CATAN: Console Edition Review
CATAN: Console Edition brings the classic board game to the PlayStation. The videogame platform brings the play board to life in a way that can never be accomplished with carboard and plastic. The island that serves as the game board rises above an animated ocean, its hexagonal resource sites rendered in three dimensions with brilliant colors and animated features. Dice rolls bounce across the landscape, ricocheting off the mountains and sliding down the hillsides. Ships lie in anchor at the ports, bobbing in the waves. It really is a gorgeous rendition of the CATAN game board.
If you’re not familiar with the board game, it’s primarily a resource gathering and trading game in which players try to accrue the requisite resources to expand their control of the island and achieve the various goals which will lead to accumulating the necessary number of victory points, ten, to win the game. Each of the hexagonal tiles that compose the island is assigned a resource - bricks, ore, sheep, wood, or wheat – and a number between two and twelve. There is also one desert tile that is devoid of resources. Players place settlements at the intersections of the hexes, and connect them with roads built along the hex edges. Each turn begins with a player rolling two dice, and every hex with a number matching the dice roll will generate resources. Any player with a settlement adjacent to one of those hexes, will earn the corresponding resource. Whenever a seven is rolled, the active player gets to move a special piece known as the Robber. When the Robber is placed on a hex, that hex will not generate any resources until the Robber is moved again. The player moving the Robber also gets to steal a resource item chosen at random from the hand of a player with a settlement next to that hex. Unfortunately, any player in the game holding seven or more resource cards must discard half of their hand.
During their turn, players can attempt to trade resources by making an offer of some of their resources for a desired resource. Deals can involve multiple resources, the only requirement being that the offering player holds all the resources that they put on offer. If no other player takes the deal, the active player can choose to propose a new deal, trade for the desired resources at a port (at a very high price), or simply give up and move on. The other thing a player can do during their turn is to exchange resources to build settlements or roads, upgrade a settlement to a city, or purchase a random development card. The development cards bestow various benefits, including victory points towards the win.
If you don’t already know about all of this, and the other rules I won’t go into here for the sake of brevity the game has a voiceover tutorial to help get you mostly started. I say “mostly” because after going through it, I still wasn’t sure how some of the game rules worked, but was able to come up to speed just by playing through a few games. To be honest, though, I didn’t have a firm grasp on everything until I watched one of those “how to play” videos on YouTube that explained the setup and play of the board game. This is how I learned that by default the game starts the board layout in a predetermined beginner’s configuration, including placing your starting settlements and roads for you. You have to customize the game settings to randomize the board and select your starting locations. I wish this was explained during the tutorial or made more obvious.
The AI players provide good competition, and you can tell that they are designed to pursue different strategies rather than making decisions on the fly at random. This adds some additional strategy to the game that you don’t normally get from digital board games, as you can try to adjust your moves to counter what they are doing. Conversely, trading is a central part of CATAN, and this feels rather mechanical in the Console Edition. The AI is always that smart about what it asks for, I’ve played games in which a particular resource obviously hasn’t been generated for anyone yet, but the AI will still ask for it in trades. Since you can see which cards players swap during a trade, I imagine card counters could probably keep track of who holds what. It’s comforting in a way to see that the AI doesn’t cheat in this way, though.
While there doesn’t seem to be any AI bias to the trading, there are some other suspect quirks to the game, particularly when it comes to the dice rolls. While it is within the realm of probability that the AI could keep rolling, say, fives to pad their hands with resources while my settlements next to sixes and eights sat fallow, it seemed to happen more often than chance would allow.
I think the AI will help new players to develop their skills at the game, and provide an adequate fix for casual players of the board game, but advance players or those looking to develop tournament level skills won’t be able to use the videogame version to accomplish that. There’s only a single AI difficulty level, so there’s no way to make them tougher opponents as you improve.
There’s no way to accelerate the AI turns, so they take their time rolling the dice, presenting their trades, and deciding what to build. It would be nice if there was a way to pick up the pace a bit since this is a videogame adaptation, but as it stands expect games to last about as long as their meatspace equivalents – about an hour or so.
You can turn the game into a virtual board game by playing with friends locally. The game even has a feature that allows you to view your hand on your phone so it won’t be visible to the other players. You can also go online and play against other humans, and the game supports cross-play to help increase the available player pool. Your game won’t be as lively as it would be if the other players were there with you, but you’ll get a chance to try your skills against other human gamers.
Overall, I’d say that this is a good video game adaptation of a board game – the AI is competent enough to be challenging to average player, but not so strong as to be frustrating, and the graphics put the original cardboard and plastic game to shame visually. I wish there was more information on the rules and even gameplay tips, though, as well as more gameplay customization options. CATAN: Console Edition won’t replace sitting around a board with friends, but it’s a good enough option if you want to learn the game or just take a board game break when you can’t round-up your friends for a game night.
Final Rating: 70% - Bring the CATAN game board to life while you compete against live or aritifical players.
Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.