Saturday, October 25, 2008

4th Edition Settler of Catan is a Big Step Backwards

The bar-mitzvah of some friends' youngest son gave me an opportunity: I bought him The Settlers of Catan as a bar-mitzvah present.

He wasn't able to learn it himself. We were invited to dinner last night, and I was finally able to teach him. Avraham from the gaming group was also over for dinner, and it was his first play, too. I also roped in the daughter and the mother.

This was my first time playing with the 4th edition set, and I'm pretty disappointed. My biggest complaint with 3rd edition was the tenuous relationship between the illustrations on the different hex types and the resource cards they produced.

The problem is not solved in the fourth edition; if anything, it is worse. Come on. How hard is it to print pictures of the resources on the hexes? Or outline each hex and card in bold matching colors?

Worse, the hexes in 3rd edition were at least highly distinguishable. The hexes in fourth edition are much less so: slightly better artwork, but less distinguishable differences between the hex types. A step backwards.

The cards, rule summaries, and so on are neither better nor worse, and the wooden pieces remain the same.

The game comes with a sea board with built in unchanging harbor locations, which is much worse. The board does a fantastically poor job of keeping things in place. Land hexes still shifted around or slid under the water frame.

If you want to randomize the harbor locations, you use additional chips which you must lay carefully over the preset ones. These harbors are tiny compared to 3rd edition's, much harder to read and understand, and harder to figure out to which vertices they correspond, unlike the friendly, bold white dotted lines in 3rd edition's.

And it's more expensive, too, owing to Mayfair's "screw everyone but local game stores" selling policies.

My advice: stick to 3rd edition.

Avraham liked the game. The mom was getting into it, but the hour was late and she opted to go to bed mid-game, having the daughter take over for her. The daughter liked it a lot. The son, who's bright enough in most situations, is a littler slower when it comes to games, but he also enjoyed it. It was close the whole game, but the daughter won in the end.

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