The magic of board games lies in how they are able to evoke camaraderie or friendly competition among a group of friends huddled around the table.. It’s that feeling of being together so you can discuss plans or talk smack if you’re winning that cannot be replicated. When physical games are made into video games, you risk losing that spark as everyone can play online instead of together. Few games manage to pull this off and unfortunately Catan’s translation in the digital space doesn’t stand up to its tangible cousin.
Yes, the board game of the same name released in 1995 is on modern consoles. Though, to quote a great doctor, the developers were so preoccupied with whether or not it could that it didn’t stop to think if it should.
From the ground up
Catan – Console Edition does look quite good from an aesthetic standpoint. While the play mat is pulled straight from the board game, you’re given the freedom to zoom in and pan around the world. It’s a fun gimmick that lets you see details like sheep grazing in a field, ships docked at port, or farmers working their land. All of these tiny details end up adding a lot to the experience. Plus, it gives you something to do while you wait for other players to decide their actions.
You begin the game with settlements and attempt to grow them across the map, collecting resources all to earn Victory Points. You can do this against computer opponents or other players through online play Unfortunately, there is no local play mode. It’s a simple idea but can be challenging for newcomers. Learning Catan has always been a somewhat intimidating process, which is where the digital format’s ability to include a tutorial takes advantage of the new medium.
Once you get a feel for the basics, the game itself is fun if not a bit monotonous. It’s all a rather simple process, but feels lacking as the controls are sluggish and the menu is poorly designed.
Each turn, players roll dice to determine if they collect resources like sheep, lumber, or stone or not. It’s one part luck and one part strategy, as placing settlements comes down to the dice and how often they score you resources. There are specific numbers that scientifically are more likely to be rolled, but even then, it’s random. It’s all good fun to watch the dice roll on the screen, but unless you’re really fortunate, you could be spending the majority of your turns waiting to hit it big. Or you could catch a break and trade with another player.
While the act of rolling digital dice functions as you’d expect, menu navigation leaves a lot to be desired. Activating the menus should be straightforward as each has a button associated with it. However, there were multiple times I pressed a button only to have the game not advance to it. The game itself didn’t freeze, it simply didn’t read my inputs and I was forced to back out to the previous menu only to press the button again to get to wherever I wished to go. This only added to the tediousness of Catan.
Settle in for a while
Catan isnot the type of game you pick up if you don’t have a bit of time to spare. A typical game can last between 60 to 90 minutes. You can play against the computer, but this is a game meant to be played with other people. Playing against the AI is fine if you just want to play without finding a group. Though, it’s as if you’re playing against someone who really understands the game and all of its intricacies. I suppose they do then, which takes away some of the fun. Adding a difficulty setting and a timer for bot turns would be beneficial.
AI opponentsmake decisions quickly and can leave players feeling lost and searching the map for what exactly the computer did. I can equate it to that one person who brings over a new game that wants everyone to play it but as soon as it begins, refuses to explain the more advanced moves they are making.
If you really want to get a true feel for Catan, playing against another person is what I recommend. There’s nothing like sitting around a table rolling actual dice and trading physical cards. Or in this case, gathering around your console of choice.
Because this console version is crossplay compatible with players on PlayStation, Switch, and Xbox, there are no barriers to playing with people over computer controlled opponents.
Road to victory
Catan – Console Edition works only in certain scenarios. With other people, I can see it being a grand time where you discuss strategy or argue about why you need a specific resource to win. However, against a computer player, I felt like I was playing against someone who just wanted to win and lacked any of those special moments that organically pop up with real players. It’s designed to be played with people if you want to get the most entertainment from it.
CATAN – Console Edition was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Dovetail Games and Nomad Games. It is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and PC.
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