The Settlers of Canaan
The Settlers of Canaan Playtest Review by Shannon Appelcline on 24/12/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A great starter standalone game if you've never played Catan before. And, worthwhile for the experienced Catan player if you prefer the biblical background to the historical Cheops supplement.
Product: The Settlers of Canaan
Author: Klaus Teuber
Category: Board/Tactical Game
Company/Publisher: Cactus Game Design Co.
Line: The Settlers of Catan
Page count: N/A
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Shannon Appelcline on 24/12/02
Genre tags: Historical
The Settlers of Canaan is a standalone game that's built upon the popular Settlers of Catan system. It's a historical variant, located in the Biblical period. You do not need anything else to play this game, and in fact it's a nice introduction to the Catan system.
The Settlers of Canaan has relatively nice components that seem fairly in-step with the $30 price point. They are:
The game board is a fairly nice depiction of the Holy Land broken down into colored hexes. The hexes clearly define production types; each hex is primarily one color, which makes it very easy to see what type of hex it is (forest, fields, etc). The borders of the board include nice era-appropriate etchings. The board is mounted on a solid cardboard surface, though the glue used to attach the map to the surface is a bit lacking at the edges.
The wood pieces are quality markers for cities, settlements, and roads. Each color also has a circular victory point marker which is placed on a track to the right of the board that runs from II to XII. The plague marker is likewise wood (it's the same marker as the robber in Settlers of Catan).
The resource cards are colorful, showing a resource (wood) in a circle inside a drawing of the terrain (forest). The terrain drawing clearly matches the hex types on the board.
The development cards include priests, victory points, and a few different types of events. Some people might be put off by how monochromatic they are (black, white, gold, and green), but I again find the etchings and coloring quite appropriate for the era being evoked.
Both types of cards have the deficit of being just a little too thin. In addition, their corners haven't been rounded as most professional cards are. These two factors will lead to somewhat shorter lives for these decks than might be desirable (and is fairly surprising given the higher quality of Cactus Games' Redemption cards).
The building point displays are the hinge of the game. They correlate an object which can be built (e.g., settlement) with the cost to build it (e.g., one each of wood, brick, wheat, and sheep), and the victory points earned for it (e.g., 1 VP). There are four different building cost displays, each named after a different tribe of Israel (e.g., the Tribe of Asher).
The Victory Point markers are used to denote special victory point conditions (e.g., Most Priests). Again, they're monochromatic like the development cards.
Both the building cost displays and victory point markers are printed on solid cardboard. The perforations unfortunately remain visible when you punch them out of their holders, but other than that, they're very nice.
The building stones are small cardboard pieces used to build Jerusalem on the board. They're the most troublesome component in the package because (1) they're too big to fit in the spaces on the board, and (2) the black and blue stones are almost identical in color. Both quite annoying in play.
The rulebook is 12 pages in black and white. It's competently laid out, but no more than that.
The box that the game comes in is mildly notable because it's quite flimsy. I put it in my backpack to carry off to gaming with me, and I was afraid it was going to get squished. Fortunately it survived the trip.
Overall, if you've played the most recent Settlers of Catan game from Mayfair you'll find these components somewhat substandard, but the annoyance with the components other than the wall blocks will probably disappear when you play.
If you're totally unfamiliar with the other Catan games, these pieces will probably match or exceed your expectations for game components, especially given the $30 price point (which, notably, is about 25% less than the introductory Catan game).
The Game Play
The game play of The Settlers of Canaan is almost identical to that of The Settlers of Catan, other than building Jerusalem, so if you're familiar with the original, you can pretty much skip this section.
However, since The Settlers of Canaan is intended to be a standalone game, I'll try and make this review standalone as well, and thus explain the game play in detail.
The map, as already noted, is divided into different hexes. There are actually six distinct types: forest, pasture, fields, hills, mountains, and the copper mines. Each hex type in turn produces a type of resource:
Each hex is also marked with a number, between 2 and 12.
Every player's turn the following things occur:
Players primarily interact with the game environment through the objects that they build on the board: settlements, cities, roads, blocks for Jerusalem, and development cards.
At the start of the game each player will place two settlements (on hex corners) and two roads (on hex edges, adjoining settlements they built).
A player gets one of the appropriate resource when a hex that he has a settlement on the corner of produces. These resources in turn allow him to buy additional objects. Here's the run-down of each of the five object types:
Settlements cost a wood, a sheep, a brick, and a wheat to build. They must be built on a hex corner, at least two spaces from any other settlement, on a road that the builder owns. They generate one resource when an adjacent hex produces and are worth 1 VP.
Cities cost three ore and two wheat to build, and are upgrades for settlements (replacing them). They generate two resources when an adjacent hex produces and are worth 2 VP.
Roads cost a brick and a wood to build. They must be built adjoining a road or a city/settlement the player owns and offer a path along which other settlements will later be built upon. They're worth no VPs innately, but whomever has the longest road that's 5 segments or longer earns the victory point marker for "Longest Road", worth 2 VPs.
Development Cards cost a sheep, an ore, and a grain to build. They're drawn from the deck and could include priests (which can temporarily chase away the plague), victory point cards, and events (like monopolies). Some cards are worth 1 VP, while whomever has the largest group of revealed priests that's 3 or greater total, earns the victory point marker for "Most Priests", worth 2 VPs.
Jerusalem Blocks cost a brick and an ore. They may only be built by a player who has built a city or settlement adjacent to the Jerusalem hexes (though other players who can trace a route through roads to a Jerusalem city may build by paying 1 resource to the player with the city/settlement at Jerusalem). Upon building a player gets to put a block of his color in Jerusalem. These aren't innately worth VPs, but whomever has the most stones in Jerusalem gets the victory point card for "King's Blessing", worth 2 VPs, and also offering a 2:1 trade ratio for the resource of the player's choice.
Trading is the other important part of this game. The best (domestic) trades go on between players, since each player is often working toward a slightly different goal, or has slightly different abilities and needs. However, a player may always trade with the "bank" (foreign trades) at a ratio of 4:1--four of the same resource for 1 resource of his choice. On the board, at the Mediterannean Sea and the Sea of Chinnereth, some hex edges are marked as ports--building at either corner gives a better trade ratio. Sometimes this is a general 3:1 port--3 of any resource for one of what you want. Sometimes it is a specific 2:1 port, such as a 2:1 brick port, where you can trade two of only the specified resource for one of what you want. As noted the King's Blessing card also gives you a 2:1 trade ratio while you hold it, of a type you determine when you get the card.
There are only a few other notable rules in the game.
First, whenever you roll a 7, several things happen. (1) Anyone with more than 7 resource cards in hand loses half of them. (2) The roller gets to move the "plague". He places it in a hex on the board; that hex no longer produces and the roller gets to steal a card from a player who has a settlement or city at a corner of the hex. (3) A black block is built on Jerusalem, which acts as a counter toward game end.
Second, all of those victory point cards (for priests, road, and Jerusalem) can move around. If you manage to equal the player who holds the card currently, it goes out of play. If you surpass them, you get the card yourself.
The game ends when someone achieves 12 Victory Points or when 28 blocks have been used to build Jerusalem.
Changes from Settlers of Catan
If you're familiar with the original Catan game, and have skimmed down here to look at the design notes, the big changes from Catan to Canaan are: (1) you can now build blocks on Jerusalem to win a 2:1 port and a 2 VP marker; and (2) the VP markers are now lost if someone equals you in the appropriate category.
The Game Design
Overall, the game design of The Settlers of Canaan is very solid. If anything, it's better than the original Settlers of Catan game's design, especially for beginning players. Though the set board will eventually get boring, in many ways I think it will appeal more to first-time players because it simplifies the setup, provides a more coherent backstory, is cheaper, and is less frustrating to play at start because of the way the hexes have been laid out.
Here's some more specifics of the good game design:
Solid Startup & Less Frustrating Midgame: Thanks to the layout of this set board, wood and brick are quite common, and this makes early game building, which tends to consists of roads, then settlements, much easier. Not getting frustrated early in the game is very nice. Also of note is the fact that ports are located at the edges of the appropriate type of terrain (ie, there's a wheat port on a wheat hex). This has a similar effect of making play easier and less frustrating later in the game.
Encourages Player Interaction: The Catan games have always encouraged player interaction through trading thanks to the fact that different players get different resources and players working toward different strategies will need different things. Canaan has these same advantages and if anything improves on them. On the set map, different resources tend to be clustered, making it even more likely that each player will have a surplus of one resource type and not enough of another.
Allows Different Strategies: This is pretty much an identical advantage to the original Catan game. Players can decide to play the game in a lot of different ways including: brick-wood, wherein they compete for longest road; ore-grain, wherein they compete for Most Priests; all-resources, in which they try to be self sufficient; variance-protection, in which they try and cover all the numerical possibilities; monopoly, wherein they try and corner a specific resource; etc. Canaan does somewhat limit the brick-wood strategy because of the commonality of those resources, but there's probably still enough different possibilities to go around.
Controls Randomness: Though the die roll introduces a lot of chance into Canaan (as you can go rounds without getting a resource if you're very unlucky), you can still always feel like you can take advantage of whatever resources luck has dumped in your lap. As already noted, this set board tries to improve upon that by making annoying, slow starts unlikely and by improving foreign trade possibilities mid-game.
Has Good End Game Play: The Victory Point structure is very clear, and the track on the board makes it very easy to see. In addition, because there are so many VPs based on markers which can move around, there are clear ways to try and slow down the winner, while not slowing the entire game down too badly. I also like the fact that this game has a limitor (the 28 maximum blocks in Jerusalem), which provides a clear way to stop a "stuck" game--good in any strategic design.
Other than the fact that randomness is a tiny bit high there's only a few notable gameplay problems with this game:
Has a Power Curve: There's a power curve involved with the way the game progresses. The more you produce, the more cities and settlements you build, and thus the more you can produce. It's possible to get behind early in the game, and for it to be obvious that you'll never win. (This problem applies to every Catan variant.)
Will Eventually Play Out: The fact that the board is set means that this game will eventually play itself out in your group. However, fortunately, there are some ways to expand this game, even without jumping directly over to The Settlers of Catan.
Expanding This Game
Though The Settlers of Canaan is meant to be a standalone game, it can actually be expanded with most of the various Catan supplements out there. More or less in order of convenience:
The Historical Supplements: There are two of these, Alexander and Cheops, and Troy and The Great Wall. These can be played directly with the Canaan pieces, since you just need the wood pieces, the building cost displays, and the development cards. Note that Cheops is actually almost exactly the same game as Canaan, with a different board, and thus isn't recommended that much if you already have Canaan.
Cities & Knights: This supplement doesn't really fit thematically, but it can allow you to replace your priests with knights and your development cards with progress. It provides for a much more complex game. Call it: Canaan: The Crusades, I suppose.
The 5-6 Player Expansion for Settlers of Catan: This will give you playing pieces for 2 more players as well as some cardboard hexes you don't need for Canaan. The Settlers of Canaan board may support 6 players, as there was free space in the 4 player game I played, but I'm not certain. The Troy & Great Wall supplement definitely allows for 6 players.
If you do a search on Catan you should find reviews of these other products.
The components in this box, which are cheaper than those in The Settlers of Catan game, originally turned me off to this product. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually played the game. The set-board is very well designed, and it actually improves gameplay over Catan.
In addition, it became obvious that this game is very new-player friendly, especially as compared to the original Settlers of Catan where you have to build your map board before you get started.
If you don't own a copy of The Settlers of Catan, and only expect to play casually, I'd actually suggest buying this product instead. More hardcore players may want to dive right into the original Catan game instead.
If you already own The Settlers of Catan, but haven't bought the Cheops Historical Supplement yet, this might be a decent alternative because it plays at least as well as Cheops. You don't get the bonus of the Alexander game that comes with Cheops, but as I mentioned in my Alexander/Cheops review, the Alexander game doesn't work anyway. You should decide between Cheops and Canaan based upon which historical background appeals to you more.
If you already own Catan and Cheops, this isn't worth buying because the gameplay is nearly identical.
One last comment: I'm very sad that Canaan didn't use 4 new colors of wood, which would have encouraged existing Catan players to pick up the supplement because they then could have tried 10(!) player Catan games, combining the wood from here, Catan, and the 5-6 player expansion. Alas, an opportunity missed.