Back in the early days of hobby gaming for me, Settlers of Catan had been out about 5 years and there were certainly no smart phones or fancy game app websites. I played Catan (as it’s now known) every so often, peppered among the rest of the new games to me. I certainly never imagined I’d have a portable digital version available to me whenever I wanted. But the most recent iteration of it, Catan Universe, is something I’ve been playing quite frequently over the last month or so much to my surprise.
Catan isn’t something that I’ve played the cardboard version of for… I can’t actually remember the last time I played it, to be quite honest. But that doesn’t mean it’s a terrible game – and I was reminded that very much upon digging into Catan Universe. There are four games available in this app – base Catan, Seafarers, Cities & Knights, and the 2 player card game Rivals for Catan – the base game is available immediately, and you’re able to unlock others. It’s a bit of a pay to play system, but you’re also able to earn “scrolls” as you play through games which will allow you to unlock the expansion games to try out – I quite like that idea, because if you end up not enjoying one of the expansion setups there’s no point in paying for it!
I opted to run through the base game tutorial just to get a feel for how the app played, and it was a great refresher for play! I haven’t played multiplayer online at all, but there are a decent amount of AI characters of various levels to play against, which I’ve done a reasonable amount of. There’s also a variety of setups which is refreshing – different map layouts or pressing a scarcity of certain resources in the base game was an interesting way to change things up. You can also set the game to have numbers generated by a card stack, have a friendly robber, or randomize the map. Seafarers and Cities & Knights have a great amount of map setups to choose from, which I appreciated. I tried a good number of the Seafarers ones, as that tended to be the expansion game I played the most in the app – I hadn’t played it before, so it was kind of great to get the tutorial walkthrough and play it a bunch without having to track down someone who has it.
I also, surprisingly, really enjoyed the 2 player Rivals for Catan – there’s no map, and the game’s entirely driven by a card tableau and cardplay – it feels quite different to the base game. I loved going head to head with the AI on this and trying out various strategies and giving all of the special cards a try out. Being able to try out all of these versions of Catan I hadn’t before was a huge draw of this app, to be honest! And as I previously mentioned, even though I don’t play the physical version really ever, I’m certainly happy to sit down at the app and crank out a few games every week.
Overall, I like the look of the app. It’s not too flashy so it can run even on my ancient tablet, and doesn’t freeze up in the web app. It’s easy to navigate around the board and see what other players are doing – and even though it’s all three dimensional so it looks somewhat complicated, the play of AI is quick so you’re not left hanging. I tend to prefer the UI of the web app a little better over the Android app, but that’s mostly because I’m more of a computer user anyhow! I assume the Steam version would be similar to the browser version.
One thing I could really take or leave is a lot of the customization available for your player settings and looks. I didn’t once really pay attention to the table surface of the game, and I’m really okay with just the regular shapes of game pieces. I like it simple! And while I’m happy to pick my player colour preference, I don’t see much of a need to customize my avatar itself beyond the basic, as I really don’t see the whole thing except for when games are loading! Perhaps the only quibble I have with the look of the game is the avatars, honestly – they’re all a little.. over-designed, perhaps? It’s hard to explain – I think I would have preferred a flatter look and just see the in-game view of everyone. But that’s a very minor quibble.
I know that sometimes Catan is the butt of jokes from folks who have been in gaming a while and have far broader tastes now – but it’s still a solid, classic game. (Not to mention the issues with colonialism and settling, but putting that aside for now.) This app showcases the game really well, and if you’d like to have a classic to crank out every so often, I can recommend! Now it’s time for me to see who’s out there on this app so I can give the multiplayer option a whirl.
Catan Universe is available on iOS, Android, Steam and in-browser. Thanks to USM for providing a promo code for me to try Catan Universe!