Menu

Catan Histories: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails

[In those days before the internet, information about games was relatively hard to find. Game publications were few and far between and those that existed were either specialty publications limiting themselves to a specific genre or company or too short-lived to satisfy the need to know. So, with the supreme confidence of someone who doesn’t know any better, I embarked on a journey to fill this perceived gap in game information and published the first issue of Gamers Alliance Report. The first issue had a cover date of Fall 1986 and carried reviews on a broad spectrum of genres: air war, baseball, trains, oil exploration and more. Launching that issue, my first review was of a Risk-type game centering on the possibility of nuclear war called Nuke. Years later, I discovered the island of Catan and wrote my first review of a Catan title – the award-winning The Settlers of Catan – way back in the Fall 1996 issue. This latest Catan experience marks my 675th(!) review for Gamers Alliance Report. – Herb Levy]

(Mayfair Games, 3-4 players, ages 12 and up, about 2 hours; $55)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

settlersamericaThe Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber has been – and continues to be – a fantastic success. Not only has the game proved to be both an incredible moneymaker as well as a critical favorite but it has also served as the springboard for a host of spin-offs that take its core mechanisms and moves them into new settings accompanied by a few twists and turns. The latest entry in this constantly expanding enterprise moves the machinations of the fictional island of Catan into the United States of the 19th Century. As the USA expands westward, players seek to found cities, develop an expanding rail network and deliver goods in the appropriately titled Catan Histories: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails.

Settlers of America comes in a large square box and consists of four color-coded sets (red, orange, white and blue) of wooden game pieces (rails, cities, trains, settlers and goods in the form of cubes), 95 resource cards (19 each of lumber, ore, grain, coal and cattle), 4 Building Costs cards, an outlaw piece, gold tokens, 12 number tokens (four each of numbers 9, 10 and 11), two six-sided dice (in red and blue as is the title, befitting a game set in the United States) and a large mounted board showing the United States of America from the east coast all the way to the west. The board is divided into large hexes, each hex colored to indicate the type of resource it will produce. Most hexes contain a number but 12 hexes are marked with a single question mark and that’s where those number tokens come in. They are mixed and randomly placed on these 12 hexes. Several hexes in the southwest are desert and will not produce resources. The Outlaw piece starts in any of these desert spaces.

Players start the game with three cities, one rail and one train on the board (in either the prescribed starting areas or in a variable set up as desired). They also receive 3 gold and 3 resources. On the board, near to where each player sits, are “turntables”. Each player has their own individual turntable and this is where they will place their goods and city pieces. Players place their cities (9 in a three player game, 7 when four are playing) on the rectangular spaces on the turntable. One good in the placed in the center of their turntables with the remaining goods placed on square spaces next to the cities. The goal of the game is simple: deliver all of your goods. The first player to do so wins!

High roller starts and takes the first turn. As is the norm for all Settlers games, turns begin with the roll of the dice. If a 7 is rolled, the outlaw (traditionally known as the robber in the original game) comes into play. The active player may move the outlaw to any hex on the board, preventing that hex from producing any resources until the outlaw exits the area. In addition, players hoarding resources (there is no hand limit) will pay the price as players holding more than 7 resource cards must discard half of them (rounded down). Finally, the player who moved the outlaw may then randomly steal a resource card from a player who has a city adjacent to the outlaw’s hex. More often, a different number will be rolled which will start a chain of activity to move players closer to their goal of winning.

As mentioned, hexes on the board are marked with numbers. If any number but 7 is rolled, the hexes with the matching number will produce resources. Players receive one of that resource for each city adjacent to that particular hex. If you do NOT receive any resources at this time, you receive 1 gold as compensation. Once resources are distributed, all players, in turn order, may perform actions using those valuable resources and others in their hands.

settlersamericabrdPlayers are presented with a wide choice of actions and may do as many as they can pay for in any order they choose. Actions include trade (either with an opponent OR with the bank by buying a needed resource, a maximum of 2 per turn, for payment of 2 gold per resource OR exchanging 3 of one resource for 1 of another), build a settler or rail or train (by handing in the proper sets of resource cards), purchase development cards (in exchange for 1 cattle and 1 coal), move a settler (for 1 grain), move a train (for 1 coal) and/or play a development card.

Players are only given two settlers to use and may move them from intersection to intersection (at the cost of 1 grain for up to three intersections). Should a settler stop at an empty city-site, a player may found the city by removing the settler from the board (where he can be re-purchased and replaced, poised to start a new city somewhere else), replacing the settler with one of his city pieces from his turntable. Placing a city piece has another effect: it “releases” the goods cube that was next to it on the turntable so that it may now be delivered. And delivery can be an interesting maneuver in itself.

Goods travel along built rail lines to a city. Rails are built along a path from intersection to intersection. Building a rail on a path marked with a train track allows you to build another adjacent rail track for free! Even better, if you are the first to lay track to a new city, you receive 1 gold as a reward. That’s a nice bonus, particularly if you can use your rail line to deliver a good to that city. But wait a minute. The “catches” here are that you CANNOT deliver goods to YOUR own city – only to a city belonging to another player AND each city can only handle ONE goods cube! One more thing. Once a city has had a cube delivered to it, it can no longer accept any other cubes!

As to be expected, the game borrows many of the classic mechanisms found in the original, “vanilla”, Settlers: trading, presence of the robber/outlaw, dice rolls for resource production and more. But Settler of America offers several variations, not the least of which is the use of gold and the introduction and importance of railroads.

Gold can be a key factor in obtaining needed resources and in moving goods and can be obtained in several ways (through development cards, by being the first to connect via rail to a city and by founding coastal cities on the map). By paying 1 gold, you can travel on another player’s rail line. (That’s NOT per link but one gold per route!) If you time it right, you can let your opposition do the “heavy lifting”, spending resources galore to lay track, only to find that YOU have managed to get there first! As only ONE good can be delivered to each city, this can be devastating to another player. Development cards work wonderfully here as they are all useful and range from giving you a gold bonus to free travel on someone else’s line to some extra resources and more! Some may be more valuable than others, of course, depending on your situation.

Vanilla Settlers has its own dynamic but Settlers of America creates its own interesting balance too. You need to move your settlers to establish cities for by establishing cities, you free up your goods for delivery. BUT you cannot deliver goods to your OWN cities, only to those of an opponent! So, in effect, for you to win, you need to create the means for your opponents to win! It is tempting to go slowly, found a city, free up a good and then deliver it. But the better approach is to found as many cities as you can as quickly as you can, always being aware of which hexes your cities are on to make sure you maintain a good supply of resources, and then deliver your goods across the country using your own (or as much of your own) rail network as possible.

Westward expansion was a prime movement in American history and the game captures this quite well (reminiscent of the movement effect of another Settlers variation: Settlers of the Stone Age [Spring 2003 GA Report]). As the nearer, “easier to reach” eastern city-sites are claimed, players are forced to move westward to establish their cities. Several hexes in the west are marked with double question marks (??). As these ?? hexes are entered, the numbers from the ? hexes in the east are transplanted to these newer, western, hexes. The “older” hexes now will no longer produce resources, further encouraging westward expansion among players. Still, establishing cities and building rail lines takes time, however, and the biggest knock on the game is its length. The game is, admittedly, long. Don’t be surprised to see game time from start to finish hover around the three hour mark. Despite that, I found throughout our playings that the game held my interest very well and was time well spent.

Catan Histories: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails gives westward American expansion a good name, incorporating rails into the Settlers motif to add another gem into the Settlers of Catan library.

 


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


Fall 2010 GA Report Articles

 

[Jeff Feuer is an active member of the Long Island Gamers, one of the longest continually running gaming groups in the United States, and, in real life, a mathematics professor. As he says, "I've been computer gaming since the Atari days (including having played many of the incarnations of Civilization as well as some Railroad Tycoon and the Age of Empire series) but, except for ...
Read More
[Gaming transcends geographical boundaries and, recognizing this, Gamers Alliance is international in scope. Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is one of our valued contributors from outside the borders of the United States. He is an active participant in gaming in his native Italy, being closely involved with Club TreEmme, and a driving force, serving as Coordinator and Head of Program behind Italy's large gaming convention: Play: The ...
Read More
[When it comes to games, Marty Goldberger has an impressive resume. He worked for SPI games in its heyday, designing Inkerman and serving as a developer on many SPI titles including the legendary Campaign for North Africa "monster" game. Marty is a Mensa member and adventurer, diving with dolphins as well as plunging into depths of over 800 feet in a submarine. Marty first appeared ...
Read More
[K-ban, aka Steve Kurzban, has been an active gamer for decades. Always a fan of sports games (with a strong affinity for baseball and race car simulations), K-ban has always been a strong influence in spreading the joy of gaming, from running backgammon and Strat-O-Matic Baseball leagues in the 1970s and early 1980s, to reporting on the New York International Toy Fair for GA Report, ...
Read More
[In those days before the internet, information about games was relatively hard to find. Game publications were few and far between and those that existed were either specialty publications limiting themselves to a specific genre or company or too short-lived to satisfy the need to know. So, with the supreme confidence of someone who doesn't know any better, I embarked on a journey to fill ...
Read More
[Frank Hamrick and games crossed paths at a very early age. From the time he was 7 years old - and taught Monopoly by his grandmother, the seed was sown and has since blossomed. From Monopoly, Frank graduated to wargames and, when looking for something lighter and shorter, discovered The Settlers of Catan and his fascination with Euros began. And then he went to the ...
Read More
The 47th Element This has been a long time coming. It takes many elements to put together an editorial, an issue, an organization. First of all is a love for the subject. From this love comes determination and dedication, additional and necessary elements in making the whole thing work. You also need an element of, for want of a better phrase, "reckless abandon". You can ...
Read More
[In the estimation of many people (and I include myself in that group), Sid Sackson was one of the greatest game designers of all time. If he had only designed Acquire, that would have been sufficient to grant him legendary status. But Sid didn't stop there. His list of quality designs are staggering: Bazaar, BuyWord (named GAMES Magazine's Game of the Year), Holiday, Kohle, Kies ...
Read More
[Joe Huber is one of those guys who grew up with games. As he says, "I grew up playing Acquire and Civilization, and still enjoy both games today - if few of the wargames I also played back then. In 1995, I got back into gaming, discovering both German games (particularly Settlers of Catan and Auf Achse), 18xx (particularly 1830 and 2038), and TimJim/Prism games ...
Read More
[In our years of publication, games from Queen have frequently appeared. The first time was actually a "double dose". In the Winter 1999 issue, two Queen games were featured: Schnappchen Jagd (designed by Uwe Rosenberg who would go on to even greater success with IGA winner Agricola) and Showmanager (still my favorite design by award winning game creator Dirk Henn). This is the 12th time ...
Read More
[I first played this game at The Gathering of Friends and liked it enough to make this review number 677! - - - - - - - Herb Levy] (Alea/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, about 60 minutes; about $35) Reviewed by Herb Levy The bonnie green fields of Scotland provide the color of the box and the setting for ...
Read More
[Block wargames from Columbia Games have often been reviewed in Gamers Alliance Report. Ironically, the first Columbia Game to appear in GA Report was a collectible war-related CARD game - Dixie - in the Spring 1995 issue. This review is the 9th for Columbia Games and the 678th for me! - - - - - - - Herb Levy] (Columbia Games, 2 players, ages 12 ...
Read More
[Few people enjoy a better - or more well deserved - reputation than Greg J. Schloesser. Greg is a formidable force in the world of games. Starting and developing a readership as one of the most respected reviewers on the internet, Greg has spread the good word on gaming by being the driving force behind TWO gaming groups (the Westbank Gamers of New Orleans and ...
Read More
Reviewed by Nick Sauer (Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $45 ) In Lord$ of Vega$, players enter the glitzy world of Las Vegas by building and fighting for control of casinos on the strip. The game is designed by James Earnest and Mike Selinker and published by Mayfair Games. The game's Las Vegas casino building theme may remind one of ...
Read More
[Expect a spirited conversation when you talk with Ben Baldanza. That may be because, in real life, he is the CEO and President of Spirit Airlines. But even successful business executives need to relax and Ben has been playing and collecting games since playing card games with his family as a child. Ben plays regularly with gamers, formerly in the Washington, DC area and now ...
Read More
[Tasty Minstrel Games is a newcomer to the gaming scene. Their first appearance in these pages came with Homesteaders in the previous issue (Summer 2010). This makes it two in a row for the company and my 679th(!) review for GA Report. - Herb Levy] (Tasty Minstrel Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-90 minutes; about $35) Reviewed by Herb Levy If ...
Read More
[Throughout our years of publication, we have been fortunate in attracting a diverse group of quality and insightful gamers from all around the world. One such person is Chris Kovac. As Chris, a Canadian, has said: "I have been a gamer since my University days in the 1980's. Initially a wargamer, I was converted over to Euro Games by a friend when he introduced me ...
Read More
[Game design is like magic: if you do it right, it looks easy. The reality is that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into making a game work. No one knows this better than Al Newman. Al started designing games back in 1973 and his credits include Super 3 by Milton Bradley, Babushka (Ravensburger), Match 3 (Nathan), Wacky Wizards (Western) as well as ...
Read More
[Larry Levy is one of the best known voices on gaming. His internet posts always attract attention for his insightful commentary and he has written for many game review publications. Not only that, Larry also conducts unofficial "game of the year" award tabulations, attracting voters and interest from around the world, with his highly entertaining - and thought provoking - The Meeple's Choice Awards. There's ...
Read More
[Few people have had such a broad experience in the world of games as Pevans. Pevans is the pen name of Paul Evans (well, a Paul Evans – hence the pseudonym). This Paul Evans is a British gamer who has been writing about games for well over 20 years. He was the founding editor of Games Games Games magazine and edited it for 12 years ...
Read More

If you enjoy games, then Gamers Alliance is right for you!