t have the time or the people to spare for a full game of Settlers. Some may accuse it of being yet another multiplayer solitaire game and admittedly it can be played that way but then you’re not really embracing the spirit of Struggle. It should be played in the manner of a group of people all fighting to climb to the top of a greasy pole, knocking down your opponents as much as you can in order to get ahead. Steal from your peers as often as possible, beat your foes into the ground and do whatever you can to win – struggling to victory in the nicest possible way.

The Struggle for Catan was first published in 2011 by Mayfair Games. Designed by the father of the Catan series, Klaus Teuber, you should be able to find a copy of it for between £12-15. Don’t let the fact that you can play it in 30-40 minutes distract you from the fact that this is actually a rather strategic little game. If you’re looking to get your Catan fix, you’d be well advised to try this one out. Don’t forget to check out the official Catan site for more details on the game. Oh, and if anyone has a spare copy of that Rockman /Megaman edition floating about that needs a new home, do get in touch…

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News and Stuff: August 13, 2010

Back in the swing of things again! It’s Friday, so that means it’s news time. Now, admittedly, having been on a break for a couple of weeks means that there’s been a lot going on. I’ll do a quick runthrough of some of the big/interesting new releases in a bit, but there’s something a little more important I’d like to cover first…

I’d like to pick up on is a campaign started by a guy called Kevin Schlabach. As well as being responsible for the Seize Your Turn blog (and companion twitter feed) which picks up on some on the best news and reviews in gaming (as well as some of the stuff I write), Kevin has started PiP: Play in Public. While it’s ostensibly aimed at American players, the concept is certainly something that could and should be done here in the UK as well – or indeed anywhere you’re reading this. The idea is simple: we love to play games, but it seems that we’re kind of hiding under the bed. If you mention board gaming to most people, they get the image of kids fighting over Buckaroo, poorly run Christmas Day sessions of Monopoly or forced games of Trivial Pursuit after dinner parties. As gamers, we know that there is so much more, so why not try and promote our hobby? For more specific details on Kevin’s campaign, have a look here and pledge your support!

GenCon has just wrapped up, taking place last weekend (just as I was flying back from the US – brilliant! Next year I’ll time it better an hopefully actually attend). The self-proclaimed “Best Four Days of Gaming” took over the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, playing host to 30,000 gaming fans as well as comic artists, TV stars and – of course – some of the most important people in the industry. Originally founded back in 1967 by D&D creator Gary Gygax, it’s grown into the world’s biggest English language gaming convention. There are plenty of write-ups from various attendees on BoardGameGeek, but highlights included Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (which apparently was everywhere – review coming up on LMD soon!) and the general public getting their first proper look at Dominion: Prosperity. This has – of course – lead to the usual arguments over Dominion being little more than a CCG in big box form, but let’s gloss over them… It’s made me think though about the lack of conventions here though – aside from the UK Games Expo, what else do we have? If you’ve got any local gaming events going on near you, let me know – email littlemetaldog@gmail.com and I’ll put them up on here!

Now, a quick wrap-up on new releases. As is the way for this time of year, the various games companies are beginning to get ready for the holiday season (yes, I know it’s August, but we must be prepared). There’s a fair few decent looking titles making their way to stores over the next few weeks – stuff that interests me includes the previously mentioned Ascension (designed by some of MtG’s greatest players, no less!) and Petroglyph’s Graxia games (Heroes and Guardians). There’s also the retro Voltron game coming out from Privateer Press which I was lucky enough to have a quick go with at Comic Con (as well as a load of new Monsterpocalypse stuff) – if you’re into huge monsters kicking seven shades out of each other, you’re in for a treat! For the more sedate amongst you, the latest in the Catan Histories series is now available: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails is set in the USA of the 1800s and sees you attempt to distribute resources across the whole country. Having not tried one of the Histories games, I’m intrigued to see how differently they actually play – initial reports are good, though. Finally, Asmodee have got the ‘enhanced’ standalone version of the classic party game Werewolf – The Village has a bunch of new roles as well as a curious mechanic involving buildings. Is it taking the simplicity of the original too far? We shall see soon enough…

And that’s your lot! Keep an eye out for the next episode of the podcast – episode 7 is still being finalised, but should be available next week. I’m very excited about the guests coming up over the next few episodes – a lot of the people suggested by you guys for the LMD5000 competition are up for coming on the show, including a few people from the world of podcasting. I shall say no more until the show is all edited together! Have a great weekend and get playing!

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News & Stuff – 25th June 2010

If it’s Friday, it must be Little Metal Dog News Time!

This week sees the return of one of America’s biggest gaming expos – The 35th Origins event takes place in Columbus, Ohio and has got a huge amount of stuff happening. Aside from first views of many new games and representation by most of the big gaming companies, the occasional curiosity springs up. For example, Microsoft have announce that their new computer interface – Surface – will be there, running a fully working version of the classic Settlers of Catan. Here’s a video if you fancy a look.

I love how the whole thing looks and runs. I think the best part is how they cope with the whole keeping your cards secret aspect – such a simple way to deal with it: you just push a button to flip them! While this isn’t the finished version, it certainly impressed me. So much so, I want one, right now. The gaming possibilities are endless! Vectorform (who are responsible for the conversion) are doing a great job. I’ll be doing a full report on Origins after the event has finished, so keep an eye out on the blog for updates.

It’s a time for reprints, it seems. Days of Wonder have announced that their originally Scandinavian-only version of Ticket to RideNordic Countries – is to be rereleased so the rest of the world can have a go. When it originally came outin 2008, more hardcore TtR fans did manage to get their hands on the limited English copies (it was also printed in limited stocks in French and German) but ended up paying something of a premium. Specifically designed for 2-3 players, it will now be available in more sensible numbers from September. Fantasy Flight have also announced a reversion of the Reiner Knizia co-op Lord Of The Rings, this time seeing it added to their Silver Line. The new box will be smaller but will still be exactly the same game, even retaining the artwork – the drawback though is that it will not be compatible with previously released expansions… another way for FFG to wring a few more dollars out of the cash cow, it seems!

(Also, after last week’s story about the Ticket To Ride World Championships, a winner has been crowned! Click here for the full story, and well done to all involved.)

Finally, the new Spielbox has hit the shelves, the third one since they started to publish the magazine in English as well as German. One of the guys I play with at my games club has his hands on it already and has posted about it here on his blog, but the thing that really caught my interest was the announcement of a Dominion competition. Rather than something simple such as designing a brand new card of two (I’m sure Donald X Vaccarino still has plenty in his mind!) entrants are required to submit a set of rules for a campaign version of the game. Curiously they’re not bound just to using the cards – dice, counters, meeples or whatever you can lay your hands on can be used. Results from previous rounds must also have an effect on forthcoming ones, which could make for some very interesting ideas…

In show news, Episode 5 is nearly ready to roll. There’s nearly 3300 subscribers now, which (to me) is reaching scary levels. To celebrate this massive amount, I’ll be running a little competition when the new show is officially out. Not sure what to give away yet, but it’ll certainly be game related!  Cheers for all your emails and messages, they’re all appreciated. Also, if you’re waiting for the new episode but want to listen to something good in the meantime, please check out the wonderful Robert Ashley’s A Life Well Wasted – while it concentrates on video game culture, it is so beautifully constructed and well researched, it always sounds great. One of those podcasts that you can listen to even if you’re not entirely into the subject matter.

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