The transition from tabletop to small screen is very much a double-edged sword for classic boardgame The Settlers of Catan.
On the one hand, an interactive tutorial where you’re walked through every detail of the game is extremely welcome. It eliminates all those teething problems everyone encounters and complains about whenever a new boardgame is unboxed at the dining room table.
On the other hand, you’re unlikely to get said Snakes and Ladders-loving friends gathered around an Android phone screen. And even if you do, the experience will never quite match the tactile delight of moving pieces and rolling dice.
The Catan’s out the bag
As a single-player experience, though, Catan is hard to fault. There’s a good reason the boardgame is held in such high regard by aficionados.
The aim of the game is to settle the island of Catan and make the most of its myriad resources, by reaching the required victory points first.
A roll of the virtual dice decides which of the tiles numbered 2 to 12 produce their wares each turn. With some statistically more likely to pay out more regularly than others (6 and 8 being well worth occupying), you’re unlikely to be able to cover all of them.
And that’s where trading comes into it. Rather than trying to wipe your opponents off the face of the screen, you have to co-operate with others to eventually triumph, while being careful not to give them too much of an advantage.
Sadly, however, a lot of the fun of the boardgame is lost in translation to smartphone. Without the real-world banter and negotiation of trade - and despite the game's delicate balance remaining intact - the game loses a lot of its energy.
Although four players can pass the handset between them for a full game, it’s really not the same. And when you factor in the trading screen, it becomes just plain awkward.
It’s hard to see how a conversion of the venerable old game could have been done better or differently. Catan's presentation, for instance, is bright and colourful throughout, with a good sense of humour in the dialogue.
The game itself is a classic, but it remains at its best when played on a real table with real people.
Ultimately, this Android conversion may be better served as a taster for, or an introduction to, the boardgame than it is as an experience in its own right. But it is deep enough to scratch a strategy itch, and will still cause plenty of people to miss a stop or two when played on public transport.