So I wasn’t jumping for joy over a Catan take on the intellectual property, but it certainly looked the part and I am a fan of the Catan series of games, so that was enough to peak my interest and look further. But I get wary these days of publishers pasting IP’s onto everything when they hold the sole license. As Tyrion said: “it’s hard to put a leash on a dog once you’ve put a crown on its head”.
Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peeeettter…..Diiinnkklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage………..ok I’ll stop singing the parody theme song. But yeah I love the Game of Thrones series – I wouldn’t call myself like a dedicated fan or anything, I haven’t read the books and I can barely remember the names of most of the characters after a year has passed between seasons (seriously 2 year wait for the final season, that is torture).
But as a whole I love watching the show, it’s produced some memorable characters, novel worthy quotations, fantastic action set pieces and represented the theme brilliantly. Sadly the board games that have been based on it haven’t really sold me over the years. The official Game of Thrones: The Board Game 2nd Edition was too long, unbalanced and cut-throat for my liking and despite getting initially sucked into the Game of Thrones 2nd Edition LCG, I was later put off rather quickly when the balancing and deck construction issues became apparent. Everything else is basically using a pasted theme anyway. So is this mesh warranted?
The Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch is searching for a new Lord Commander. They are looking for a stalwart individual to repair the failing infrastructure of the wall and work towards developing the neglected Gift. Harvesting the resources from this bitter northern environment was never an easy task, but the brothers must also build up their order to better defend the Wall against the threat of Wildlings. Players must build settlements and keeps, defend the Wall from invasion, and prove themselves to be worthy of the title of Lord Commander. But be wary—the north holds many dangers, and winter is coming.
Those familiar with the classic board game offering of Settlers of Catan will find several familiar elements present, but with several new additions. The game preserves the classic hex-tile gameplay of the original Catan, each of which supplies one of five resources, with one exception in the barren Ice Fields, where nothing is produced.
At the beginning of each turn, a player rolls two six-sided dice to determine which hexes produce lumber, brick, wool, grain, or ore. Any player with a keep or settlement connected to one of these hexes gains the indicated resources. However, Tormund Giantsbane, the robber, will move throughout the Gift with every roll of “7,” blocking resources and causing chaos. After resource collection, the current player may trade their resources with other players. Players then use these resources build roads, settlements, and keeps; recruit guards for their patrol; or buying Development Cards.
Development Cards have a variety of effects. Some are simple and act as bonus victory points, readily furthering the goal of obtaining ten victory points. Others can give players unique abilities that either benefit themselves, or betray their competition.
GUARD THE WALL
So if you already know anything about Catan, you’ve learnt everything I’ve said so far without even trying. But Game of Thrones Catan can be played in two ways. Firstly you have the basic game which is identical to the base version of Catan, albeit with a more condensed map than the original. But you also have the variant to add the Wildlings and to be honest, you may as well just throw this in from the start because if you bought this game, you bought it for this aspect.
Each player may use resources to recruit up to seven guards to man the Wall. These guards bear the color of the player who recruited them and defend that player’s section of the Wall against the Wildlings who gather in the Frostfangs. Whenever a player commits an action that would earn them victory points, such as building a keep or settlement, a facedown Wildling token belonging to one of three clans is revealed north of the Wall.
Once revealed they move southward through their camps per what’s rolled on the 12-sided die in an attempt to breach the Wall and raid the Gift. Upon reaching the Wall, each of three possible Wilding types behaves differently. Regular Wildlings stay in the northern clearing until they outnumber the guards on that wall section. Climbers can immediately cross the Wall to occupy a vacant hex directly south of the Wall. If Giants reach the Wall, they remove a guard from his post and then return to the Frostfangs themselves, only breaching the wall if no guards were present.
In addition, each player is assigned a Hero card at the beginning of the game. Each Hero offers a unique ability to each player which they can use up to twice during the game. Once the hero’s ability has been used, players have a choice to keep that hero or select another to aide them. Essentially it’s the Helpers of Catan mini-expansion for those in the know.
YOU KNOW NOTHING…..
OK, first of all, where is Jon Snow? I cannot fathom why when you make a game based on the Nights Watch that you forget the most iconic character in the franchise? Does not compute!! Ah well that aside, the production quality is pretty good throughout – all the tokens and boards are nice and thick, the artwork is solid even if a lot of it is recyled from the LCG and these are very good miniature sculpts, though it can be argued they are completely unnecessary. I wonder how much of the price tag went into the wildlings, you get a huge bag of them and yet their sole purpose is to occasionally march down and be a nuisance – I can see people utilising them in other games though particularly the giants.
The box insert though could have used a bit of extra care, but Fantasy Flight rarely put any effort into inserts from experience. You get some nifty plastic card trays to hold the resources and development cards which is always a plus, but everything else is pretty much shoved into the box however you can fit it and the plastic tray itself takes up a fair amount by itself – you’d think this box could have actually been smaller with a little more thought put into it.
It’s also quite a feat that despite Game of Thrones Catan being a simple game even with the variant, Fantasy Flight still manage to mess up their ruleset. You get the usual dual-rulebook setup, but one cannot fathom why a reference book is necessary with something like Catan. In addition, even in the main rulebook, the rules for moving and placing Wildlings is handled in such a weird manner with odd phrasing that it sounds more complicated than it actually is. Once you’ve got the rules figured out, you should never need to reference the book ever again so why basic proof reading didn’t highlight the absurdity of needing multiple rulebooks will remain one of the mysteries of the world.
VICTORY OR TRAGEDY
As with normal Catan, there is the standard victory condition that if a player reaches ten victory points, they win. However, if the Wildings breach the Wall three times throughout the game or the number of Wildings in the Gift ever exceeds seven (which I’ve never seen and probably never will), only an alternate victory is possible.
If either of these tragedies happen, the game ends immediately and the player with the most guards standing wins. I like the idea of an alternative victory condition however you’ll find it triggers less often than you might think. Occasionally you’ll get a finish by 3 breaches occuring, but I bet I’ll never see the day when 7 Wildlings are in the gift, there’s simply too many ways to get rid of them – at least 2 of the heroes available allow for the swift culling or moving of Wildlings.
However things get a little bit more intense in 4 player mode. The map extends so as to keep it balanced whether at 3 or 4 players anyway (a nice touch as Base Catan is a bit open-ended with 3), but with an extra player building settlements and keeps, the Wildlings appear more often. It’s one of those rare occasions where 4 players beats 3 in my opinion. A breach ending becomes more of a legitimate issue then.
IT’S NOT OUR FIGHT
The biggest question for most players though will be whether it’s worth picking up this edition depending on your circumstances. Firstly if you’ve never played/owned a Catan game……….what’s wrong with you? Just kidding, but in that scenario, you could do well picking up this edition for the upgraded components and the additional rules which elevate this above a base vanilla game of Catan. However you’d have to accept that this will likely never see an expansion, which is the advantage you get with the Mayfair version and it’s a sad day when you don’t get to experience Catan with Seafarers or Fisherman of Catan, not to mention you can pick up the Helpers of Catan easily as well, which is one of the two new additions in this set.
If you already own a set or two of Catan, then the decision is much harder and more down to cost/storage. I personally would not be up for forking out the cost just to get the new Wilding additions (unless you love painting or have a second way of utilising the miniatures in another game, that could work). You really would be buying this if you love the Game of Thrones lore (though it’s still fairly pasted here) or are a die-hard Catan fan and want to own multiple sets.
So all in all, I feel this is best suited to the newcomers to Catan – the players who haven’t got a Catan set, aren’t intending to go nuts on buying multiple expansions and just want a sealed, contained version that offers more than just a vanilla experience.
VERDICT ON GAME OF THRONES CATAN
This will be one of those spin-off Catan’s that you’ll either want as your only Catan game or you’ll think is unnecessary. At its core it’s basically Base Catan with a smaller board so it’s a little more in your face then usual – but at that level you wouldn’t even notice that Game of Thrones was in the title. The variant essentially adds the Helpers of Catan mini expansion and the Wildlings and truth be told the variant is a fun one. They build up as the game progresses and it offers an additional path to victory with recruiting guards as well as a means for someone who’s falling behind on points to potentially sneak out a “lesser victory”.
The production quality is solid even if a little over the top at times and despite FFG’s every attempt to make the game more complicated than it is in the reference books, the rules are actually very straightforward to the point where you could teach it with the variant included to a new Catan player.
However because a typical Catan lover is simply paying for the components and the variant, it’s hard to justify the purchase for someone who already owns several Catan sets unless you’re a big fan of the system or intellectual property. For someone without a Catan set though that just wants one and not everything, you’re essentially getting a better version of the base set of Catan with some optional rules included – can’t go wrong with that.
PERSONAL RATING – 7
YOU WILL LIKE GAME OF THRONES CATAN IF:
You’re a Catan fan and want a new variant to try out.
You like the increase in component quality combined with the Game of Thrones license.
You don’t own a Catan set already and would consider this as your only Catan purchase ever.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE GAME OF THRONES CATAN IF:
You own most of Catan already and don’t want to fork out for a new variant.
You’re expecting a super strong tie-in to the series or books – it’s a fairly pasted affair.
You don’t like the smaller condensed hex board and feel it’s a little too claustrophobic.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.