Joerg's Settlers of Catan Ideas

I have been toying with Catan variants for years, and I'd like to get some feedback from other people who created scenarios and variants. One thing I like about the Settlers of Catan game is that it makes it easy to create playable variants without having to produce a new game along with the game material from scratch. Mostly when I look at a new member of the Catan family I tend to look at the rules as modules that can be used with other modules. Any input appreciated.
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The night of the Catan stand-alones

Jörg Baumgartner
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On the occasion of my birthday, I had three family level three player games playing three of the more recent Catan standalone versions, all with variable board setup possibilities, in three-player games. Two of these, Rise of the Inka and Ancient Egypt, fresh out of the box, and the third (AGoT) again after a number of plays on christmas eve.

And we managed to do that in just a little over 4 hours, including setup, unboxing Rise of the Inka and explaining the special rules of both Rise of the Inka and Ancient Egypt (also included 10 wasted minutes of trying to get one of the two non-gamers on the table to participate at least once, but then given up mutually, the non-gamers enjoying some shared Netflix on the side sharing the snacks with the gamers). The only thing where I had to create a slowpoke rule was the selection of the next Helper card - I ruled that you had to pass on the dice before selecting your next helper. Atum/Samwell Tarly usually was well kept track of, and that and Isis's protection from the seven (which nobody chose) are the only Helper cards that work off-turn, so little sacrifice there.

I do wonder whether a vertical board on which you place your marker on the Helper currently employed visible to all players would speed up Helper seletion even more, together with a wish-card (or just plain paper notes) that you can use to prepare yourself for the time after you used your previous Helper.

Rise of the Inka was my birthday gift. Maybe I need to study the rules more, but I couldn't find any modifications to the map or setup to be made for three instead of four players. As a result, only very few of our overgrown cities were oversettled.

As I learned since, due to a misreading of the rules: In my case, I had actually bet on it, since it did remove the longest trade road of the leader by ending his second phase and made my three road piece automatically end my second tribe on his turn, too. The third player had shown us how building a third road could result in getting her second tribe into play for minimal expenditure, and since every player had the longest road at least once before the final round, our inherited income was hardly affected.

The commodities did enable trade both between players and to the bank quite a bit, although I still think that game should have a variant where these commodities are used to build a winning condition object.

We played the Ancient Egypt Nile and pyramids scenario right out of the box, having gotten used to the heroes of the North well enough to be able to deal with the slightly different abilities of the Egyptian pantheon.

It took a fair time until the pyramid building by the players took off, due to a weird imbalance in resources. Again, I didn't recall seeing any less spacious variant for three players only,giving each of us some area to expand into without being really cut off.

I had not studied the Ancient Egypt rules much before, rather correctly assuming that it was mainly a re-release of the Cheops scenario with moveable tiles, which means that the added functionality to the Pharaoh's pyramid stones indicating the maximum hand size when the seven is rolled had escaped me.

The 1:1 trading option for the vizir had escaped us for several rounds, which made me rule off the cuff that you'd have to wait for your next turn to use it. This makes it an interesting gamble to see whether other players will steal it before you profit from this - possibly a good variant for other games where you have the option to participate in a communal effort.

A special form of the curse of the Pharaoh appeared to have struck the owners of the Atum god/helper card, causing a weird chain of die rolls where the player owning this deity's powers always received some random (and rarely that helpful) resource, or either suffer through rolls of seven. (Same thing happened again to whoever held Samwell Tárley in the later AGoT game.)

I usually play C&K-rules Catan (plus some sort of ships) rather than C&K-less Catan, which means I haven't really used the Helpers much before. They didn't feel worth the trouble of adopting them in exchange for the progress cards, and in a way I still feel that way.

As will soon come up in a different post here, there are a lot of game mechanic items that get re-released in different forms for Catan which makes adapting all of the different small releases hard.

The final Game of Thrones Catan was the first I have played which was not ended by the third breakthrough, and was won by a most selfish "many guardians" tactic. We went fairly random with the game setup - I picked four land hexes without looking in addition to Thormund's hex, which means we ended up with five brick hexes and three each of the rest. When assigning the production numbers, I erred in our favour and distributed all four of the red (five dots) numbers, which I then put onto the map before looking at possible shortages, then distributed the other numbers randomly. That left us with a 10 remaining, which we mutually decided to switch for a 3 just south of the Wall which had another neighboring 3 a row further south. The starting player recognized the lack of good combination positions for wood and occupied the only good one on the eight in the southwest (3rd row from the wall in corridor 1, with another on with an 11 on 4th row in the same corridor, on the brick trade camp).

Compared with Ancient Egypt, the need to cooperate to keep the game running is a bit higher, and the various invaders, giants killing off guards and the higher threat level than the Pharaoh having built all of his stones make this the slightly more tense game.

So, how do the three games compare?

Ancient Egypt is the closest to Basic Catan, with special harbors and 3:1 harbors, and 4:1 bank trade. Which, to be honest, is how I like my Catan games better than that "free for all" 3:1 trading that cropped up in almost all the releases of Catan GmbH since E&P. It lacks the cooperative effort that AGoT forces on you to delay the game end - actively building the pyramid doesn't keep the game from ending, it just puts pressure on your fellow gamers to participate, too. But with all these similarities, and a number of missed opportunities for variants which I will address either in a separate post or on the dedicated forum, make this the least exciting of the three games. It lacks the feeling of "we're just a narrow band of fertile land in a lot of desert" that the original Cheops scenario managed to convey so well, but that could be achieved with a few straight frame extensions (desert pattern to be printed on), a few more Nile sides for the hexes which still don't have them, and a lot of desert hexes.

Removing the trade oases from the frame and putting them onto productive oasis hexes out there in the desert might be another way of making this a bit more like the original Cheops. With the addition of Canaan as a colony that might be settled in a campaign (and then defended against the Hittites) and the Arabian peninsula mines hinted at in the Cheops scenario, ore and wood might be re-introduced into the production scheme, the Canaan war could add a Game of Thrones-y or C&K-ish threat that one may have to deal with which might force another end of game danger to be averted cooperatively, and possibly a similar theme for the southern extension where the Kushites would send their warriors on raids or even conquest when the Pharaoh wouldn't hire them as mercenaries. Desert riders are another obvious occupation threat that might be added, and given the mercenary recycling function of one of the gods, a lack of knight cards wouldn't stop the ability to deal with the threat if you hesitate to have players field their own charioteer forces and foot soldiers. (Which could be a nice C&K variant - "charioteers and pyramids".)

Rise of the Inka really is Vinci(or its successor Small World, which I have no personal experience of) meeting Catan, dropping the special advantages of the tribes (partially sneaked back in by those promo "priests of the Inka" one-use helper cards, which I would then introduce for each of the three tribes, and possibly reuse of the earlier tribal ability, too), and dropping the military component of Vinci (you have to roll to overcome your neighbors or even retired civilizations). Britannia has the same concept, in a more scripted history (which can be adapted to other fictive or historical settings, as Keith Nellist, a fellow Glorantha fan proved when he asked for a new challenge to port a boardgame to that setting, responding to my challenge - he has done at least three regional variants in that setting). It also is a way to have a legacy Catan game in a single session, and one that may very well be ported over into your own scenarios/variant games.

There is no cooperative challenge at all. The ability to steal retired settlements or cities is a major tactical factor. The addition of the three commodities was a pleasant and unobtrusive addition, with the hand size expansion not playing that much of a role in our three-player game as there were occasions when people earned whole armfulls of resources and other periods of severe drought of income which are the ugly downside of Catan games in general.

Of the three games used in the RAW form, AGoT was the winner in fun. But then I buy Catan games to tinker with variants and scenarios (and to plunder them for my combination games), so neither Ancient Egypt nor Rise of the Inka have even begun to see the end of their possibilities.

The lack of buyer's remorse (apart from being a magpie collector) is of course tied to the European price range, which is about half what the English language market has to pay.

All of these three standalone versions could (and probably should) have been produced as expansions (and extensions) to the standard game. Apart from AGoT, the frames are compatible to the standard game hexagonal frames - small blessing, really, because apart from the two hex longitudinal extension of Rise of the Inka the frame pieces are of the three hexes with a corner type, of which you can use just six for every hexagonal frame. I haven't checked yet, but there is also the possibility that the longitudinal extensions which have white back-sides only work with the "harbors printed on" side of the basic game frame, while both Seafarers and E&P use the other side - a problem that I first encountered with the one hex extensions from Schokoladenmarkt. The AGoT frame has one normal looking longitudinal frame piece in the south, but that's incompatible with the European hexagonal frame. I can't really blame them for that, however - the AGoT frame is the single most stable frame construction I have encountered in the history of the Catan games.

But yes, this means I now have different land print three hexes with corner frames coming in the following denominations: four desert frames with oases (one side with the Nile coming through) in Ancient Egypt (with two sea frames with printed-on harbors added in), three one-side Jungle pieces and three one-side sea pieces from Rise of the Inka, and three standard land hex pieces from Legend of the Sea Robbers (and three more coming up with Legend of the Conquerors). All this thematic variation and extension possibilities, and totally wasted on the corners... and no "uncornering" or even "reverse cornering" connection pieces in sight.

I do keep all the punch-out frame parts with the connector negatives, though, and one of these days I will manage to construct some that allow change of direction of such frame pieces, either straightening them out, or allowing for bulging or even star shaped frames.

Alternatively, I could just try and find a company willing to produce die-cutting tools and small print runs for such frames on my own, or produce laser-cut wooden underpinnings for such a frame with some other connector system and create hex styles of my own (dumping the Michael Mentzel style would be a shame, though - acquiring these nice new hexes for use in my normal extended Catan games was one of my secondary motivations to buy these games or get gifted with them - I have an almost complete collection of all European Catan hexes ever printed, only missing out the original style T&B hexes that were produced by 999 games for the dutch edition, and while I missed out on the Atlantis box, I recently got a second copy of Das Buch zum Spielen which has a lot more in the way of material).
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