|Certainly above average, but has some serious shortcomings.|
I was really skeptical when Dortmunder and Hyperion kept urging me to play this brilliant new game they'd discovered. I reasoned, if it's so brilliant, why haven't I ever heard of it before? Although board gaming is certainly not what it used to be in America, there are still a few mainstream successes now and again. (Although, naturally, I can't think of any recent ones off the top of my head...) When the box was opened, my fears increased exponentially. However, upon actually playing, I found the game enjoyable, if not quite as much so as I'd heard.
This isn't exactly a "board" game since there is no board to speak of. Rather, the game comes with many different hexagonal pieces which are randomly put together to make up the playing area (thus assuring a different experience every time). Every "hex" is arbitrarily assigned a number between 2 and 12. Each person is then given their materials (roads, settlements, and cities) and takes turns placing two settlements each onto the board. After that the game begins, and players take turns rolling the dice. Each hex represents a different type of raw material, and if you're bordering a hex assigned the number that's rolled, you get some of that raw material, which you can trade to others or use to build more things. There's more to it than that, but that's the basic gameplay.
There are lots of good things about this game. The trade aspect is my favorite part, as every game I've played has quickly become a microcosm of early American capitalism, with the robber barons charging an arm and a leg for coveted resources they control, and alliances being forged and broken every other turn. A few times people have resorted to trading in the futures market ("I'll give you two lumber now for the next brick you get"), and we've even had the "bank" briefly run out of a given resource due to hoarding (which is discouraged by some of the more complicated rules, but still happens now and again), which created all sorts of interesting deals. These certainly make the game interesting, and that's what keeps me coming back.
However, there are a number of weaknesses to the game as well. The randomness of the board does add to the replayablity factor, but it can also make the game very frustrating when critical early resources are all assigned numbers like 2 and 12, which are less likely to be rolled. This also makes it easy for some people to get completely screwed over, which is my biggest complaint about the game. It hasn't happened to me yet, but in every single game I've played there's been one person who was just incapable of doing anything between the starting position they were given, the distribution of the hexes, and the dice rolls not going their way. This has happened both to newcomers and veterans, so it has nothing to do with skill. The random element is, of course, what plagues all board games, since games that are 99% skill like Diplomacy take forever to play. In games like Risk (which is often criticized for its randomness), at least they've built in safeguards like the card sets so even those who get saddled with undesirable starting points can have a shot to come back. In Settlers, unfortunately, nothing like that could really be done. This is especially tough because there is no way to "lose" the game, so if someone gets screwed over and is virtually powerless to do anything, they still have to stick it out until the end. In Risk when people get screwed, they may complain, but at least they can do something else until the game is over. In Settlers, they're just there and not having a good time, which often ruins my fun as well.
My only other major complaint is the cost. The base set, which plays 2-4 (although you're not going to want to play with less than 3) is $40, and the 5-6 player expansion is another $20. Combine that with the cost of any of the other multitude of expansions and it becomes a very steep initial investment. Casual gamers take note: there is no way to play the game without completely dismantling the package, so the chances of returning it are zero. Consider yourselves warned.
Mr. Rhythm Says:
A fun game when it all goes well, but there are too many random factors to propel this to the top of my list. I might still consider buying it if it wasn't so expensive, but it's certainly not worth $60. Go buy four used video games instead. However, if you know someone who has it, it's a worthwhile way to spend a night.
Written by Mr. Rhythm, 2005-09-11 17:11:30
Dortmunder : "We built this city on ore and wheat"
Kacrazy : "Changing but not fickle"