Settlers of Catan [$4.99 - iTunes link] for the iPhone. The long awaited game has made it's debut...so how does it stack up?
Well, first off, for Settlers fans (like myself) who have been eagerly awaiting the game, it's great to finally see it. This style of game lends itself to the iPhone IMO, and I am very happy to see on the quintessential "nerd" games on the iPhone. But having said that, this game is not a home run. It's better than nothing, but there are some areas where I find that game lacking.
For a quick review (for anyone who doesn't know what Settlers of Catan is, is a strategy board game where you goal is to amass a certain amount of points by building cities, roads, trading with colleagues, and using the games resources to your advantage. The game combines both skill and luck, and can be quite engrossing. I have played the online version (Java Settlers of Catan Ladder) many times, so I am sort of using that as my basis for comparison.
The games graphics are very nice. The board has a nice visual appeal, all the features of the game (the cards, resources, even the robber!) are rendered very nicely. However, it almost seems to much emphasis is placed on the visual elements, and the game play itself (both in terms of the iPhone speed, as well as the ease of accessing controls) seems very slow to me. You can control settings to turn animation off (for example) but it doesn't seem to impact the overall game speed.
When it is your turn, the game uses a hexagonal grid system for your player controls - but this means that you have to navigate a couple of menus to get to some more common controls and features (like building a road). These controls are not customizable, so you can't put frequently used features in the front. I would like to see some sort of shortcut system or method of speeding up access to some controls.
The game AI is interesting. I am still figuring out if the AI strategies that are employed are good - but I guess that means that they aren't horrendously bad! Each computer player has different strategies, so playing against different opponents will result in different kinds of games.
One of the key features of the game is trading. I am not sure what causes an opponent to accept or reject a trade, but I haven't gotten any of my suggested trades accepted....ever. Maybe I am always asking for too much, but it seems as if when I am offering a lot, someone would accept a trade I am suggesting!
There is an indirect multiplayer mode - multiple people using the same iPhone. This is okay, if you have some friends sitting around and have the inclination to pass the iPhone around. There are no options for playing over bluetooth, wifi, or the internet - hopefully at least the latter will be added in some future update.
You do have the option of modifying some game settings, such as victory points needed to win. A variety of other options (which I have never heard of) can be set - things like friendly robber, resource bonus, stacked dice, etc. There also is a nice tutorial for people who don't know how to play. I would love to see the ability to set up different kinds of maps, and i hope to see some of the expansion sets available as well!
All in all, it's great to see Settler's of Catan make its way to the iPhone. While the game comes off as very polished, there are some areas I could see some improvement - most notably in speed of game play and the ability of wifi or internet multiplayer. It still is fun, however, and will remain on my iPhone for the foreseeable future. At $4.99, it's not as cheap as some games, but for people who have been waiting for a while, the price is probably not a concern.
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