Thursday, July 26, 2007

News in Reviews / Old Puzzler Continuation / New Fortnightly Puzzler

A Settlers Expansion Night

(or A Decidedly Uneven Settlers Experience)

While studying for the bar exam, a friend of mine stumbled upon the on-line Settlers of Catan expansions, the Jungle and the Volcano. He had decided to go Settlers-free during the studying and subsequent bar, but clearly it was on his mind. This discovery stuck with him throughout his studying and into his test days. When he finally finished the last day of testing yesterday, all he could think about was playing with the two expansions as a way of celebrating. So we did.

The Jungle and Volcano are meant to cover up the otherwise useless Desert. Just like the other tiles, you put a non-6/8/2/12 number on these expansion tiles. If you build alongside them, you get their benefit when the number hits.

With the Jungle, you receive a Discovery Token per Settlement (or two per City) which can only be used for the purchase of a Development Card. That is, the Discovery Token can substitute for the ore, wheat, or sheep when buying a DC. There are no drawbacks.

With the Volcano, any Settlement or City built alongside the volcano has a chance of being destroyed. Each of the corners of the Volcano hex has a number, 1 through 6. Whenever the Volcano's number is rolled, it erupts, and an additional die is rolled. When this third die matches one of the numbers on the Volcano, the Volcano destroys whatever is built there. A City is reduced to a Settlement, and a Settlement is taken off the board. The Robber does not prevent the Volcano from activating. An additional rule that we played with is the Gold Production. Before the Volcano erupts, you may take a resource of your choice for your Settlement (or any two if you have a City).

In a normal 3 to 4 player game, we would've been able to more accurately determine the worth of these expansion tiles. As it happened, we had six players and played a 6 player game with two deserts. With a what-the-heck philosophy, we played with both the Jungle and the Volcano.

As it turns out, we messed up our initial placement. While no one played next to the Jungle, two players (me included) played right next to the Volcano. Only my law school friend had read the instructions and rules, and he neglected to tell us that we can play against the Jungle but not against the Volcano with our initial two Settlements. Oops. What happened next is probably due in large part to this botch-up.

The players decided on random numbers for the Jungle and Volcano. The Jungle ended up with an 11 and the Volcano ended up with a 5. You probably know where this is going.

Another player and I both played on the Volcano. No one played on the Forest. The rest of the development was pretty standard. The red numbers got played on, and we were pretty spread out. No one played on the ports, but several of us were very close, which became a factor.

In the first few turns, the Volcano hit. We rolled the die. Neither player was affected, so we got the resource card of our choice. (It should be noted that a Volcano would have destroyed me at this stage in the game. My heartbeat actually increased!) In the next five turns or so, another Volcano hit. We rolled the die and again were unaffected. The Volcano didn't hit for the remainder of the game, but the damage had been done.

I was able to build exactly what I needed in the beginning of the game (a couple of more Settlements and a City), and all of it relatively quickly. I jumped to 5 points before a few other players even got 3. Then all weirdness broke out.

All Settlers players have had games where one number hits far more than any others. Usually multiple people benefit from this. Not this time.

I had a Settlement and a City alongside an 8 Ore. I also had a City on an 8 Wheat. I think two other players were touching 8s on the board, but their production was minimal. At this early set-up in the game, 8 started hitting a lot. Every time it came to me, I was upgrading to a City. All of a sudden I had two Cities next to a 10 Wheat, and 10 started breaking up the 8 rolls. 7s were nowhere to be found.

On my last turn, I had 20 cards in my hand, most of them wheat, on a wheat port. I had two Ores and four Bricks. I built the rest of the way to 10 points with cards left over. My closest competitor had 4 points. Some still had 2. The entire game took 40 minutes.

This game is void because of our rules violation, but the violation illustrates the power of the Volcano. It hit twice, but that was enough. The other players seemed to think that the major point was how many times the 8s and 10s hit, but that was secondary to getting precisely what you needed early in the game. When you don't have to trade with other players to get what you need that early in the game, there's going to be a big development disparity.

As per the Jungle, one player built alongside it and an 11 never rolled. We didn't get to see the benefits of it.

Both the Jungle and Volcano rules allow for the players to decide on a number and put it on, and I think this is fair. Personally, I would vote for a lower number on the Volcano and a higher number on the Jungle. The Jungle seems inherently weak, and the Volcano seems amazingly strong. The negative side-effect of the Volcano seems small in comparison to the possible positive results which if they occur early enough result in a sort of positive snowball effect.

I think we probably needed either two Jungles or two Volcanos for the game to be totally equal. This game started off unequal, and that coupled with a rules violation and crazy dice rolling made for a strange, bizarre, and completely unsatisfying game. I'd still try them out again, but I'm hesitant to believe that they won't throw the game out of whack.


New Fortnightly Puzzler

I'm thinking of a famous chess master whose three-letter name is also the initials for a famous radio program and a kid's boardgame, if you were to abbreviate either. Can you list all three in full?*

* Please refrain from posting Puzzler Answers. If you've figured it out, email me at and I'll post the first correct solver's name. Thanks!


Old Puzzler Q & A

In an unfortunate two-week period, I had a couple of odd things happen: 1) our landlady who also provides wireless internet service to us started remodeling her home, thus killing our internet connection, and 2) our friend (mentioned above) needed our computer for three days to take his bar exam. For the majority of this two-week period, we had little internet service at home and that made this 20Q puzzler quite difficult.

Thank you to everyone who contributed. We got up to 12 questions. The questions and answers are on the comments of the following link:

I'll let this one go another two weeks. With just eight questions left and a ton of info, you guys should knock this one out without much difficulty. Additional questions can be posted here. Good luck!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would be interested in hearing about how those 2 play out.

I also have an interesting idea for how to make the volcana more balanced. Instead of the players getting a resource of their choice, they get a random resource instead (and two for a city).