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Settlers of Catan - Cities and Knights

Settlers of Catan - Cities and Knights

I have been looking forward to playing this expansion to Settlers of Catan for some time, so the fact that the only time I was able to squeeze it into my (and others’) busy schedule meant that it clashed with Brownies. While the board was being set up, children including various nieces were being mustered for the walk up the road. Unfortunately some decided that they were now too old for Brownies and returned to mooch around the table and generally distract game play.



So, the game started with half-assed knowledge of the new rules with bits that were well and truly embedded as paragraphs were repeated due to interruptions while others were encountered only when they were applied. Honestly, not the most auspicious start to the game. Oh for the old days when the only disruption was my mate’s mum bringing in butties and tea.

Anyway, after shuffling the board and pieces to ensure sufficient room for condensation drips from beer and wine we were ready to start. Before going into detail on the expansion, I will start by giving a really terse explanation of the basic game.

Basic Game
The game is an island composed of hexagons that represent land types. The island consists of 36 hexagon terrain tiles forming a larger hexagon. Players construct settlements at the corners of these terrain tiles. As such each settlement built inland will be adjacent to three terrain tiles while those built along the edge will be adjacent to either on one or two.

Each terrain tile has a number token on it. Each turn the active player begins by throwing two dice and the terrain tile corresponding to the number generates resources for all adjacent settlements, for example rock from the mountains terrain tile. As the number is generated by two dice the law of averages applies and as such the 6, 7 and 8 are the most common numbers generated. As seven represents the bandit and desert terrain (which generates no resources) the best places for settlements are adjacent to 6 and 8 (theoretically) while the worst are 2 and twelve.

The game consists of building roads from the initially placed settlements to new intersections and building new settlements. A player can only build settlements on his own roads (while lie along the edges of the terrain tiles) and only one road is allowed per terrain tile edge. As settlements must be two roads away, i.e. not on the adjacent point of the hexagon tile), there are tactics in where to build so as to maximise settlement growth and cut off rival players’ access to areas.

Building roads and settlements is achieved by expenditure of the resources generated by each player’s turn. As it is often the case that you do not have the resources to hand that you need, you can trade with other players or with the ‘bank’. In theory others also need resources you have so you can get better deals from them, turning to the ‘bank’ out of desperation or to deny them what they need.

Building things earns points and the game is over when somebody achieves the winning quantity.

The primary tactic is therefore the establish settlements that are adjacent to three terrain tiles with numbers closest to 7 but also having a mix of terrains so that all resources are accumulating without the need to continuously turn to trading. A secondary tactic is the build at a coastal space where trade with ‘bank’ is cheaper when trading a specific resource. This can be combined with building settlements in areas that produce gluts of the specific resource. There is also the tactic of ensuring that everybody is kept topped up with beer and wine (though this can fail when you include yourself).

The fun of the game is in cutting up your rivals and screwing them on deals – often made all the more entertaining when they have paid through the nose for a resource only to then get loads of it through normal play immediately afterwards. It’s a simple game, quick to understand and play and can be reasonably followed even after beers though eventually you are left wondering why you have just swapped all rock resources for wood and why your roads runs off into nowhere.

So, what’s new?
It’s a different game. The emphasis has shifted away from getting as many settlements down as possible to establishing fewer (at least that’s what I concluded) and safeguarding them from raiders and dirty tactics of other players through the purchase, placement and upgrade of knights. There is also the development of the cities, leading to the acquisition of development cards that can be played, more often than not against other players.

Raiders from the sea have been added. This is a ship counter that moves from its initial position along a track with an image of a burning city at the end. No prizes for what can happen when it gets there. The mechanics are straightforward though there is no benefit for being second when it comes to defending the realm. Not paying attention at the beginning meant that we all lost our starting city to raiders. It can really whip along the track and the more players, the faster is moves.

The movement of the raiders counter and the getting cards corresponding to types of city development is handled through a die with various icons on the faces. In the case of the development it is used in conjunction with one of the resource die to determine if a card is collected. It is all very straightforward.
While initially it looks a lot compared with the original game, compared with games like Android and Arkham Horror, it is not even close to approaching the basic game in either pieces or features. It is however a nice package and even if the designers envisioned this with the original design, releasing it as an upgrade undoubtedly allowed the game to be more successful due to its initial simplicity and playability.

What’s the same?
Winning the game is still about getting victory points though now there are other means of getting them such as through the use of development cards and being first to develop cities so far.

Gluts and dearth. Round four and I find myself with more wood than a man overdosing on Viagra but nothing else. Not to worry, here comes the bandit and half of it has gone. Then, when it is used, I have no wood ever again but more rock than Blackpool. Just to frustrate things further, the resources I have a glut of are also those others have in just the amounts they need, forcing trade at horrible costs ‘with the bank’. Nine bloody wheat resources it costs me just to get a knight and make him active to save my city from the rapidly approaching raiders. That a rival player uses a development card to have him desert so that the city falls anyway is just taking the Michael! I hate this game, well actually I hate that somebody did that to me before I was able to do it to somebody else.

Having not played Settlers of Catan in a couple of years and then only a couple of times, I had forgotten some of the basics, such as not placing my initial settlements directly opposite previously placed settlements on a terrain tile. This made for very limited expansion and ultimately proved my own downfall. The game was however entertaining so much so that utter failure on my part in no way made me critical of the game. That and playing spy which allowed me to take a card from another player – a card they had been goading us with for a few turns, just waiting for us to build up sufficiently for the pounce. It is moments like this when nobody knows what cards to expect that make playing a new game satisfying.

Overall
You can be as canny as you like, but there is some degree of luck – if you have nothing around tile 9 for example and this comes up more often than 6 and 8 put together early in the game, you are in for a rough ride. Sure there are now city upgrades in science that ensure that you always get a resource but generally speaking a few turns with no resources while others are stacking and building can really damage your chances of winning.



Finally I think that now that I have played the game with Knights and Cities, I doubt I would be looking to play the game without including the expansion unless it is replaced by another expansion where the two are incompatible or I was introducing a new player to the game. I would therefore argue that the expansion has diminished the original, making it seem less involved.

And as for our game – the shandy drinker won - meh!




 
News
GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
 
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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RAGNAROK COMES

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

 
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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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RAGNAROK APPROACHES

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

 
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic