Catan Geographies: Germany
I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of readers of this site have at some point played Catan in its original incarnation, whether it be on their dining room table, or via their Xbox 360. I’ll spare you all the summary of that game, and just tell you that this version of Catan uses the same rules almost completely unchanged barring a few simplifications which give it some of its flavor. At my insistence, we cracked out the game on a Sunday afternoon and set it up for four people.
The game takes place on an unchanging board, which may be a turn off for some people who like the randomness inherent in the original Catan. The board itself is a stylized representation of Germany, turned into a hex based map. Surrounding the map are holding areas for the different monuments you can build, as well as areas that are used ot clearly mark who has the longest road and largest army bonus points. Once you have everything where it is meant to be, the players are randomly dealt starting position cards which dictate your initial resources and towns. You can of course proceed with the standard Catan setup rules if you desire, but with these starting cards, everyone has an equal footing initially, with access to roughly the same amount high probability hexes. Our first few turns were a little slow due to the fact that the board, while definitely quite a beauty, loses a lot of the clarity that goes with the standard hex tiles in the classic game.
Changes to the building rules are few. The basic structures take the same resources they always have, but town halls (settlements) can only be built on existing city spaces. Essentially you are claiming the various cities in Germany as your own. Due to the cities already being placed, you don’t have to worry about the ‘two spaces away’ rule, as in certain points two cities will only have one road segment between them. Development cards are still coveted and potentially obnoxious, but due to the setup rules its very difficult for one person to have a solid dominion over them (though we found in our game that sheep and wheat ruled the day, as they are components in town halls, dev cards, and in the case of wheat, monuments).
Speaking of monuments, they completely replace cities in Geographies. When you build one, they yield no resources on adjacent spaces during resource generation, instead giving the player a one time bonus that corresponds to the monument in question, as well as a victory point, which you now need 12 of in the 3-player game, but otherwise the standard 10 are all that is required for victory. Of course the monuments lend a certain flavor to the game, being in the shape of famous cathedrals, castles, and monuments throughout Germany. They also help to reduce the monopoly that a person with early cities can have, balancing the power a bit more. That is not to say that all monuments are created equal. Those in more difficult locations tend to yield better rewards, with the most noteworthy being a two development card bonus.
Another important map change is the lack of trading ports. The standard bank trade rate is now 3:1, and dev cards can be used to set a player’s trade rate for a certain resource to 2:1 for a turn. This doesn’t really change much of the trading dynamic, but it does make people who buy development cards even more terrifying, for they will be inclined to hold on to them for quite a while, lending some players to believe that perhaps they are sitting on more victory point cards than they may actually have.
All things considered, fans of Catan will enjoy this for a few plays at the very least. People who haven’t tried the original Catan might enjoy it a bit more, as the production value and quality of components tends to be higher, as well as being effectivly a simplified Catan from a rules standpoint. I highly recommend giving this one a try, especially if you are trying to get a non-gamer in your life into the wonderful world of euro games. I suspect future entries in the Geographies series, if they are in the pipeline, could add some other aspects from the various Catan expansions into a nicely simplified version, such as a Seafarers inspired Japan, or perhaps a Cities and Knights inspired Italy. Overall, four wangs out of five.