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Subject: Father Geek's Review of Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs rss

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Cyrus Kirby
United States
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The Basics:
o For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
o For 3 to 6 players
o About 1 hour to complete

Geek Skills:
o Active Listening & Communication
o Counting & Math
o Logical & Critical Decision Making
o Strategy & Tactics
o Risk vs. Reward
o Hand/Resource Management
o Trading
o Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:
o Child – Moderate
o Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:
o The discovery of oil brings about unprecedented growth and prosperity to the island of Catan, but at a cost

o Gamer Geek approved!
o Parent Geek approved!
o Child Geek approved!


Many welcomed the news that rich deposits of oil were found on the island nation of Catan. With the discovery of such a valuable resource under the feet of Catan’s populace, many believed that a new age of prosperity was at hand. Soon the drilling began and small towns seemed to spring up over night, followed by cities, and then Catan’s first metropolis appeared. Oil did indeed bring wealth, but it also brought environmental problems. The level of pollution levels rose significantly and signs of flooding soon began to appear. Now the citizens of Catan must balance their needs and their wants to obtain victory or risk suffering unspeakable ruin.

Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs, by Worldwatch Institue, is a fan created expansion for The Settlers of Catan and is comprised of 21 Oil tokens, 6 Metropolis tokens, 4 Oil Spring tiles, 1 Champion of the Environment token, 7 Victory Point tokens, 1 Disaster track, and 1 Disaster Track marker.

Game Set Up

Note: The Settlers of Catan, which is necessary to play this game expansion, is referred to as the “base game” for the remainder of the review.

To set up the game, first complete the necessary steps for the base game set up, but do not set up the game board (island). There is a preset island the player’s should use for their first game and special rules that should be followed if creating a variable game board. The Oil Spring tiles, for the preset island, will be placed on the desert, forest, and pasture Terrain hexes.

Default game board set up for 3 to 4 players

Second, place the Disaster track to one side of the game board and place the Disaster Track marker on the “zero” position.

Third, place the Oil and Metropolis tokens to one side of the game board until they are needed.

Fourth, place the Champion of the Environment and Victory Point tokens to one side of the game board until they are needed.

Fifth, place the Robber piece to one side of the game board, as it does not start in the desert.

You are now ready to play the game!

The Power of Oil

Oil is the new resource for Catan and it is both a source of wealth as well as destruction. The players will have to balance their use of oil or risk environmentally damaging the island. But his doesn’t happen right away, nor is it something that cannot be avoided. The players will see the negative affects of oil in the game and be able to avoid them, control them, or ignore them. All three approaches have pros and cons, leaving the players to determine how much they are willing to risk for victory.

Oil is collected in the same way as the other resources on the island. When the dice are rolled, settlements that are located on the borders of the Terrain hex with an Oil Spring token collect 1 Oil token, Cities collect 2 Oil tokens, and the Metropolis collects 3 Oil tokens. Distribution of the oil starts first with the player who rolled the dice and then goes in clockwise order around the playing area. There is not enough oil for everyone, so some players might not receive any. There is, however, a limit. No player can ever have more than 4 Oil tokens at a time.

Once the player has oil to use, they can covert it to create 2 resources of any type, but they must be the same type and not oil. For example, converting 1 oil into 2 brick resources. They can also use the oil to create a Metropolis. This costs the player 1 brick, 1 grain, 1 ore, and 2 oil resources on their turn. The player must also have a previous built City piece on the board. The Metropolis tile is placed underneath the City piece and now produces 3 resources instead of 2, is worth 3 victory points, and is immune to coastal flooding.

Instead of using the collected oil, the player can optionally elect to sequester it. This is done by flipping one Oil token over which permanently removes it from any further use of the game, but stays in front of the owning player. For every 3 sequestered Oil tokens, the player earns 1 victory point. Additionally, the first player to sequester 3 Oil tokens receives the Champion of the Environment token worth 1 victory point. If another player sequesters a greater amount of oil, they take the Champion of the Environment token.

If the Robber piece is placed on an Oil Spring tile, the player who placed the Robber can select 1 of the visible, unsequestered Oil tokens in front of their opponent or take a Resource card at random.

Environmental Damage

For every 5 Oil tokens used by the players to build or trade, a natural disaster might occur. The Disaster track, using the Disaster Track marker, keeps track of the Oil usage. Sequestering oil never moves the Disaster Track marker. Once the 5th Oil token has been used, the 2 six-sided dice are rolled, but after the player completes their turn.

On a Roll of “7″

The constant use of oil drilling has triggered an environment disaster in the form of a flood. Settlements that border the sea on the Terrain hexes are removed from the game board and the City pieces that border the sea on the Terrain hexes are changed to Settlements. Roads and Metropolises are not affected. Settlements can be rebuilt using the required Resource cards, but are not reserved for the player who previously built in the now vacant location.

On Any Other Rolled Value

Any number other than “7″ results in industrial pollution brought about by the oil refining and drilling. There are two possible effects to the Terrain hexes that match the number rolled on the dice.

o If the Terrain hex does not contains an Oil Spring tile, remove the number token and place it on one of the open spaces on the Disaster track. This Terrain hex no longer produces any resources.

o If the Terrain hex does contain an Oil Spring tile, remove 3 Oil tokens not yet claimed by players and not yet sequestered from the game.

Ending the Game

The game can end one of two ways. The first is victory being awarded to the first player to collect 12 or more victory points at the end of their turn. The second is if a fifth number token is removed from the game board (via a disaster) and placed on the Disaster Track. This signifies that the environment has been significantly damaged by reckless oil production and usage, resulting in the entire island of Catan being no longer habitable. While all the players have lost the game, the individual player who currently holds the Champion of the Environment token is the unofficial victor.

Game Variants

There are two game variants included in this expansion.

o Five to Six Players: rules on how to set up the game for 5 to 6 players.

o Wide Open Game: rules on how to set up the game for a randomly created game board for 3 to 4 players and 5 to 6 players.

To learn more about Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs and read the full rules, see the game’s official web site. This game expansion can be purchased directly from Mayfair Games or downloaded for free (print-n-play) from the game’s official web site.


The game rules for the expansion are not only exceedingly well written, but also include some interesting facts about environmental trivia. The statements in the rules are not what I would consider “politically charged”, but some readers might find them a bit “preachy”. If we pause for a moment to consider that this game expansion was created by Worldwatch Institute, who has a mission of providing “universal access to renewable energy and nutritious food, expansion of environmentally sound jobs and development, transformation of cultures from consumerism to sustainability, and an early end to population growth through healthy and intentional childbearing” (source), environmental trivia is not only expected, but a forgone conclusion.

It is never too late or too early to start being a responsible environmental custodian and it all starts with education. The game expansion itself does an excellent job (albeit a rather bleak one) of showing the results of not being environmentally conscious. The Settlers of Catan provides an excellent medium for this lesson as the benefits and harm of oil consumption are clearly visible and felt by all the players. The overall lesson might go over the Child Geeks’ heads and the Parent and Gamer Geeks’ might roll their eyes a bit, but the expansion rules read solid. Politics aside, this expansion does add a neat new twist to the game’s resource management and introduces a different endgame. That, in itself, is enough for me.

Adding the expansion and explaining the new game bits took all of 5 minutes. I wanted to make sure all the players understood how to use the oil and the possible disastrous results. A number of the players asked if they could do anything to other players to stop them from using oil. I told them no, but they were welcome to freely engage the individual in resource trades to help them avoid using it. This was met with mixed feelings and grumbles. Another player asked if it was perfectly acceptable to purposely attempt to flood the island to stop other players from getting points. I told them yes and again the table responded with mixed emotions.

After everyone settled down, we were ready to play our first game with the expansion. Before I did so, I asked my little geek his thoughts on what he had learned so far.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is. I just won’t use oil.” ~ Liam (age 8)

You have to admire his resolve, but I doubt it will be that simple. Oil provides a shortcut that other players simply cannot achieve through traditional resource usage. Let’s see if the player’s enjoy the ride or if it ends up just making a big oily mess.

Final Word

My little geek had no problem playing with this expansion, but he had tremendous difficulty attempting to avoid oil. He did very well for a number of rounds, but soon saw himself losing ground and points quickly, as his opponents consumed the oil he avoided. It became obvious to him, and everyone else, that using the traditional resources in the game was a viable means to victory, but not the most efficient one. Oil is cheap and creates goods. For those players who used the oil, they jumped ahead and started populating the island much faster than the other players. They also had the upper hand in most of the resource trades. This frustrated my little geek and he ultimately decided to use the oil, too. Afterwards, he felt pretty bad about it.

Parent Geeks enjoyed the new expansion and the new-found ease of resource collecting made possible with oil trades and usage. They all but forgot about the disasters that occur in the game, however, and were surprised when they lost a resource source to pollution. Then they became alarmed when the island’s coast flooded. They all agreed to stop using the oil right then and there as a group. What little damage that was done to the island remained, but the players made good on their promise and avoided using the oil other than for collecting victory points via sequestering it.

Gamer Geeks had no such qualms about using the oil and didn’t bat an eye when the coastal flooding started. In fact, they used it to their advantage to remove their opponents. They all built inland and used the oil to obtain the most resources as possible. Metropolises were built quickly and the game’s victory points were handed out in record time. Ultimately, their push led to the island being completely overrun by pollution and the game started to grind to a painfully slow pace, as none of the Gamer Geeks wanted to risk further oil usage. Too late, the Gamer Geeks learned how high the price of victory could be. They loved it.

Oil is being overused and unavoidable destruction looms in the background

Gamer Geeks, this expansion will do little to change your mind about The Settlers of Catan, but if you are a fan of the game, this expansion is sure to please. It introduces a new way to win the game, but at a price. Depending on how well the table (not the individual player) can manage their oil consumption, the game will be highly competitive. Failure to manage the oil usage, however, will result in game-wide pain. This also opened the door to some interesting new tactics and strategies. One Gamer Geek actually did all they could to destroy the coast of the island in hopes of slowing down his opponents and forcing trades, while another player did all they could to trade for oil so they could own it all. Regardless of what strategy or tactic was used, greased by oil or not, the expansion was well received.

Parent Geeks, not only did you enjoy the game play but you also were very appreciative of the expansion’s message. One Parent Geek wanted to know why this game expansion wasn’t on the tables of every school in the world. To be fair, they are rather passionate about “going green”, but they make a good point. Games can teach us a great deal just by playing them, and the lesson being taught here is one of responsibility. Parent Geeks who were not personally or politically charged for or against the environment enjoyed the expansion, too, and liked how the new oil resource could be helpful as well as harmful. The non-gamers had no problem learning how the new expansion played and how best to use it to attempt to win the game.

Child Geeks, this is going to be tough one for you to wrap your mind around at first. Oil is easy to use, easy to get, and seemingly the best resource to use to win the game. It won’t take you long, however, to see that its use can also slow down everyone at the table. Careful planning is necessary and resource management of the oil is a must. This is where the difficulty of the expansion can start to frustrate you. Do your best to play the game the way you want to and learn as you go. If you plan carefully and consider that sometimes the steeper path is the best road to take, you won’t have any problems.

I rather like this expansion and found it to be well designed, intelligently executed, and terribly interesting when it came to the dynamics at the table. Some players freely used the oil without a care in the world while others avoided it at all costs. It became clear that players brought their own personal politics to the table and let that guide their choices. I don’t recall seeing any player wrestling with trading brick for wood or sheep for wheat in the base game; then again, the base game does not penalize a player for such trades. Consequences are measured by victory points, but these are hard to trace back to specific actions. Oil usage, however, makes an immediate impact, is traceable, and can be exceedingly beneficial or downright harmful for everyone.

Thanks to this expansion, the base game has teeth and I feel like I am more in control of the island as well as my game. I won’t be playing The Settlers of Catan without this expansion in the future because it brings a much-needed level of player competition, serious risk vs. reward, difficult resource management choices, and a new level of competitiveness that I have not experienced in any Catan game before. And while my own personal politics drive me to use renewable energies, recycle, and do all that I can to not waste or harm our environment, within the game, I am a soulless oil baron.

If you are looking for a new way to challenge yourself when playing The Settlers of Catan, then do download the free print-n-play version of Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs or spend a few bucks to get it mailed to your door. Your days of easy resource management on the beautiful island of Catan are about to get much more interesting!

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

Respectfully submitted by the Father Geek
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