If you are or ever have been the board gaming type, you may have run across Settlers of Catan, or at least heard of it from a fanatic friend. The game, which is a bit like Risk but without the war (at least in its basic incarnation), is all about resource gathering, trading, and colonization.
Fans of the series (and there are many) will be pleased to know that Settlers is now playable on your iPhone thanks to Catan ($4.99, iTunes link), an app that faithfully recreates the experience on your mobile device. If you aren’t yet a fan, Catan for your iPhone or iPod touch might just be the thing that converts you.
If you’ve played Settlers the board game, or if you’ve played it on your PC or Xbox 360, then you’ll already be familiar with the gameplay in the iPhone version, since it uses the standard rule set. Expansions are available for the board game which add more tiles or new gameplay elements, but for now, Catan on the iPhone doesn’t offer any of these additional modes of play.
The board consists of 19 hexagonal tiles, themselves laid out in a hexagon pattern. Each tile represents one resource, either Sheep, Wheat, Ore, Lumber or Brick. Each player gets to place settlements at the corners of these tiles, and collect resources from them when the number on the tile is rolled. Each tile has a number from 1 to 12, and each player rolls two six-sided die at the beginning of their turn.
Some tiles, like those with a 6 or an 8, come up more frequently, statistically speaking, and are strategically advantageous because of this. The goal in the game is to amass resources, which you can use to buy more settlements, roads, and other things to earn victory points. In traditional play, the first person with 10 victory points is the winner.
Catan on the iPhone lets you play with between three and four players. You can either play against computer opponents, or play hot seat multiplayer mode, in which you pass the iPhone off to other players when it’s their turn. It’s not an ideal multiplayer situation, since you have to trust your partner not to glance at your resource distribution, but without a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth option, it at least works well enough to be playable.
Sights and Sounds
Clearly, Catan wasn’t rushed out to the masses on the iPhone. Developer United Soft Media (USM) took its time in refining the look and feel of this cult sensation before its release, probably predicting correctly that fans of the game would be sticklers when it came this version’s faithfulness to the original.
The board is viewed from a top-down perspective, and you can zoom in or out using touch controls. Your resource count is displayed at the bottom of the screen in a convenient and non-obtrusive status bar. All of your controls are nested in a pop-out tab interface usually hidden at the right side of the screen behind an arrow button.
Sound is great, with a nice, fitting soundtrack running in the background, and appropriate sound effects for things like trades, resources, and standard button presses. In fact, I’d say it compares favorably even to the console version on the Xbox 360.
Whether you’ve heard of Settlers of Catan before or not, the iPhone port is an awesome time-waster. It’s engrossing, rich, and carefully tailored to the handheld touch-controlled platform. I will say that I found the difficulty to be rather on the challenging side, even when playing against a stacked line up of all the weakest computer players. The Xbox version has both a universal difficulty switcher and different AIs, allowing for greater versatility, and I would recommend Catan for iPhone adopt that in future, too. Still, for $4.99, you couldn’t ask for a better or more challenging pocket strategy game.