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Catan on Xbox

May 8th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Big Huge Games, Board Games, Consoles

It’s odd, but the prospect of playing an online version of Settlers of Catan with high production values has me closer to dropping coin on a console than all the zombie/alien/robot killing glamor that the living room gamers have been screaming about for years.

So it’s reassuring to read Julian Murdoch’s positive impressions of Big Huge Games’ break from real time strategy development. Julian writes:

The root game, Settlers of Catan, is nearly multi-player solitaire. Far from an indictment, many of the best German board games can be similarly described. Unlike a first person shooter, players don’t actively work against each other as much as they all participate in individual gathering and building games, with a single direct interaction — trade negotiation.

Multiplayer solitaire sums up the experience of the so-called German games quite well. I recently taught my wife to play Ticket to Ride, and, in its two-player mode, it is very much two solo players keeping score on the same map. The more players you add, the more important jobbing other people becomes.

I’ll echo Julian on the importance of real time training. I’ve been lucky to have had a board game tutor Skype me through four or five different games over the last couple of years and I’ve come to rely on the voice training. I’ve tried teaching games through typing in chat, but it doesn’t work as well.

It’s curious that he says that Catan “has absolutely nailed the Catan experience” when a few paragraphs earlier he was talking about how the social side of gaming was integral to the board game, a side that he finds totally missing from the online interaction.

There seems to be a bit of a revival of interest in board gaming, and hopefully the mainstream nature of the console experience will mean that better games will be available for everyone. But revivals begin at home, so I should probably teach TTR to some of my friends. Maybe they’ll be ready for Catan by summer.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Scott R. Krol

    “It’s curious that he says that Catan “has absolutely nailed the Catan experience” when a few paragraphs earlier he was talking about how the social side of gaming was integral to the board game, a side that he finds totally missing from the online interaction.”

    That’s one of the reasons why in any given week I probably spend more time boardgaming or role-playing than multi-player computer gaming. One of the great things about face to face gaming is the social component. Get some folks together, talk about the week, sling some dice, eat some pizza, good times. A boardgame ported to a computer to me is not a boardgame anymore, it’s purely a computer game. Even if you were to get a bunch of people in the same room and play on a LAN it’s still not the same thing. You may be able to trash talk easier, but you’re still four zombies interacting with a machine. You lose out on the tactile nature of boardgames, and cheat yourself of the pure social thrill.

    Don’t get me wrong though, the idea is just fine. It’s good that there are programs out there like Cyberboard or VASSAL, or in this case Xbox live. But it will never approach the experience of playing it as it was meant to be played, on the dining room table. Hopefully what something such as Catan on the Xbox will do though is to introduce people to the game that may not be familiar with the boardgame, and then cause them to seek out the boardgame. Although I would much prefer them to be seeking out Ameritrash or wargames. ;)

  • Bruce

    I actually disagree pretty strongly with this. For one thing, I don’t have time to play boardgames live. Getting together, setting things up, and more than anything, the mechanical application of the rules, is far too time-consuming to be anything more than a once- or twice-a-year deal. On the other hand, a couple times a month (or maybe more) I can get my friends together on Skype, we can fire up Brettspielwelt, and play three games of Thurn & Taxis in the time it would take to open the box, set it up, and get through half a game. There is never any misapplication of the rules, you never forget to do anything, and you can reset the game immediately to do another one. Caylus is an unwieldy game in person, while the Brettspielwelt version cuts the play time by two thirds and reduces the record-keeping to zero. And I can play with friends I have known for years but now live on either coast. If I for some reason have a whole day to waste to just play boardgames, I’m probably going to decide to do something other than play boardgames.

  • Michael A.

    I think the only reason to play on-line is if you don’t have fellow gamers living close enough to gather round a table. I really can’t see that setup time and refreshing rules is much of an obstacle – at least not if you are playing something like Thurn and Taxis, TTR, or Blue Moon City which I just played thrice this evening (can’t comment on Caylus – never played it).

    But then again, I don’t see myself as “wasting time” when playing boardgames.

  • Ken Wootton

    I think Julian and a couple of folks above are missing out on just how social an Xbox Live boardgame or card game can actually be. A typical game of Catan or Uno involves four people, all with headsets, all confined to a single virtual space, not unlike your living room. The interaction might fall short of looking into the eye of your buddy but it’s much more of a different experience than a lesser one. Like all great boardgames, the quality of your experience depends much more on your opponents than the input device or absence of a physical board.

  • Michael A.

    Of course the quality of a gaming experience depends more on your opponents than the game, but human beings are equipped with at least five senses, and limiting yourself to just the one sense can’t avoid lessening the experience in terms of social interaction.

    When I play boardgames, I want to see the sweat on the brow of my enemies as they recognize the predicament they’re in, smell their fear, hear their screams of dismay, feel the tremble of the table as they jerk around uncontrollably trying to escape, and taste their blood; I… errm. Sorry, got a little carried away.

    Anyway, if one lacks quality opponents, on-line gaming is a perfectly nice alternative (I’ve been there myself). And for some type of gaming, it is superior, since it allows games that would be horribly unwieldy on paper to be played somewhat more easily. But everything being equal, I’d take the face to face game anytime.

    That aside, I don’t think I’ve encountered many “German” games well-suited to two-player; the only ones I can think of are Knizia’s Lord of the Rings (cooperative game) and Carcassonne (Hunters & Gatherers).

  • Alan

    I don’t know; I’ve played “cutthroat Catan” with some players before, and it’s just brutal. It’s very different from normal play, and not a style to which I’m accustomed. Consider what happens when two players form an exclusive trading cartel from the outset, with strategic resource “favors” allocated to cause maximum disruption among the other players. Robber placement is used as casus belli, resulting in resource bribes to the other players. In situations where the cartel can’t win, it ends up serving as a king-maker. The end result is a game where some players inevitably feel like they’re just being shoved around. I suppose it’s a valid way to “win” the game, but the hyper-competitiveness really detracts from the social enjoyment of the casual board game experience.

  • jason

    Catan on live is fantastic. I can’t imagine a better electronic version of the game. They clearly looked at the (excellent) live version of Uno for inspiration.

    The single player mode is actually pretty good too. The AI is a lot better than you’d think.