Catan Histories: Merchants of Europe
Whenever a new Catan related game is released, we, at Toys Bulletin, get very excited. The original “Settlers of Catan” game released in 1995 may be the best board game ever created, and with its success, “Mayfair Games” has continued to distribute expansion sets, and Catan game variations for many years.
The latest is “Catan Histories: Merchants of Europe.” This game is somewhat a follow-up to “Settlers of America: Trails to Rails,” which designer Klaus Teuber provided to gamers back in 2010. However, in this version, players are challenged to move commodities and people in the Middle Ages, with Central Europe providing the setting. Players assume the roles of Merchants trying to establish a large trading network across Europe.
The game itself arrives packaged in a high quality box with 185 genuine wood game pieces, a huge double-sided game board (22” x 33”), 120 resource and development cards, 123 coin and commodity tokens, 4 player information cards, 2 dice and a colorful 12 page set of rules. The game is intended for 3-4 players, ages 12 years old and up.
The set up takes a few minutes, but the rules allow new players to choose a beginners game on the “short game” side of the double-sided game board. We did just that to get the hang of things, and completed our first game in 75-90 minutes with 4 players. We made a few mistakes along the way, but the “short game” was a great way to prepare for the full experience.
Game play includes a “production phase” and an “action phase.” During the “production phase,” resources are produced and each player is able to accumulate quantities of wool, ore, lumber, grain and salt. Gold is also a commodity needed to make critical purchases and trades along the way. There is also a “robber” around that may limit production, depending on the situation.
During the “action phase,” players may trade resources with other players, purchase resources, buy development cards (which can improve a players chances of winning), build a trade route, recruit a merchant to help establish trading posts or assemble a caravan and deliver commodity tokens to competing trading posts. All of these things can be done on every turn and in any order.
The object of the game is to establish the best trading network by delivering all of the commodity tokens given to you at the beginning of the game. This can only be done through careful placement of trading routes and the establishment of trading posts, which free up the commodity tokens for later delivery.
After the staff played several more games utilizing the “main game” rules, and the more expanded map of Central Europe on the reverse side of the game board, we had a pretty good understanding of “Catan Histories: Merchants of Europe.” Plus, we knew just the people to use as our focus group.
We had actually run across a family, quite accidentally, about two years ago, who told us they played “Settlers of Catan” regularly at least once or twice a week. They not only kept track of who won each game, but also the number of victory points earned by each player, along with the dates and length of their games. They were obsessed with everything “Catan.”
We fortunately had kept their names on file, and gave them a call. We were equally lucky to find they had not yet purchased their own copy of this game. They knew all about the game, but had not yet played it. So, to say they were a bit excited to act as our focus group is quite an understatement.
The family consisted of mom and dad, in their early 40s, and two young teenage boys. We arrived around 5:00 pm on a Saturday evening, and they were ready to play. Being experienced “Catan” players, there was hardly a question as we explained the rules of the game, and as a result, we chose to go directly to the “main game” with this group.
We left around midnight, having observed this family play 3 very competitive games of “Catan Histories: Merchants of Europe.” Their comments were many and we jotted them down as fast as we could. They all agreed that the game was filled with hidden strategies. To win the game, it was essential to play a complete game, where a player must know when to build trading routes, what direction to send merchants to establish the trading posts and finally how to cleverly move the caravans and deliver the goods. They felt there was a careful balance of elements necessary to play and win the game. It was a challenge for sure but they really loved it.
The only complaint with the game had to do with the color selection of the resources. It was very difficult to distinguish between the light green pastures, which produced wool and the dark green forests, which produced lumber, making it difficult to determine which resources were being produced in a specific terrain. Even the gray color associated with the ore looked very much like the white color of the salt.
At the end of the session, we knew we had to leave our copy of the game with this family. After all, they had already entered the evening’s winning names in a little notebook, and offered to play again the next day. Our game had found a new home.
“Catan Histories: Merchants of Europe” retails for $54.99 and can be purchased at Amazon.com.
-- RJ Cullen