Catan: The Great River
is a miniature Settlers of Catan
expansion that was originally available through Games Quarterly #10
, and can now be found at the Mayfair web site and your local retail store.
The Great River comes with a single sheet of cardboard which contains The Great River and 8 victory point flags.
River: The Great River is a unique three-hex tile which shows a river running down from mountains into hills, and then into a swamp, from whence it goes to the sea. It generally matches the art style of the Mayfair game.
Rules: The rules are written on the back of the Great River, which is both good and bad. On the one hand you'll never lose the rules, but on the other hand you can't easily reference them during play. You may want to photocopy the rules so that you'll have an extra copy.
Flags: The victory point flags are similar to the flags that have appeared throughout other Catan products. They each depict 1 VP. For some reason they're printed a bit smaller than the ones in Seafarers of Catan, but otherwise aren't particularly notable.
Overall, the components of The Great River are average--about what you'd expect from a Catan expansion--and entirely fair for the low price point (whether that be as a free giveaway in GQM or for $3.00).
I've thus given The Great River a "3" out of "5" for Style.
Setup: A mountain, hill, and the desert are removed from the tile mix. There are replaced with The Great River, a 3-hex tile which shows a river running down from a mountain, then through hills, and into a swamp. It must be placed so that the two watery edges of the swamp abut against the seas.
The Swamp. The swamp acts just like the desert. The robber starts here, and it doesn't generate any resources.
Setup. During setup no player may built settlements adjacent to the swamp.
Gameplay: Gameplay functions exactly as normal, with the mountain and hill of The Great River generating their normal resources (and the swamp not generating anything). However there is also gold in them-thar hills, which means Victory Points.
Gold!: Any road built alongside or across a Great River hex is worth 1 gold point. Each settlement or city situated on a corner of a Great River hex is worth 1 gold point. A settlement or city built at the tip of the delta on the swamp is worth 2 gold points.
Each 3 gold points are worth 1 victory point.
Winning the Game: The game plays to 12 points instead of the normal 10.
Seafarers & Cities: Rules are also included for playing with Seafarers and Cities & Knights. In short, boats resting alongside the swamp are worth 1 gold point (unless they move away), while knights don't count for points.
Relationships to Other Games
This is one of several expansions for The Settlers of Catan. More specifically it's one of several micro-expansions that have been released lately, also including The Fishermen of Catan and the Catan Event Cards.
Many of these micro-expansions (including The Great River) were previously released in German as part of the Atlantis expansion.
The Game Design
The Great River is a nice example of a minimalist expansion to an existing board game. It offers very minor changes to the game--just a new set of three tiles which can score victory points--but in doing so it changes the game enough to allow for different strategies and thus some new variability in play.
The biggest plus of The Great River is that it newly awards road-building. In a typical Settlers game, late in the game roads start to decrease in value, as do bricks and wood. Here, because players are trying to accrue as many VPs as they possibly can by building roads all around the river, this dynamic changes.
Also good is the fact that The Great River opens up the game board. Things seem a little less crowded, and it's not quite as easy to get totally cut off, because one or more players will be building intensively around the river.
Neither good nor bad--but notable--is the fact that The Great River makes the game of Catan longer. I'd personally suggest trying it at 11 VP instead of 12, as the game length went a bit longer than I'd like.
The only real minus of The Great River is that not everyone will get to participate in the river fun on ever game. Most likely 2-3 players will compete for the river spots. Fortunately the value of the River seems pretty well balanced, with it still being entirely possible to win by building on the river or by ignoring it.
On the whole The Great River offers pretty minor changes, but it does vary the game of Settlers to be interesting. I've given it an average "3" out of "5" for Substance.
If you play The Settlers of Catan with any frequency at all you should pick up a copy of Catan: The Great River. It adds a little bit of variability to the game, with slightly different strategies coming to the fore, and for just $3 that's a steal.