Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Video Gamer's Review of Settlers of Catan

The latest entry in civ building games, Mayfair Games tries to cash in on the multiplayer gaming experience with the release of its latest title, Settlers of Catan (no relation to Southpeak's classic Settlers series).

Settlers has major compatibility issues with most gaming systems. I couldn't get it to load on my PC, and the game was clearly not designed for the PSP 2 Pro, XBox 360, or any version of a Gamecube. That was enough to make me want to drop the game like a hot potato. Come on Mayfair, get with the picture. Luckily, my friend Steve said that he was able to play it on something by Tabletop systems. I never heard of them, but they're must be some new game system developer. This review describes my reactions to Steve's descriptions.

First off, the game setup is apparently several generations behind the times. The game doesn't come with any builtin mods or demo versions. Every time you play you have to set up the landscape manually. What a chore! Each game has variable terrain configuration, but only six terrain types are included in the main game, and strict world map and terrain-type balancing rules limit the available number and distribution of landscapes you can make available.

Each player gets 24 units to start with. Believe it or not, there is no variation allowed here at all. Each player gets 4 city units, 5 town units, and 15 road units. No choices are allowed, which severely limits the available tactical and strategic options that players can bring to the game. Furthermore, these units have no battle capability, armor stats, movement descriptions, cover info, concealment info, range stats, morale counts, and so on. The lack of all these vital statistics already told me that the game was a throwback to the stone age of Doom and Quake, possibly even earlier.

The graphics engine is apparently pathetic, with a distinct 2D quality to the game, although this changes slightly once units are in place. Locations on the playing grid are limited to a clunky set of discrete hexagonal points at terrain intersections. Each player starts off with two town and two road units on these intersections. These units, and all subsequent units placed, can't even move. Once placed, they simply stay on the board indicating controlled areas.

Again, due to lack of processing capabilities, resource production for each click is controlled manually via some spinning randomizers. A random number is generated and then you manually have to drag the resources to your stockpile. Clicks are infernally slow, and you can go several clicks without making any progress while watching your opponent's territory expand. There is a detailed trading mechanism in place (also manual!) to help offset this.

When a seven occurs in the randomizer, famine destroys half the resources of some of the players. But not all players - only those who have actually performed well! This kind of random destruction is solely meant to punish those who play with any sort of tactical skill, which turns the game into a crapshoot. If you're punished for planning well and producing, why plan or produce at all?

A seven also introduces one of the two force conflicts in the game. In this case, the player whose turn it is simply directs a neutral attacking force ("the robber") against one of the other players. Victory for the robber is automatic and the attacked player loses one further resource. The other conflict situation involves some sort of soldier buildup, but when I heard that they, too, have no real combat role other than to send out the robber, I lost interest.

The game play is agonizingly slow; a game might get through twenty clicks in half an hour. Combined with no unit advancement, no real combat capabilities, and severely limited tactical possibilities, I can't see this game achieving any sort of success in the gaming world, not when it has to go up against far superior titles like Civilization 4 and Caesar 3.

Bottom line: hard core gamers should avoid if at all possible.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A real videogame style review would talk more about the graphics and story and less about the gameplay.

The reviewer would probably just mention "this is a simple turnbased strategy game with low learning curve."