The Settlers of Nurnberg
The Settlers of Nurnberg Playtest Review by Shannon Appelcline on 14/01/03
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
An excellent standalone game using The Settlers of Catan gameplay as a basis. Increased complexity without cost in playability.
Product: The Settlers of Nurnberg
Author: Klaus Teuber
Category: Board/Tactical Game
Company/Publisher: Mayfair Games / Kosmos
Line: The Settlers of Catan
Page count: NA
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Shannon Appelcline on 14/01/03
Genre tags: Historical
The Settlers of Nurnberg (Die Siedler von Nurnberg) is a standalone game set in the German city of Nurnberg that builds upon (and expands) the popular Settlers of Catan game system. This review is of the German edition, produced by Kosmos and distributed in the United States by Mayfair Games. For contractual reasons, no English edition of the game is planned.
The Settlers of Catan is not needed to play this game. As such, I'll try and make this review standalone too.
The Settlers of Nurnberg comes with a set of high quality components, as you'd expect in a Catan-family game. They include:
The map is a set board that shows the city of Nurnberg to the left, and its environs to the right. A timline runs down the middle, used to control the length of the game. The map is nicely drawn, brightly colored, and printed on a very sturdy, textured cardboard that I suspect is water resistant. The map also does a superb job of using icons to help illustrate game rules. All of the building costs for structures appear on the right-hand side of the map while building costs for commodities, their prices, and tolls appear to the left. It's all very attractive and definitely increases ease of play. The back of the map is printed with what looks like a period woodcut of Nurnberg, which is a very nice touch.
The cards are quite small, though that might just be a difference between the American and German markets. They're fairly sturdy (given their size) and are cut with rounded corners. The resource cards are colorful and show the resources (e.g., wood) in front of the terrain that produces it (e.g., forest) and are yet another example of how icons are used to increase comprehension and playability.
The event cards are a bit more boring, as some are entirely or mostly monochromatic. However, they again use icons to get their point across. Each event card has a number, an icon or picture, and then an explanation (in German). Practically there are only 6 types of cards (Kostenloser Lehm, Wegezoll, Raubritter, Der Markgraf greift ein, Die Jahre vergehen, and the number 8), and it's really easy to pick up what they do after a few rounds of play, thanks to the pics, even if you don't read German (and I don't).
The players' wood pieces are very nice, painted in four different colors. There are settlements and toll roads, which go in the environs, and workshops, which go in the city. There's also a black robber and a purple timeline marker. They're all very high quality.
The city wall and tower tiles are printed on solid, textured cardboard. They're quite colorful, and go around the city of Nurnberg on the left of the board. They're actually quite cleverly cut, so that the towers go in the spaces between walls on outside hexes
The prestige and gold chits are on that same, nice textured cardboard. The prestige chips are green squares and the gold chips are yellow circles, so they're quite easy to tell apart. There are a couple of denominations of each to keep accounting simple.
The victory point markers are again on that same cardboard. The three council victory point markers are clearly marked "4", "3", and "2"--the number of victory points each is worth. The right of way markers are denoted with the road it applies to (I to V) and the fact that it's 1 "siegpunkt" (victory point).
The division or rules between a colorful quickstart and an almanac might be of use to German readers, but did nothing for this English gamer. There's also a book on the city of Nurnberg, which I likewise wasn't able to read. My import of this game came with two translations, one from Mayfair Games, and one from funagain.com. They were both adequate. The funagain.com rules were nicely illustrated but had a crucial mistake in them. The Mayfair Games translation was pedestrian and occasionally awkward, but correct. I was glad I had two rules translations to compare.
Overall, the quality of all these components was extremely high. It's all very sturdy and very pretty. At a $50 price point, I'd have to slightly question the value-to-price ratio in relationship to other stuff in the market, but given this is an import, I won't complain too much. Nurnberg thus gets my highest rating for "style" though I'd expect a comparable USA-native game that didn't have to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to be more in the $40-45 range.
German Language in the Components
I had some concern about buying this game because I knew it was a standalone game printed in German. Overall, I find it extremely playable for non-German players. As already noted, you'll end up with one or two rules translations that are adequate.
On the actual components, German words are only used on: scattered costs on the board; the event cards; and the victory point markers. I find the icons on the victory point markers and the board entirely clear (actually, I didn't know if I should put the event deck on "Ereigniskarten Stapel" and the discards on "abgelegte Ereigniskarten" or vice-versa, but who cares).
The event cards were slightly intimidating, but given that there are only 6 types, and that all of the players look at them together, we actually never had any troubles. Once we'd read over the rules, each event was very clear thanks to the icons on the cards.
So, unless you're a real foreign-phobe, or strategy games already give you a headache, I don't think the foreign printing on The Settlers of Nurnberg should be an issue at all.
The Game Design
Practically, Nurnberg has two somewhat two distinct types of game play: what occurs on the environs board and what occurs on the city board. Since players tend to concentrate more on the environs board early in the game, then move over to the city board, I'll tackle them in that same order.
The Environs Board: This board ("Das Umland Nurnbergs") shows the lands around the city of Nurnberg. It's split up into hexes, each of which contains one of five terrain types, and each of which also has a production number, between 2 and 12. The city of Nurnberg is a hex too. Roads run along the hexsides, originating at Nurnberg and heading toward the edges of the map. There are 5 roads total, the Venedig Road (I), the Frankfurt Road (II), the Prag road (III), and two nameless roads which just run off into the near countryside (IV and V).
Setup: Each player places two toll stations and two settlements on the environs board at start. The toll stations are built on the roads leaving Nurnberg, starting at the hexside closest to the city and moving out until the road is filled with toll stations. A player may place a settlement at a hex corner of any road on which he has a toll station. Settlements may not be placed on adjacent hex corners on the same road. Players also get 3 gold at start.
Events: Every turn begins with a player selecting the top card on the event deck. These cards have various effects. The "Robber Knight" allows the current player to move the robber onto a hex of his choice and steal a card from any player; players with more than 7 resources in hand also lose half of them. The "Margave" causes the Robber Knight to go home. The "Hourglass" advances the timeline toward endgame, and causes the event deck to be reshuffled every third time it's pulled. The "City Wall" allows each player to build a city wall segment without having to pay a brick. The "Toll" imposes tolls on a specific road, which I discuss in a bit. Each card except the robber card also has a number on it, between 2 and 12.
Resource Production: The number on the event card identifies which hexes generate resources each turn. Each terrain type has a resource type associated with it, as shown below:
A player gets one of the appropriate resource for each settlement which he has on the corner of a hex whose number is rolled on a turn. The hex containing the robber doesn't produce.
Trade: Trade is a vital part of the game. A player can always trade four of the same resource for one of any other resource (4:1) to the Bank. Within the city of Nurnberg, building near the Great Market allows more favorable trading ratios (3:1 generally or 2:1 for a specific resource, depending on location). A player can also trade resources with other players, and usually does.
Building in the Environs: Each player will collect resources and trade them in order to build specific things which interest him. The following items may be build in the environs:
Settlement: 1 wood, 1 wheat, 1 brick, 1 sheep; worth one victory point
Settlements are built to increase the number of hexes which a player receives production from. Toll stations are built to (1) give access to new roads to build settlements upon -and- (2) try and gain control of the right of way of a road ...
Rights of Way & Tolls: Whomever has the most toll stations on a road gains access of the "right of way" on that road. (In case of ties, the current person holds on to it.) This gives him a card worth 1 victory point. In addition, he gets to collect two types of toll for the road. First of all, whenever a toll event card is turned up for his road, the player receives one gold for each settlement on his road owned by another player. Second, players building commodities, as discussed below, have to pay tolls when they export.
The City Board: The left-hand side of the Nurnberg game board shows the city proper. It's divided up into hexes, like the environs board, but these hexes don't produce anything; rather they give players different benefits. The two central hexes in Nurnberg are the Great Market and the "Bauhof" (which I don't have a translation for). Each corner of the Great Market gives a different trading advantage (e.g., 3:1 anything, 2:1 brick, 2:1 ore, etc.). Building on a corner of the "Bauhof" gives the player the ability to build towers. The rest of the hexes each contain the picture of one of the five commodities. Building on a hex corner gives the player the ability to earn twice as much from the sale of that commodity. As already noted, there are spaces for city walls around the city of Nurnberg. The walls also form spaces for towers every other segment.
Building in the City: There are three things you can produce in a city: workshops, city walls, and city towers. They cost as follows:
Workshop: 3 ore, 2 grain; worth 1 victory point
There are no geographic restrictions to building any of these items, other than the fact that there must be a space to build a tower. The gold needed to build walls and towers comes from the sale of commodities.
Workshops are built in order to give access to the market, the "bauhof" and the various advantageous spaces for commodities. Walls and towers are built in order to win council seats in Nurnberg.
Producing Commodities: Commodities can be produced at any time. They're immediately sold. There are a total of five different commodities. Each one has a resource cost, an associated trade route, a sale value, and a toll. They're all shown clearly on the map, but here's the outline:
Armor: 3 ore, 1 wood; to Prag; value 6 gold; toll 3 gold.
A player announces he's building a commodity, spends the resources, collects the value (x2 if he has a workshop on an appropriate hex corner), and then pays the toll to the player who controls the right of way of the appropriate road (not x2, even if the player is earning more money). And the whole point, as already noted, is to generate gold pieces for building walls and towers. (Gold can also be traded for other resources at a 4:1 ratio, 3:1 if the player controls the appropriate space at the Great Market.)
Winning Council Seats: Whenever a player builds a wall he earns a prestige point; whenever he builds a tower, he gets 2. The player with the most prestige points get the 4 victory point council seat ("Mitglied im Siebenerrat"), the player with the second most gets the 3 victory point council seat ("Mitglied im Kleinen Rat"), and the player with the third most gets the 2 victory point council seat ("Mitglied im Groben Rat"). If there's a fourth player, he gets squat.
Ending the Game: When a player earns 13 victory points he wins the game. This total comes from settlements (1 VP each), workshops (1 VP each), right of way cards (1 VP each), and council seats (2-4 VP). Alternatively the turn ends when the timeline advances to 1400 (9 "Hourglass" advancements), in which case the player with the most victory points at that time wins.
Changes from Settlers of Catan
Existing Settlers of Catan players should probably read through the whole game play section, above, as it's quite a bit different from the original. You still have hexes that produce resources and settlements that collect resources and the ability to trade ... but beyond that there are many, many differences.
You have toll stations instead of roads, and they don't have to connect and you don't have to place your settlements adjacent to them. Instead of cities you have workshops, which serve a totally different purpose. There's the entirely new idea of commodities (different from City & Knight's commodities) and the way they interact with the toll stations and rights of way is new to the Catan games as well.
You'll probably want to read the rules carefully if you pick up this game, to make sure you don't carry over incorrect assumptions from the core Catan games.
The Game Design
Nurnberg manages to not just encapsulate the excellent game design found in the original Settlers of Catan game, but actually expands upon it to produce a richer, more complex game.
Here's the best design features, some shared with the original Catan game:
Good Use of Strategy: Nurnberg really makes a player feel like he can control his own destiny by choosing a strategy, then sticking to it in some rational way. Depending on which path he wishes to take he can, for example, gather wood and bricks in order to gain control of rights of way; or alternatively gather ore and grain to try and get a head start within the city itself.
Good Use of Randomness: Randomness in Nurnberg is used to good effect. Most importantly, perhaps, it's tightly controlled. On a "bad" roll you might get an unexpected resource that forces you to take a different tact or requires you to trade with other players, but there's almost always some other possibility. In addition, Nurnberg protects you from long strings of bad luck through its use of cards to generate numbers between 2 and 12 rather than dice. This controls the variance because you'll never get an infinite numbers of 6s and no 8s, for example, because each card is in the deck a set number of times. (Some randomness is still maintained by the fact that the deck is reshuffled at an arbitrary time after three "Hourglasses" are drawn.)
Shifting Gameplay: Nurnberg makes good use of its two map setup to produce shifting gameplay as the game advances. In the early game players tend to be working in the environs, trying to control rights of way and to build sufficient settlements to collect good numbers of resources. Then, at midgame, a player shifts over to the city board, and suddenly everyone is playing there, trying to get access to the best spots at the market and in the surrounding areas. This shift in gameplay keeps the game interesting, yet still maintains the core ideas of the game.
Controlled Complexity: This game is more complex than the original Settlers; in fact, I'd place it at a similar complexity level to the most complex Catan game, Cities & Knights. However it doesn't feel hard, and that's because the complexity is controlled in a number of ways. First, you have the early/late game distinction, so that you're really thinking about a shift in your overall gameplay, not trying to balance all the options at once. Second, though there are five different commodities that can be built, you're not really thinking about each commodity in turn. Rather, through your early gameplay you've established control over certain roads and given yourself access to certain resources with the goal of building one certain commodity (or perhaps two) that will bring you to victory. Still, though you won't be bogged down in every decision, it might take a game or two before you really understand how the game fits together.
Nice Interactivity: Although not an in-your-face competitive game, ala Risk, Nurnberg does still maintain a nice level of interactivity. On the environs board you can fairly actively compete with other people for control of the roads. Then, over on the city map, you'll be fighting with other folks to get control of certain spots on the board--because quite a few produce unique benefits and there are also a half dozen or so that are clearly better than the rest.
Solid Endgame: The endgame felt both natural and competitive, since it eventually came down to directly working against other players to control the floating victory point markers (the council seats and the rights of way). Though we never got close to 1400, I did also appreciate the use of the timeline. A set endpoint like that keeps a game from stagnating; making it somewhat random keeps players from making unrealistic last-ditch assaults.
Here's the scant problems I had with the game:
Power Curve: All of the Settlers of Catan games are built on power curves. The better you get, the better you get, and this can result in being far ahead or far behind by the time you hit mid-game. This game improves upon the general problem quite a bit through the improved interactivity. There are more ways to slow down someone who's ahead. Nonetheless, it's a concern.
Missing Tactility: The lack of dice made a much bigger difference than I would have expected. Everyone who played really missed the tactile feeling of being able to throw them. I'm not sure the decreased variance implicit in this game's randomness was actually worth giving up the feel of the dice, as silly as that may sound.
Missing VP Chart: As a minor quibble, this game could really have used an on-board victory point chart which showed how everyone was doing at any time. There were enough different elements going into peoples' victory points that even I lost track of them sometimes (and I tend to be always counting in a game like this). We ended up using the timeline as a faux victory point track in order to help out.
Limited Players: Players are unfortunately limited to 4 in this game, with no obvious way to increase it because of the constraints of the gameboard.
I'm pretty happy that I purchased this game because after one game I think it might be the best of the Catan games. It definitely offers some very solid gameplay and strategy at a level higher than either the original Settlers or Seafarers, and it manages its complexity much better than Cities & Knights.
If you're already an ardent Settlers fan, would like a bit more complexity, and don't mind the fairly small player limit, I definitely suggest this game.
If you've never played Settlers before, however, unless you're a die-hard strategist, this is probably a bit much to start off with, and I'd instead suggest the other standalone Catan game, Settlers of Canaan (for which, see my review of that).