PLAYlist 20: A Game of Thrones Catan | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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PLAYlist 20: A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch

Feb 14, 2018 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

I’m going to venture a guess that there are two groups of people reading this particular column. The first is thinking, “Oh, Catan, okay. What makes this version so Game of Thrones-y?” The other group thinks, “Sweet! Game of Thrones. Now what the hell is Catan?” This review will better-serve those of you in the latter category, as this column is somewhat geared towards gamers who are newer to the hobby. If you’re a hardcore Catan fan, you’ll probably want to seek out another place to read about how this release compares to prior editions and expansions.

If you’re not familiar with Catan (full name: The Settlers of Catan) or need a quick refresher, the game is an absolute behemoth of the board gaming hobby. First published in Germany in 1995 and designed by Klaus Teuber, Catan was one of the first true hits of our modern board gaming era. Simple enough to gras, but with multiple facets of gameplay, it’s a game that’s equally viable for both serious and light, casual play. Over the last two decades more than 20 million copies have been sold in more than 30 languages; it’s seen multiple video game adaptations along with an ever-growing line of expansions, new editions, and licensed versions. If there’s a Euro-style release that even begins to approach the ubiquity of Monopoly, RISK, or Scrabble on American board game shelves, it’s The Settlers of Catan.

In addition to being so approachable, Catan does a little bit of many different things people like in board games. There’s luck: lots of dice rolling, and cards to be drawn. It’s a game that encourages conversation, with 8ts trading. You can stick it to your opponents by blocking their routes or hexes, or play nicely. You might put a lot of thought into your strategy, or go about it it in a more laid-back manner as you socialize with friends. Catan’s design is surprisingly broad, which factors greatly into its mass appeal.

For those of you who don’t already own Catan, the Game of Thrones edition has some nice, added value as it includes the rules and components to play the original game. Basic Catan is essentially a race to ten points, which are earned by building settlements and cities (or keeps, in the GoT version), drawing victory point cards, or having the longest road or biggest army (or patrol, in GoT.) A straight-forward game of Catan can move pretty quickly, especially if players know what they’re doing, and can wrap up in under an hour.

Catan takes place on a hex-grid board, with each space representing a different style of terrain, such as forest, plains, or mountain. (GoT Catan, like most versions of the game, has removable hexes, for variable setup and lots of replayability.) Along the edges of these hexes you’ll build roads and settlements; these will cost varying amounts of resources. Each turn begins with the player rolling two six-sided dice. Their total value will correspond with numbers on the hexes; if you have a settlement bordering a rolled hex, you’ll gain the corresponding resource. (Some hexes are more likely to be rolled than others; it’s a little bit like playing craps, as far as understanding the odds of a specific value coming up.) Players keep rolling, collecting, building, and expanding until someone hits ten points, ends the game, and is declared the winner.

There are a couple other elements, such as trading, development cards and army-building, which add additional strategies. There’s also the robber (represented here by everyone’s favorite wildling, Tormund), who appears whenever someone rolls a “7” – the most mathematically common roll on two six-sided dice – and steals half of everyone’s resources (but only if they’re loaded with them), as well as letting the player temporarily block any one hex on the board and steal a random resource from an opponent.

That’s The Settlers of Catan in a nutshell. It feels like I’m skimping on some rules, but that’s part of why the game is such a contemporary classic: you can teach it to a new player in just minutes. It’s something that even non-gamers and kids as young as 10 should be able to pick up and play with few stumbling blocks. If you’re new to gaming and are looking for a trustworthy addition to your shelf, Catan’s a safe choice – it’s a classic, for a reason. (Hey, 22 million Catan fans can’t be wrong, can they?)

But… what about A Game of Thrones Catan? That’s what we’re here to talk about, right? If you’re considering adding Catan to your collection, is it worth the extra $30 to splurge on the Game of Thrones version? Let’s look!

First things first: are you a Game of Thrones fan? You don’t have to be, but it will help a lot. It will also help if you consider yourself on the more hardcore side of the GoT fan spectrum. If you only watch the show and don’t care much beyond what happens to Jon Snow, Danaerys, or Tyrion, you may not get a ton out of GoT Catan’s theming, as it’s set exclusively on and around the Wall just before Jon Snow got there. Don’t go looking for the any of the best-known Starks, Lannisters, or Targaryens, because you won’t find them here. (Uncle Benjen is as close as you’re going to get.) You won’t even find white walkers, because this game takes place long before winter’s arrival, when the big threat beyond the Wall was wildling raiding parties. (That feels kinda quaint now, doesn’t it?) Don’t get me wrong – the Game of Thrones theme fits it well here, but GoT Catan is a little lacking in the star power that more casual fans will probably desire. If that sounds like you, no biggie – we’ll direct you, instead, towards Fantasy Flight’s The Iron Throne, a GoT-ified take on the classic bargaining ‘n’ backstabbing game Cosmic Encounter, which has more Starks than you can shake a stick at.

Still with me? Good. A Game of Thrones Catan has 3 or 4 players taking on the roles of affluent Brothers of the Watch, tasked with making The Gift – a huge tract of land just south of the Wall that’s ruled by the Night’s Watch – more prosperous, to better supply the Brotherhood with food and other necessary resources. At the same time, you’ll need to keep an eye turned North, to the other side of the Wall, where wildling raiders are mustering to climb over and pillage your villages.

South of the Wall, you’re more or less be playing good, ol’ fashioned Catan. North of it, though, wildling miniatures will be assembling and meandering their way down to the Wall. (Yep – this game comes with a plastic Wall! It’s really cool.) Players will be forced to cooperate, to a degree, by spending resources to place guard miniatures along the top of the Wall. If at any point the wildlings in the space right above the Wall outnumber the guards in the section below them, there’s a breach. And that’s bad! You see, if a wildling gets over the Wall, they’ll block the first open hex beneath it; that hex no longer produces resources. If there are three breaches, it’s game over.

Wildling movement is dictated by a 12-sided die, which players will roll along with the two regular six-sided dice, and then resolve before they produce any resources. (In addition to your regular, run-of-the-mill wildling, there are special wildlings: giants and climbers, which kill guards and automatically jump the Wall, respectively.) Additionally, wildlings are placed when players build settlements and keeps; wildling tiles are randomly stacked under them in the player’s supply, and dictate which type you’ll be adding to the board. Thus, you’ll be forced to contend with more and more wildlings as the game progresses.

A Game of Thrones Catan also adds hero cards. These represent noteworthy crows and wildlings such as Samwell Tarly, Jeor Mormont, and Ygritte, and give players special, limited-use abilities. There’s a variant included in the rules that requires players to “kill off” one of the heroes any time someone rolls three matching numbers. We recommend you always play with that rule – it so well fits the Game of Thrones theme.

Perhaps the biggest change this version has made from traditional Catan is its three endgame conditions. There’s the normal “True Victory,” which is when a player reaches ten points. There are also two types of “Tragic Victory.” If the Wall is breached three times, or the number of wildlings south of the wall exceeds 7, the game ends immediately and the win goes to the player with the most guards on the Wall, regardless of their score. In some situations – say, you’re far behind in the points race – it could be advantageous to load up as many guards on the Wall as you can and try to force a tragic ending.

And so, back to our original question. Is A Game of Thrones Catan worth ~$30 more than just the regular game? We’d say yes – the production value is very high, with the miniatures and painted map really standing out on the table. (It’s certainly way less drab-looking than the vanilla Catan game.) The wildlings add a cool threat and, effectively, a ticking clock to the game, and the hero cards throw in new strategies to think about. Plus, you can play regular Catan with this version, which is a nice bonus if you don’t already own a copy. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this edition is heartily recommended.

But… do you need to be a fan of Game of Thrones? That’s a question that was posed to me by a fellow gamer who’s never seen a single episode of the show or read the books, and the answer is ‘no,’ not really. Without any knowledge of the series’ plot or characters, A Game of Thrones Catan can still be appreciated as a purely fantasy setting. All you really need to know is “wildlings bad” to get up to speed, and that’s something most people will guess on their own once miniature giants start wrecking their farms. All of the art in the game is painted, rather than utilizing photos from the show, which was a wise choice on the part of the publisher, as the game will feel less dated once the show is off the air in a couple years.

A Game of Thrones Catan – Brotherhood of the Watch is available from Fantasy Flight Games and has an MSRP of $79.95.

For this column’s playlist, we’re going to look towards Game of Thrones’ long history of sneaking famous musicians into episodes. Sure, quite a few Game of Thrones cameos feel like a producer doing their best to impress their teenage children by rubbing elbows with a big pop act, but at least they’re typically hidden enough where it’s not distracting. (Well, except for Ed Sheeran; he may as well have been given his own “With Special Guest, Ed Sheeran!” title card during the opening credits. And Mastodon stuck out quite a bit, too – I saw them and could only think, “Those aren’t white walkers. That’s a metal band!”)

Our favorite band to make an appearance on Game of Thrones is Sigur Rós, who appeared as the musicians playing at Joffrey’s wedding. (Who else gave that particular episode a standing ovation as the credits rolled?) Hailing from Iceland – where many of the show’s snowiest episodes are filmed – the band has been active for nearly 25 years, releasing seven prop albums and a slew of EPs, a soundtrack, compilations, and a live record. Our playlist is a selection of tracks from across their discography (as well as solo work by their lead singer), which we think will fit your game well, as so many of their songs have a very cold, almost ominous quality to them.


Previous PLAYlist columns: Troyes, Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition, Flip Ships, NMBR 9, Unearth, Escape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue), Whistle Stop, Caverna: Cave vs Cave, Twilight Struggle, Honshu, Bärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the Dragon, Yokohama, Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, Villages of Valeria, New York Slice, Watson & Holmes, Hanamikoji.


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