Runaway cultural superstar, A Game Of Thrones meets board game legend, Catan. Guaranteed success story, right?
Klaus Teuber’s Catan, (Settlers of Catan if you insist) first published in 1995, is celebrated as a breakthrough success and is both elegant in its simplicity and staggering in its potential depth and scope for competitive gameplay. This however, does not stop developers trying to improve upon this winning formula. Catan has racked up 6 official base game expansions as well as various scenario packs, re-skins, spin offs, adaptations and tie-ins. Most recently and notably, A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch (2017).
A Game of Thrones (GoT), published in 1996, is the first book in a series of fantasy novels by American Novelist George R. R. Martin. These books have been hugely popularised by HBO’s massively successful television series Game Of Thrones. A Game of Thrones Catan, Brotherhood of the Watch is based not on the television series but this novel and includes all original ‘Catan-esc’ artwork.
Last Friday night at d20 Mario, Adam, Charlie and I sat down to play this new arrival to the Cafe. Mario and I had introduced the Catan base game to Adam just a few weeks before in a highly contested game that ended with Mario scoring the game-winning tenth point. It’s safe to say that there were scores to be settled.
Opening the large box you will find everything you need to play base Catan as well Wildlings mini figures and 4 large wall pieces intended to separate ‘The Gift’ from the ‘Beyond the Wall’. I’m reliably told this means something to those familiar with GoT. To those like myself already familiar with base catan you’ll recognise the five different resources hexes and their corresponding cards as well as the semicircular trade posts and development cards. GoT Catan however moves away from a hexagonal game board and instead, once constructed, the game uses a large rectangular game board with hexes in the southern portion of the play area.
Everything has a new polished GoT aesthetic, including the player’s roads, settlements and cities (sorry Keeps*, as Cities have been renamed) each player is also equipped with a Guard to protect them from oncoming Wildlings, Guards cost 1 sheep, 1 wood and 1 clay and are placed stoic and static on top of the wall. Mario, rules in hand, explained the additions to the game and once we had got passed the slightly strange GoT terminology we were ready to play.
Play proceeds in the same way as in base Catan but with the addition of a 12-sided dice that determines the movement of the ‘Wildlings’ they act much like the robber, blocking the production of a resource hex but they first must approach and overcome the wall. In this respect there is a co-op element to the game because it is in all players interests to keep the invaders at bay. Much like the Cities and Knights base game expansion wildlings approach four distinct sections of wall along three separate tracks so players are unsure which section of wall wildlings will attack until they have arrived.
Another mechanical change to the game comes in the form of character cards. Players a dealt a unique character card at the top of the game and can use their character’s ability up to twice before they are forced to swap character cards. The abilities are anything from forcing 1:1 trades with players and with the bank, to taking free resources given that a number of prerequisites are met. These cards slow the game probably too much to justify their addition but they do appeal to the diehard GoT fan.
The game continued well over an hour, significantly longer than a standard game of a Catan, but this might be have been expected for a new game. Charlie had repeated bouts of indecision that he was justly chastised for and Adam dealt with the brunt of the wildlings. As is to be expected, trades were fiercely debated and people erred on the stubborn side but play proceeded steadily onwards.
I took a small lead, at one point having eight revealed points, including a point from longest road, a feature that has also continued over. At around the midpoint of the game the wildlings had reached the walls and trades had become more outrageous and desperate. The cliche abundance of sheep contrasted starkly with the growing need for wood and space on the board was at an all time premium. Mario used the character cards to his advantage gaining a good hand of development cards.
Towards the end of the game Charlie took longest road off of me and Mario used a development card to get a third guard, revealed a victory point card and announced victoriously that he had won, ending our grudge match. Unbelievably, the score now stands; Games of Catan that Mario has beaten Andrew: 2, Games of Catan that Andrew has beaten Mario at: 0.
The final score was Mario: 10, Andrew: 7, Charlie: 6 and Adam: 3. With the game finished we took some time to review. I had certainly underused the character card feature and regretted not having a keep or settlement on a 6 at any point. Adam wished he hadn’t spent quite as much time fighting wildlings and Charlie wished he’d built more. Mario basked in his win but remarked that it wasn’t really an improvement on the original.
Hardcore fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books will probably very much enjoy this title. I imagine those who are bigger fans of the T.V show will feel the absence of characters present only in series two onwards. I see the potential for possible GoT expansions in later releases, we mused on the addition of Dragons and White Walkers for a while.
If you are thinking of picking up this game, do make sure you have a good working understanding of the Catan base game first and the experience is no doubt all the more enjoyable if you have seen/read A Game of Thrones. I don’t rate the game any better than the original but it certainly isn’t any worse, just make sure your first game isn’t with Mario.
A Game of Thrones Catan, Brotherhood of the Watch is available at d20 store for £65 and is in our games library in the back.