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Review: Settlers of Catan for Mac

Catan (US$16.99) is the Mac app incarnation of the well-known board game Settlers of Catan.

If you haven't played Settlers (as my family refers to it) before, you're in for a real treat. And a whole lot of stress too. Oh, and did I mention the strife?

Settlers is, in a way, similar to Monopoly, but more complex. It requires more forethought and strategy, and usually a lot more time too. Add the Cities & Knights or Seafarer expansion packs, and things get even more exciting. It can take many played games just to understand all the rules, and many more before you claim the coveted Lord of Catan title. That is unless you're one of the very annoying, and very lucky, first time winners!

TUAW's covered Settlers of Catan and Catan for iOS in some detail before, so I'll jump straight into how Catan performs on the Mac.

The Mac version of Settlers, also titled Catan, remains true to the original board game. You're able to play the original Settlers of Catan rule-set or add the Cities & Knights or Seafarers expansions.

Catan can be played in one of two ways: solo campaign with the expansions, or scenario, where you choose from a variety of pre-set maps, including playing the original rule-set. Scenario mode also lets you play with others in a hot-seat style, multiplayer mode, similar to the iOS version. I guess you'll have to trust your friends not to look at your resources when it's your turn!

Unfortunately there's no cross-platform multiplayer mode, let alone a simple online multiplayer mode for the Mac version of the game. Catan would be the perfect game to start playing online on your Mac, pause and then continue on your iPad or iPhone, but it's not so. However, there is Game Center support in the form of achievements and local game statistics.

Campaign mode offers you ten challenging competitors to overcome in order to win the game. There are three difficulty settings to make sure you're always challenged. Pre-game banter between the characters preludes the start of each game. It's fun, but I mostly skipped through it all to get on with the game.

Visually, the game is represented in two ways. Either the tradition board game style view or a 3D representation of the game with moving graphics and animations to illustrate gameplay. For me, the 3D version was a no brainer. Either way, it's easy to zoom in and out of the board, but the game naturally focuses in on parts of the board as gameplay dictates, so most of the time you'll not have to worry about navigating around the board.

While the graphics are fun, and basically lifted from the iOS versions of Catan, I was a little disappointed with the graphical performance of the game on my Retina display MacBook Pro. Anti-aliasing can be turned up, which made a big improvement, but I guess I was expecting more detail, less pixels. Visually, the game is really easy to follow and simple to navigate, provided you understand how to play the game.

I loved the audio in Catan. The sound effects add character and life, and the soundtrack is wonderful too. It really encapsulates the emotional heart of the games, pulling you deep into the world of Catan. Of course, both effects and sound track volumes can be adjusted or altogether turned off.

One of the biggest challenges with playing Catan is understanding how the game works. Thankfully, Catan for Mac comes with the Catan Almanac, covering every aspect of the game, including the rules, for quick reference. However, this itself doesn't really explain how to play the game, including navigating and understanding the game in its Mac format. Fortunately, there's a tutorial mode where Prof. Easy talks you through the game rules and components, though there's no tutorial demo environment to practice in.

Unfortunately you can only access the almanac in game-play, not the tutorials. You need to save and exit your game to get to those. It would be nice to have a help mode during game-play, where you could hover the cursor over something in the game, which would then give a description of what an item does or how you can use it. Regardless, there's plenty to help you get your head around playing Catan in the almanac and tutorials.

Finally, there's an editor to create your own Catan maps and scenarios. These can then played or even published to other players through the Catan online network. However, I didn't get round to trialing this myself.

Overall, I really enjoyed playing Catan for Mac. I think that's because there's no denying that Settlers of Catan is a great game. But also because the port of Settlers to the Mac has been done, for the most part, really well. There are quite a few reviews on the Mac App Store saying that Catan crashes a lot. However, I'm pleased to report that in many hours of game-play, Catan didn't crash or hang on me once.

Regrettably, the game suffers in multi-player mode, but that's primarily due to the fact that your limited to a single screen to play on. Furthermore, there's no online game-play, which would be a great way to enhance the multiplayer aspect of Catan. Having said that, I hooked my Mac up to my living room TV and played the game with a few friends and we had a great time.

It would be great to see Catan evolve, taking advantage of OS X and iOS features like Game Center and AirPlay, so that Catan on the Mac can truly become the multiplayer game it's supposed to be. But for now, it's a great way to play Settlers of Catan on your own or with a friend.

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