Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Tuesday 23rd March - Settlers of Catan, Great Wall of China

Originally uploaded by coljen.
Well, we had a full complement of six players for the the trip to the Great Wall of China. First time for a few weeks for one reason or another. None of us had played this particular version of SofC, and Garry had only played SofC once before. So it was pretty much a level playing field to start. I hope Greg Schloesser doesn’t mind that I nicked a bit of his description from BGG. He does it so much better than me!

In The Great Wall, players represent factions in ancient China, attempting to extend their influence and control. However, there is always the great fear of the northern Huns, who are intent on invading Chinese provinces, plundering, pillaging and looting the countryside as they penetrate ever deeper into the country. Thus, players are charged with the task of erecting the Great Wall, increasing the border fortifications to help prevent these violent incursions.

In addition to the normal two settlements and roads that players construct at the beginning of the game, each player also has a border settlement, located along the edge of China and barbarian territory. Each of the warlords (the players!) is charged with securing that section of the border by erecting fortifications. Players must dedicate resources in order to build each section, the type and amount of resource varying with each subsequent upgrade. Failure to construct adequate fortifications will likely result in a barbarian invasion, costing the inattentive warlord to lose victory points. Thus, it is in the best interests of the players to devote resources in the construction of the Great Wall.

So the initial placement of the settlements are even more crucial as I was to find out. The actual space on the board for expansion and building is pretty limited, especially with 6 players. Steve’s border settlement was on the extreme left of the board in the photo, and he opted to build another settlement rather than to reinforce his section of the wall. This proved to be costly as a very weird run of dices rolls incited the huns to break through a total of 4 times during the game. This incurs minus VPs and the wall being reduced as well.
Well one of the settlements that Steve had built initially had cut my options considerably and during the game I never got to build any other settlements than the 3 that I built at the start. I managed to build 3 road sections to the only other viable position and Natalie promptly zoomed and built before I had a chance. Ah, well. .... So this version has a few twists and turns, the development cards become more valuable as you can use the soldier card to move the pirate, remove hun tokens or move hun tokens around before they overrun the wall. Actually the pile of development cards was depleted before the game finished. At around 2 and half hours Natalie managed to get the final upgrade to take her to 10 points. At one stage it looked like that the huns were going to breach the wall the 7 times needed to end the game and nobody is the winner!


At 3:09 PM, Blogger Richard Minson said...

Having a few years ago played two of the Settlers of Catan historical expansions (The Trojan War & Alexander the Great) I have been keen since then to give the other historical expansions ago (Cheops & The Great Wall of China). Being six players this Tuesday it was the ideal opportunity to give the Great Wall of China a try (6 Players allowing the full map to be used). With Neil doing his normal good job of reading the rules we were soon underway.

Initial settlement placement is such that you start with one village by the wall (which you are responsible for maintaining) and two others. Being last in the initial selection of wall village didn’t put me at too much at a disadvantage – and with my subsequent 2 villages are targeted Wheat & Corn acquisition – with the view of working towards getting village upgrade as quickly as possible – basically I felt the board was going to be a bit crowded and there would be difficulty in building roads and creating new towns. Unfortunately the bi-product of the strategy was that I only produced Brick on a roll of a 12 (Which I don’t think came up all game) which meant I had to scrounge around via trading to get the brick required for the first 2 wall upgrades and the few roads I did purchase (and eventually one new village).

My first priority was however was to get a least one sections of wall up before any Huns appeared – this seemed eminently sensible as I felt getting negative VPs because of a wall breach (let alone any lost production sites) would effectively make things even harder. It was noticeable the Steve seemed to take the other view and seemed willing to take any chance wall breaches on the chin – I guess in the belief that statistically it should not happen too often and that he would produce more stuff than the rest of us therefore allowing him to build more Towns/Upgrades/Cards/Roads and therefore over come any unlucky Hun chits pull and activation dice rolls. Unfortunately his wall sections was at the eastern end of the Great Wall and there are more Hun chits to be pulled from the bag for that area, plus the 8 roll required to activate them seemed to have a lot more than statistics would suggest. For a while he had no wall section at all on the Huns came in as if he had left the garden gate open (I think he picked a total of 4 negative points).

As once 7 walls breaches have occurred all players lose the game as China has become overrun, the morality of whether a players should deliberately seek to have 7 walls breaches so as to the deny the other player the win came up. It does remind me of a similar thing in the Avalon Hill Game ‘Republic of Rome’, whereby players can deliberately let the republic fall if another is about to win. My view, assuming you take the historical context, is that it is in your interest for China (or Rome) to survive even if you are not the pre-eminent power. ( Do you really think John Kerry is going to help al-Qaeda overthrow the United States of America just because George won the elections?).

With the board being crowded and hadn’t really been to bothered about the expansion of the other players, I was pretty certain my western village/city had access to build another 2 towns in the nearby mountains, so I concentrated on just upgrading those initial 3 ( and eventually 4 villages that I had ). A miscalculation on where I could build be 5th settlement however (I though I could build it by the western board 3:1 port hex until it was pointed out to be it was not a valid build location) meant that I was going to restricted to 8 settlement site and therefore only 8 points.

All this was rather galling as I had successfully upgraded my part of the wall to level 5 (the only player to do so) leaving my self immune to getting negative points for breaches. I had a vast hand full of cards (As Colins Picture shows) but I was unable to build anything (Except for cards – and they only gave me more knights- and Garry easily had the majority here) that might give me more points. In the end I think the only player that could get to 10 points was Natalie (who by virtue of having built the longest road had plenty of city sites to upgrade) – so we just let her get on with so that the game could finish.

However I think it was a good game with a well-deserved win for Natalie.


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