Candamir: the First Settlers (Mayfair Games, 2004 – Klaus Teuber) is a game that is based on a book (Candamir: the First Settlers), which is based on a game (Settlers of Catan.) Actually, Candamir is the latest incarnation in Teuber’s Settlers series, kind of like a role-playing spin-off of the Catan games. Each player plays a single settler on the island of Catan, trying to survive and complete adventures. It’s an interesting board game experience – probably the first board role-playing type game that I’ve played that doesn’t include magic or science fiction. This made me wonder – would I not be as big a fan of the game, since it was slightly mundane?
The answer was quite the opposite – I actually really enjoyed Candamir, thinking that it had clever mechanics and was extremely interesting to play. The game does go on rather long for a Eurogame (about two hours), and there is a possibility for downtime, but this didn’t detract from my experience at all. Some of the mechanics, in fact, where incredibly clever – the Movement card mechanic is tremendous – as is the combat system. I thought the whole thing fit very seamlessly together, and there’s even a bit of customization of characters. (Tom Vasel has entered my game). Not all the players I introduced the game to were enthralled by it, but all were intrigued, and we had a good time.
A long board is placed on the table – with a good portion of it showing the land of Catan, divided into a seventy-square grid. Each square is one of three terrain types – mountain, grassland, or forest – with a river running through the middle. There are three “camps” – hunter, lumberjack, and miner on three squares, and the village square is in the middle of the board. Many of the squares have numbers on them – “2”, “3”, or “4” – and small hexes are placed face down on these squares, matching number and terrain type. If less than four players are playing then the “4” tiles are not placed, and with two players, the “3” tiles are not placed. The remaining portion of the board shows a larger version of the village of Catan. Several houses of prominent villagers and other spots are there for players to place victory point cubes. Each player takes one pawn of their color, placing it on the village square on the main board, and ten victory point cubes and a goal token in their color. Each player also receives a character board, placing a character card (out of nine included with the game) in the center. The character board has a life track – in which players keep track of their endurance (placing a counter on the highest number – 4). The player also has four statistics: Charisma, Prowess, Agility, and Strength – each of which has an associated symbol and number (0-2). At the top of the card is an area to place potions, and the player receives one Brigitta’s potion to start the game. Three types of resource cards (ore, lumber, and hides) and three types of ingredient cards (honey, herbs, and mushrooms) are placed near the board with each player receiving one lumber card. Three piles of adventure cards are shuffled and placed in a certain order to form one stack with the top three cards being turned face up and placed near the board. Finally, a pile of movement cards is shuffled and placed near the board, along with a pile of experience markers and equipment markers. Players roll off to see who goes first, and the game begins.
On a turn, a player first may trade cards with other players, just like in Settlers. They may also trade with the “bank”, for a 3:1 ratio. After this, players have two options: explore, or “build and brew”, if they are in the village. If a player decides to explore, and their pawn is still in the village, they may secretly look at any of the two face-down hex tiles. They then place a goal token on any space on the board – even a space they didn’t look at if they wish. The player then moves their pawn an amount of spaces equal to their current endurance. First the player turns over a movement card, orienting it so that the sky picture on the card faces the board. Each movement card shows four arrows facing in different directions, with different encounters in one or more of the directions. Players then decide which direction their character will move in. If there is no encounter in the direction they are moving, they simply move their pawn one square in that direction and draw another movement card if they have any movement points left. Otherwise, they deal with the encounter…
Ingredients: A player takes an ingredient card that matches the ingredient shown on the movement card then moves into the square. Some ingredients have parenthesis around them and can only be found by someone with a special ability.
Bears: The player must “fight” the bear. The player rolls one die, adds it to their base prowess statistic, and adds in any bonuses from experience points and weapons. If the total is equal to or greater than the number on the movement card, they defeat the bear, taking two hide cards as a reward, and moving into the square. Failure to defeat the bear means that the player cannot move into the square, and must lose two endurance.
Wolves: The player must fight the wolf, just like a bear, but using agility as the statistic, and only receiving one hide card as a reward. A player defeated by a wolf loses one endurance.
Snakes: The player must fight the snake, using agility as the statistic, but there is no reward, other than moving into the square. A player defeated by a snake loses one endurance.
Candamir: The player must help Candamir, taking a strength test (the same as a fight). If successful, the player moves into the square and receives a lumber card; failure causes the player to lose one endurance.
Adventure: The player must choose one of the three face-up adventure cards on the table. Each has some sort of story and some test that the player must attempt – sometimes two tests in a row. Each adventure card has different awards and penalties; and if a player completes one, they take the card and put it in front of themselves. If a player has at least three adventures cards in front of them, and the most of any player on the board, they may place one of their victory cubes in the “Hero of Catan” box in the village.
If at any time a player’s endurance falls to or below “0”, they must stop moving and skip one turn, which heals them back up to “4”. Alternatively, a player may drink a healing potion to immediately heal two endurance. Players may also drink Brigitta’s potions during tests to increase their score by two points.
After a player is finished moving, if they are in the square where they placed their goal token, they turn over the tile there – placing it in front of themselves, and receiving the awards on it:
Goods: The player receives one or two goods of the type shown on the tile.
Equipment: The player takes a “2” equipment token and places it in the appropriate place on their player card, adding “2” to the associated statistic.
Goat: The player immediately places a victory point cube in one of the goat victory point squares in the village.
Cattle: The player immediately places a victory point cube in one of the cattle victory point squares in the village.
Experience: The player places an experience token on their card to show that one of their abilities has increased by one. A player can increase one ability by four, but the other three have a maximum increase of two.
The player then immediately returns their player to the village.
If choosing the “brew and build” option, the player may manufacture goods or brew potions. If a player turns in the right combination of ingredients, they discard the ingredient cards and take the correct potion tokens, placing them on their player card. Players have a maximum of two potions of each type. Players may also turn in three good cards to manufacture an item. There are three different types of items (sword, chest, and window cover), and a player may only build one if it is available. There are nine columns of victory point squares in the village, each part of one of four people’s (Jared, Candamir, Osmund, Brigitta) houses. A player may only build an item that is in the top available square of one of the columns. If they do so, they place one of their victory point cubes in that square. Brigitta gives anyone who builds something for her two free potions. As for the other three houses, the player who has the most victory cubes in each (at least three) places a victory cube on a special square of that house. The first player to get rid of all ten of their victory cubes is the winner!
There are a couple of other rules in the game – such as special abilities that each character card has (trade goods 2:1, move an extra spot after landing on a river space, etc.), the mead potion (played after your turn – all players who have at least as many victory points as you lose one endurance), hand limits (five goods, five ingredients), the camps (a player can go to them to get one of a specific good), and a few others.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The large square box with evocative settlers artwork contains a lot of pieces – reminiscent of Starfarers of Catan. Both the ingredient and good cards are small size and have special trays that hold them next to the board. Other than that, though, the plastic trays in the box are not very good at holding the pieces; it looks like it was made for a different game. I have to bag everything so that it doesn’t fall around in the box. The artwork on the game board is exceptional, and it’s very easy to tell at a glance what all icons mean – both on the gameboard and on the tokens. Each skill has a related symbol, so the skill tests are fairly easy to discern. There are a LOT of pieces, but everything has its place; and many of the tiles used for experience points, potions, etc. are divvied up amongst the players for ease of finding them. The potion tiles show one potion on one side, and two on the other. Everything is sharp and of good quality; the game really looks neat when set up on the table.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is eight full-colored pages of illustrated examples with a quick index on the back, making finding a specific rule quite easy. In my first game, we found ourselves referring to the rules quite a bit; there are a decent amount of them, but over all it was pretty easy to figure out, as game play was mostly intuitive. The game was understood by the teenage crowd easily, while die-hard gamers picked up on the concepts fairly quickly. The rules for Candamir will also be put up soon at www.profeasy.com, which I’ve found to be one of the best ways to learn a game – through a flash demo of a game online.
3.) Interaction: I found the mead potions interesting, as they allowed a player who was behind to constantly annoy those in the lead. It added a little “take that” to a game where interaction is otherwise not too great. Yes, there is the trading that is evident in most Catan games, but it was used remarkably less here. Since every good and ingredient is important and hand limits are small, players rarely have an overabundance of goods to trade. This disappointed some, who wanted more trading; I didn’t mind, and only used trading as a last resort.
4.) Movement Cards: The movement cards mechanism is one of the neatest ideas I’ve seen implemented in a game in a long time. Even the players who weren’t too enthused about the game as a whole still liked the movement cards and said that we would probably see them in future games. It allows a player to make some interesting decisions. Do you head straight towards your goal, through a bear that you have very little chance of defeating? Do you go out of your way just to pick up a tantalizing ingredient that’s sitting in the opposite direction? Do you try to kill bears and coyotes to pick up their hides? The movement system works great, and actually offers a player interesting choices rather than acting as a hindrance.
5.) Time: The game takes quite a lengthy time to conclude – around two or more hours. Now, that wouldn’t seem quite so long; but because only one player goes at a time and can take a bit on their turn, some folk may get bored and impatient. I think a variant, where players only use eight of their victory cubes instead of all ten might fix this, although I haven’t tried it yet. I didn’t have a problem with the length, but some players commented on this.
6.) Special abilities: Each character card has different special abilities, which allow them to do unique things in the game, although nothing is really game breaking. In fact, a custom card is included that one can glue their own picture onto (I did!), and more custom cards can be found at the website. Having this bit of customizing, as well as the different initial stats on each card really helps the game feel slightly like a role-playing game.
7.) Adventures: The adventure cards, through their flavor text and tests, added a lot to the game, and provided an alternative way to get goods and victory points. As the game progresses, the adventures get harder and harder, but a keen player can use them to tip the game in their favor. In both games I’ve played, the player who did best in the adventures won the game.
8.) Strategy: There are some strategic decisions to be made. How will a player go after victory points? If a player decides to invest too heavily in victory points in one villager and doesn’t get the most, they’ve pretty much shut themselves out from other villagers. Getting cattle and goats makes for quick victory points; but if a player quickly gets equipment, it will give them a leg up on all challenges for the remainder of the game. The choices aren’t hard; but there are many of them, which gives a player a feeling of total control over the destiny of their character.
9.) Fun Factor: I found Candamir to be a lot of fun. It had a lot of elements from the popular Settlers of Catan but added in a bit of role-playing and exploration theme to make it quite different. There are some that say that Klaus Teuber merely exploits his popular Settlers theme; I think that he is a genius in continuing to make the Catan theme unique and interesting.
While not as elegant as the original Settlers of Catan, I still find this game to be a fascinating addition to the series. It’s unique, adds some fun and interesting mechanics and is a refreshing addition to the board-game-role-playing genre. It’s not for everyone, especially since it’s a longer game, but most Settlers fans should enjoy it – and has a good replayability factor. While it won’t replace good exploration games like Lost Cities, it does remind me of them and will take a place on the shelf as a game I’ll often want to play.
“Real men play board games.”