If you're into board games, you're probably familiar with Catan already. If, on the other hand, your knowledge of analog gaming begins and ends with Monopoly and Scrabble, Catan is a game well worth checking out.
Catan is, for many people, the game that introduced them to the concept of the "Euro" style of board game -- a highly competitive, strategic experience that tends to place stronger focus on game mechanics than theme, atmosphere and story. In Catan, you compete against three or four opponents in an attempt to colonize a new island, building roads, settlements and cities to score points. The first one to score ten points wins.
Catan is such a fondly regarded game in many board gaming circles because of its simple but elegant mechanics, and its pleasing combination of strategy and randomness -- the latter meaning that each time you play, it will be a significantly different experience, but it will simultaneously be quite difficult to find yourself purely at the mercy of the dice.
There's also another big attraction to Catan's analog incarnation: the amount of interpersonal interaction it encourages around the table. Catan is a game about trading, you see, and with the way the board is typically set up, you don't always have access to all the resources you'll need to build your way to victory. And this is where you need to turn on the charm and ask your fellow players for help, with deals becoming increasingly strained as the game continues.
Catan has seen a number of digital versions over the years -- both official and unofficial. The latest of these, the work of German company United Soft Media working in collaboration with the board game's publisher Mayfair games, has just hit the Mac App Store, with Windows and OSX versions set to hit Steam very soon.
Catan: Creators Edition, as the new version is called, incorporates the original Catan game along with two of its major expansions: Seafarers, and Cities & Knights. There are also two new bonus scenarios that have been developed for the new version, and an editor allowing players to create their own new challenges to take on or share with others around the world. The game allows you to play with fancy-pants new 3D graphics or a more traditional board game-like look, so you can enjoy the experience as you please.
The new version only has one real stumbling block, but unfortunately it's a bit of a major one: while there are ten different computer opponents to play against, the only means of competing against other humans is via local hotseat multiplayer. That's right, there's no online or network play.
It's a curious omission, and there seems to be no plans in motion to incorporate online play into Creators Edition in the long-term, either; those who raised objections to the lack of Internet (or even network) multiplayer on the official Facebook page for Catan were simply met with a rather curt response to make use of the well-established but rather dated online play system at PlayCatan.com or wait for the various mobile versions of the game to be updated with online play, which they still lack.
It's sort of understandable that the teams behind the various computer, console and mobile incarnations wouldn't want to take business away from the established online portal to play Catan, but the team running the Facebook page hasn't been winning itself many friends with its rather terse responses to criticism. I can't help thinking that the lack of this feature may well end up hurting sales of this otherwise good-looking adaptation of the classic board game.
You can grab the Mac version from the Mac App Store for $16.99; a Windows PC version will follow on Steam soon.