You know what the problem was with the most recent Star Wars movies, Episodes I through III? Apart from Jar Jar Binks, that is? We all had sky-high expectations. We were so looking forward to seeing them that no movie, however good it may have been, would have met them. As a result we felt a bit cheesed off and said criticised them as being pants. When, in reality, they’re not actually all that bad (particularly Revenge of the Sith, dodgy dialogue aside), especially on DVD.
But as negative as high expectations can be, having low expectations for something means that you can occasionally be pleasantly surprised. Much as we were when we plugged Catan into our N-Gage QD. Never having heard of the original board game that this is based on, we weren’t all that excited about it. But after playing it for several hours we’re converted – it’s an engrossing game that is relatively simple to get into, yet difficult to master and put down. It’s this classic recipe that’s Catan’s success.
You play as one of four characters who are out to colonise an island – the titular Catan – and you must gather the natural resources on offer, trade them with your opponents, build roads and create settlements. Each player starts off with a couple of settlements and a few roads to get the ball rolling, and then you’re off, with each player taking a turn to roll virtual dice, gather resources from the surrounding landscape, trade them and build more roads and settlements. As you build and gather more resources, you stature increases and whoever reaches a level of 10 first is the winner.
Mixed in amongst all this is the occasional event card, which adds an element of randomness. They’re similar to the Chance and Community Chest cards in Monopoly and will increase your stature, provide you with extra resources or even give you an army, something that comes in handy when the ever-present thief begins stealing from you. It’s the success with which you trade with the other players that is the key to your success and for computer-controlled opponents, the competition is no pushover.
A typical game can last anywhere from an hour to around three, depending on the level of difficulty, and the time will fly by. To make the single-player experience more inviting, the developers have introduced a Quest mode, where you’re tasked with completing three missions. Achieve those and you’ll be given another three to do. But where Catan will undoubtedly come into its own is with the multiplayer mode. Thanks to its turn-based gameplay you can enjoy a game with three friends using single N-Gage, simply handing it around to whoever’s turn it is. There’s a Bluetooth mode, too, if your chums are already equipped with N-Gages of their own. Explaining the rules to everyone might take a while (it did when explaining it to the rest of the Pocket Gamer team, though whether that’s a fair comparison is questionable), but it’s worth the effort. For solo gamers meanwhile, Catan offers all the entertainment of a classic strategy board-game without all the bickering from other players making as perfect for a cosy night in front of the fire as it is for a long train journey.