Catan: The First Island

Probably the most common assumption people who don't play mobile games make is that the titles are all massively simplistic. They think we're all sitting on the train, launderette, loo playing one-button target shooters or 2D platformers similar to those we all enjoyed in the 1980s.

So we have to thank Catan: The First Island. Because should anyone ever say to us again, "Aren't mobile games all massively simple and boring?" we can just hand them Catan and watch their minds melt in front of our very eyes. Which is better than the slap in the face they'd otherwise receive. It's a guaranteed outcome, because Catan is one of the deepest, most comprehensive mobile strategy games I've ever played.

The First Island, which is based on fairly famous boardgame Settlers of Catan, blends a clever mix of gameplay. It partly requires you to rush to gather resources and build settlements before your opponents do, similar to any Age of Empires style game. But it's also partly a boardgame, with dice, a race to the finish line, dirty tactics and a handful of luck-based outcomes thrown in for good measure.

Its complexity means that Catan: The First Island can appear quite impenetrable to begin with. Certainly skipping the game's highly useful Tutorial mode isn't recommended and for the first half-an-hour of play you'll likely be spending more time consulting the menu's almanac to find out what in strategy heaven's name is going on than doing much dice throwing.

I'm pleased to say though that when all of Catan's rules and gameplay devices become clear, you'll be very glad you spent the time doing the groundwork. Once everything slots together, Catan suddenly becomes a joy to play. Its complexity leads to fraught decision-making, hard trading, devious tactics and unpredictable, hard-fought games – exactly the sort of things that used to make my brother, when we were kids, throw the Monopoly board across the room when he was losing.

Catan is played on a board comprising 19 numbered terrain hexes. These different types of terrain produce different resources (so the forest produces lumber, the mountain ore and so on). At the beginning of the game each player gets to build two settlements on hexes of their choice, as well as two roads. For the rest of the game, if the dice thrown by any player lands on a number you have a settlement on, you receive resources from that terrain. Having the right resources subsequently makes it possible to build more settlements, roads and even cities and enables you to win more of the game's currency, Victory Points.

That's the explanation for those with a short attention span, anyway. I could go on for longer than my wordcount allows explaining twists and items such as Development Cards, the Robber, the intricacies of trading with both other players and the bank and harbours. Needless to say, there's a massive range of ways you can go about achieving the game's end goal, which is to be the first player to win ten Victory Points.

All you really need to know is that Catan is a clever and complex game, especially by the standards of most mobile games. But the really intelligent bit is that even though it's complex, it's also approachable by anyone who even remotely dabbles in board and strategy games. The menus are almost all intuitive to navigate, the visuals are colourful and clear and, once grasped, the rules of play are nothing but logical.

As well as offering a straightforward one-player affair against three AI characters, you've got the option to face off friends on one phone or using Bluetooth, as well as endless customisation options that change the gameplay. First Island has a to-do list so long that it puts to shame many similar titles and makes it a game you're unlikely to put down in a hurry.

So I'd recommend Catan wholeheartedly. Its slow-pace and wealth of rules may not prove to be to everyone's taste, but if an excessive diet of brainless shooters has dumbed you down, this could just be the meaty mental nourishment your body has been craving.

Catan: The First Island

Smart, complex, expertly crafted strategy boardgame with a wealth of tactics that will easily entertain one or more players for many hours