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Catan (iPhone)

Review by Tom Grimes, November 07, 2009

iPhone integration (About)
  • Save state: Yes
  • iPod music: No
  • Status bar: No
  • Version: 1.0
  • Price as reviewed: £2.99
  • by USM

There were two board games we always wanted to come to the iPhone: Carcassonne and Catan. Carcassonne came in the indie form of Xeno Sola and now we have the official iPhone version of Catan. The original board game won many awards and has currently sold over 15 million copies, therefore making it a huge success. However the question is; whether or not the iPhone game is an adequate version of the original?

Just in case you aren't one of the 15 million or so people who have played Catan before, it is a strategy game all about collecting resources, trading and building your settlements. You play on a board consisting of 19 hexagonal tiles, each of which (bar one) have a different resource on. There are five resources in total; wood, ore, grain, wool and brick, which are used to build three different structures; roads, settlements and cities. Catan is a game of gaining land and getting a strong settlement, not a game of war, which therefore makes it a lot different to other strategy games. You have to think very carefully about when to trade, buy and build in this game, since it is hard to predict what resources you will get.

This makes the game partly luck, but if you play it in the right way, you'll find there is much more strategy involved.

At the start of the game you'll decide where to place you two initial settlements since they are the source of your resources. Each hex has a number on it and before your go you'll roll the dice, and if the number of a hex surrounding one of your settlements comes up, you'll receive one of that resource. The numbers on different resources are random each game so you may receive a lot of wood one game (because of a common number such as six) or little another (because of a less common number like twelve or two). This makes the game partly luck, but if you play it in the right way, you'll find there is much more strategy involved.

If you don't receive much of one resource you can trade to acquire more. You can either trade with the bank at a standard rate of 4:1, or less if you have a settlement by a trading post, or any combination with another player. Of course, when you are playing against computer opponents their trading is slightly illogical and we frequently found them offering us terrible resources for some that are very rare. While it's certainly bearable, we hope that the trading will be improved in a future update.

Like most games Catan has a couple of twists, one of which is the robber. Whenever someone throws a seven they are allowed to move the robber to any hex on the board. Resources won't be attainable from this hex until the robber is moved. Furthermore if you have over seven items when a seven is thrown, you have to throw away half of them. This stops you from hoarding resources and will really test your management skills. The second twist in the game is resource cards. For a wool, an ore and a grain you can buy one of these cards that let you carry out many different actions. These vary from the Knight card (which lets you move the robber), to the monopoly card (which lets you collect all of one resource from everyone). These resource cards can really help you throughout the game and once again increase the strategy involved.

...we feel the graphics and the whole theme of the game are very nostalgic...

To win the game you must reach a certain number of victory points (which are determined by the number of settlements and cities you have on the board). The usual amount is ten but there are many settings you can alter in order to make the games shorter or longer, depending on the time you have. We have seen people complain about the game not having save state but that's not strictly true. If you manually save the game to start with, it will auto-save your progress at any other point if you exit. While this is counterintuitive, it does do the job.

Unlike the XBLA version of Catan, the iPhone game has 2D graphics which honestly look like they've been pulled from the java game. Now while they still look pretty decent and the game runs very smoothly, we think that the animations would definitely be improved. We also found that the user interface isn't the best, with menus that take a while to get used to and can sometimes be a little unresponsive. However, because it was originally a board game, we feel the graphics and the whole theme of the game are very nostalgic, and the music in the background fits in well.

While a full 3D version of Catan would be nice, we think that what we have at the moment is great and it can only get better. If an improved AI and expansion packs were added in an update it would be fantastic and online multiplayer would be even better. Nevertheless, at the moment we definitely recommend Catan if you are a fan of the board game, or even if you are looking for an excellent strategy game on the go!

Grade: B, Great

A solid and enjoyable version of Catan for the iPhone. If you were a fan of the original or like strategy games, we recommend you pick this up.

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