Friday, January 7, 2011

Expansion Required: Cities and Knights of Catan

Settlers of Catan is a fantastic game. It has the distinguished honor of being the first “gamer game” that I was able to enjoy with my extended family and casual gaming friends. If you’ve never played or even heard of Settlers of Catan…first of all, where have you been? That game is practically on its way to joining the ranks of Monopoly, Clue and other classic family board games. In Settlers, essentially, players roll the dice each turn to see what resources are produced. You gain resources depending on where you’ve built settlements and cities. On your turn, you trade and spend resources to try and build more settlements, roads and cities to try and get to 10 points worth of structures first. It’s a lot of fun.

Cities and Knights
Settlers has, I believe, 1 ½ billion expansions, variations, and alternate versions of itself. Seafarers, Spaceship Catan, Settlers of the Stone Age, Traders and Barbarians, blah blah blah the list goes on. Ignore all that noise and get yourself Cities and Knights.

Cities and Knights adds some much needed extras into the world of Catan. By itself, the original can get a bit dull after a few players. It’s particularly dull when your game isn’t going so well and there’s not much you can do about it. Cities and Knights helps this out by giving you more to do with fewer resources. Here are the highlights.

The Jump Start
Instead of starting with two settlements, you start with a settlement and a city! With cities giving commodities for buying various improvements, it makes for more options at the start of the game and a greater variety of strategies to pursue.

City Expansions and Special Powers
Cities now earn you commodities and commodities are used to build city improvements. This isn’t terribly detailed or complex. When you can, you spend commodities to flip pages in this little flip book to represent general improvements you’ve to the trade, politics or science of your cities. These improvements can earn points, give chances at earning special cards, and gain you access to up to 3 special powers. Trade gives you a 2:1 port for any type of commodity, Politics lets you make level 3 knights, and Science, my personal favorite, lets you take a resource of your choice on any turn where you didn’t earn anything.

The Barbarian Hoard Vs. The Knights
This expansion also adds a third die which is rolled each turn. The die either lands on a color to indicate a type of special card that might be earned or indicates that the barbarians have moved closer to Catan. The barbarians have a strength equal to the number of cities in Catan and when they arrive, you'd better be ready. Each player can build knights to defend Catan. When the barbarians raid, Catan is either defended (earning some players points or cards) or it is not (costing some players to change a city back to a settlement). Then the countdown to the next raid begins again. The barbarians provide a fun alternate way to earn points and an important consideration beyond “build what you can, when you can.”

Progress Cards
Cities and Knights removes the Development Deck and the Largest Army reward right along with it. Instead, developing different areas of your city (Trade, Politics and Science) gives you a chance every single turn to earn Progress Cards in the areas you've developed. Trade helps you gain resources, Politics lets you mess with other players and Science helps you build. The Development Deck of the standard game often gives you the same card (knights) over and overt and that card is mostly used to be a jerk and steal from people. Progress Cards provide many interesting and useful abilities that often help you without having to screw over other players. More importantly, by choosing how you develop your city you also choose which types of cards you want to play.

The Best Way To Play
Cities and Knights does add some complexity into the game, but this complexity is worth the pay off in fun. I haven’t played all of the expansions to Settlers and I haven’t played all of its variations. However, I’ve played many of them. Most of them rank as fun, but not that great. Cities and Knights injects just the right amount of extra consideration and alternate strategy. I’ll play the base game with new players for a bit, but I don’t truly enjoy Catan if it’s not played with Cities and Knights.

If you’ve never played Settlers, buy the base game and give a try. If you’ve played Settlers and it’s beginning to get a bit dull, buy Cities and Knights. It’s the best way to play.

Please leave a comment about your Settlers experience or expansion to other games you wouldn’t want to play without. Also, check out my friends at Growing Up Gamers for their take an important expansion to another game I love: Race for the Galaxy.

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