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Now we can hurl fireballs at each other!

From: Mark L.
Sent on: Wednesday, July 18, 2007 5:03 PM
... if we all get xBox 360s, that is.

In the event we are finally pushed out of all the Cosi's in the world, or become housebound, or all move to different cities -- it is good to know there is still a way we will all be able to play our favorite game together -- on xBox Live Arcade. Here's a review of the xBox version, written by a non-Cataner, unfortunately, but still interesting -- could we have one of the best Catan players in the World amongst our number? Now there's a way to find out! cheers then, Mark


When Microsoft announced plans at last August?s Games Convention, held in Leipzig, Germany, to bring a trio of German board games to Xbox Live Arcade, it caught the attention of a number of tabletop-game fans. After all, the prospect of being able to continue competing in ?Alhambra,? ?Carcassonne? and ?Settlers of Catan? with their family and friends?though without having to be in the same room, state or country?surely carried some great potential.

Before we get going in discussing how Catan did in its move to XBLA, I?ll confess that I never played it in any form before this. However, I did get some insight from a more experienced Settlers of Catan board-game player (would he be a Cataner? A Catanoid? A Catanite?), which should help my assessment somewhat.

For those who?ve never played Catan before, you?ll be happy to know that the developers?Big Huge Games, best known for the Rise of Nations PC game?have included a Learn As You Play mode that pops up helpful windows to explain the action while you compete against AI opponents.

Again, one of the best reasons for buying a game like Catan on XBLA?which comes with a cost of 800 Microsoft Points or about $10?is that you don?t have to know the rules and procedures that well. When you want to build a road or structure, for instance, the game interface shows you all of the places on the board where you can move and whether they?re legal or not. It?s especially helpful when you?re new to it, but still a benefit for anyone, as it eliminates the housekeeping (or ?game master?) headaches and lets the participants just concentrate on playing.

Also, it offers three levels of AI difficulty?Easy, Moderate and Hard?so as you learn the game, you?ll have solid competition. The more-experienced player I talked with tried a game at Moderate, and found the opposition to be pretty strong.
While not a big part of Catan, the music that comes with the game has a nice, new-age flavor. It?s unobtrusive and a somewhat calm background.

My experienced advisor indicated that, when he first started playing, he had a hard time getting acclimated to the trading interface. Interestingly enough, going through the Learn As You Play mode made it easy for me to understand, but for the player used to the board game, it isn?t as simple. That seems to be one aspect where someone who?s played Settlers of Catan on a board might need to mess with that a bit?though it only took a few trades and trade offers for my advisor to settle in to how the XBLA version handled things.

Among the additions where the XBLA version builds on the board-game experience is through the use of the controller triggers and bumpers. These enable you to quickly see the board, if you?re on a subscreen (by pulling the right trigger); seeing the resource ?cost? of items (by pulling the left trigger); or tracking the current status of the game (by pushing on the left bumper). Also, when a game is over, you can use combinations of these buttons to see postgame stats and such.

There?s also a cute addition in the form of ?emotes.? During a game, pushing down the right bumper brings up a list of emotes that enable you to express your situation in a few ways. If another player just blocked you off on the board, you can throw a fireball at their gamer picture to show your disdain; or similarly throw a stream of hearts to someone who maybe helped you or blocked one of your opponents.
Finally, you can play a single-player contest or take the game online for a multiplayer match. Much like other Xbox Live-compatible titles, you have the option for a standard match or one that?s ranked, and leaderboards track the won-lost records, so you can see how you compare to the world.

By the way, if you?re looking to build up your achievements, here?s a list of what Catan offers, with only the last few requiring a long commitment to playing. I have a feeling that veteran Settlers of Catan players won?t have any problem meeting those milestones:

Settler of Catan?Build a settlement in any game of Catan. (10 points)

Scholar of Catan?Win a Single-Player game against three AI opponents set to Moderate. (10 points)

Village of Catan?Collect 25 Victory Points as you play Catan; points are tracked as across games. (10 points)

Ambassador of Catan?Invite anyone into a game of Catan. (10 points)

Builder of Catan?End any game of Catan in possession of the Largest Road card 10 times. (20 points)

Knight of Catan?End any game of Catan in possession of the Largest Army card 10 times. (20 points)

Merchant of Catan?Acquire 100 resource cards in trade in any game of Catan. (20 points)

Professor of Catan?Win a Single-Player game against three AI opponents set to Hard. (20 points)

Citizen of Catan?Collect 100 Victory Points as you play Catan; points are tracked as across games. (20 points)

Elder of Catan?Collect 250 Victory Points as you play Catan; points are tracked as across games. (20 points)

Statesman of Catan? Collect 500 Victory Points in ranked match play. (20 points)

Chancellor of Catan?Collect 1000 Victory Points in ranked match play. (20 points)


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