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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!




 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Return of the LiQuans

A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


 
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Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely “not cute or cuddly” Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it’s not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‘civilised’ norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, “What is this amateur b*llshit?” into an uncaring universe.


 
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Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war “veteran” Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf’s buffoon-like response amounted to “Dewiek be Dewiek, let’s drink and forget about it.” Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 

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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