Originally a board game that dates back to 1995, Catan is the first of its kind to hit the Xbox Live Arcade service. It would be easy for the ‘hardcore’ gamer to dismiss this game’s slow pace, but this is a game that no one should miss out on. It effortlessly blends simplicity with depth, and the end result is a game that could last you for a long, long time.
Developed by Big Huge Games, Catan is a turn-based strategy game where three or four players duke it out, trying to build the biggest colony on an island. The battlefield is comprised of 19 hexagonal tiles, each representing a resource and a number. If you have a settlement that touches one of these tiles and the corresponding number on the tile is rolled by the dice, you get a resource card. Resource cards are used to build extra settlements, cities, roads, or get development cards that have a multitude of uses within the game.
The biggest and most important aspect of the game is trading. In Catan, you can trade resource cards with your opponents, enabling you to trade cards that you don’t need for cards that you do. However, if the AI or online opponents are less than willing to trade with you, there is also the port trade option available. With port trading, if you have four of the same type of resource card, you can trade those in for one of the other four resource cards. Adding to the depth and strategy, you can also build settlements and cities on the outer edges of the boards, aptly named ‘ports,’ which reduces the amount of cards the player needs to trade to the port. You have to decide whether you want to stick to the middle of the map, which will probably yield you more cards, or going to the edges and getting less cards, but having it be easier to port trade.
Between deciding where to place roads, settlements, what your needs are and who to trade with, there is a tremendous amount of depth and strategy in the gameplay. What’s so incredible is that despite the depth Catan has, the simple user-interface and controls will have you feeling like an old pro at this game after just one match. The only complaint that can be leveled at the game is that the difficulty on the moderate and high difficulty is cheap rather than difficult—it seems like the three AI characters work in concert against you, rather than it being every man (or woman) fending for their own hide.
Catan has four player multiplayer over Live, which is probably the biggest selling point the game has. Like Uno, it still has all of the social aspects but you can still carry a conversation. At the same time, the strength of the game makes you feel like you’re actually doing something other than hitting the A button all the time.