Since Jay and I have been so hopelessly busy playing Cry Wolf, I offered last night to write a review for a game that was mentioned in passing in a previous post, Sea3d, also known as Settlers of Catan.
Settlers is a board game that's been around for a number of years, but a fan of the game later created an online clone version so people could play over the internet. After great success, he later removed all references to 'Settlers of Catan' and renamed his game Sea3d, although the rules and gameplay are, to be honest, identical.
Lots of rules and a fantastic, free, and clutter-free interface make this a game that has a casual feel, but a professional presentation.
Sea3d's biggest asset, however, is its intuitive nature; despite all the rules, they all seem to fit together once you start playing, and the controls in the interface and website are easy to pick up without any preparation at all. In addition, the community of players is very friendly, and is likely to give you tips while you play.
[Edit Update: This game requires a software download for Windows!]
The game is played on a board of hexagonal map tiles. Similar to Monopoly, you place settlements (houses) on the map tiles to claim a stake in their resources. That's where the similarities end, however.
The game is extremely resource-based, and the five basic types of land tiles each provide a type of resource card:
Forest -> Wood
Grassland -> Sheep
Mud? -> Clay
Mountain -> Ore
Field -> Wheat
The six corners of each tile provide a spot to place a settlement. Along the edges, you can build roads, connecting corners between tiles. Each tile has a 'chit' on it, a number from 2 to 12, representing the die roll that will activate it. When a tile's number is rolled, each settlement on its corners gets a resource card according to the type of the tile.
At the beginning of the game, players take turns placing down two settlements on the board, and a road for each. Roads must connect to one of your settlements (or roads). Later in the game, on your turn, you can purchase more roads (1 wood, 1 clay) and settlements (1 wood, clay, wheat, and sheep). However, throughout the game, no settlement can be closer than two road lengths away from another, causing real estate to become VERY valuable.
You can also upgrade a settlement to a city, by paying 2 wheat and 3 ore. A city recieves TWO resource cards whenever an adjacent tile is activated, rather than one.
Rolling a 7 in the game gives you control over the 'robber', a marker to be placed on any one tile. When you move the robber, the tile you place it on can not give any resources until the robber is moved, and you get to steal 1 card from any player with a settlement on that tile.
In addition, 'development cards', like chance cards in Monopoly, can be purchased for 1 wheat, 1 ore, and 1 sheep. Development cards include Soldier, which lets you move the robber, Year of Plenty, which gives you 2 resource cards of your choosing, Victory Point, which adds a point to your score, and the very opportunistic Monopoly card, which allows you steal all the cards of a specific type from all of your opponents.
The scoring of the game provides the crucial, harried element: 1 point for each settlement, 2 points for each city, 2 points to the player with the 'longest road' (longer than 4, minimum), and 2 points to the player with the 'largest army' (at least 3 Soldiers played, minimum).
As if this weren't enough, there are even more rules to become acquainted with: trading with the bank, trading using 'port' spots (which allow you to trade at a better ratio), the rule which causes you to lose half your cards whenever a 7 is rolled, IF you have more than 7 cards in your hand, and then the rules that come into play when more than one continent is allowed (and you can then build ships in addition to roads).
To facilitate all this, the Sea3d website has an enormous number of utilities to make gameplay easier-- a game connector, which allows you to join or start games with strangers, a ladder ranking system, a log of all games played, cheating reports, a chat room, forums, additional maps, and links to an extensive help library for gameplay. Click.