Sunday, March 04, 2007

More Catan: Mechanics of the Robber and Why Everyone Should Love Development Cards.

The robber, as well as the purchase and use of development cards, are subjects I have not yet covered in detail in my Catan crash course. When a seven is rolled at the outset of a player’s turn, all players with more than seven resource cards must discard half (rounded down). The player that rolled then must move the robber to another location. (Interestingly, this is the only time that a game mechanic is tied to the player rolling the dice.) The robber prevents the tile he is on from producing resources, even when its number is rolled, so it is a good way to keep the player that is in the lead from getting the resource one believe they would find most helpful. Additionally, when a player moves the robber, they can choose to steal a resource card at random from any player with a settlement or city bordering the new location of the robber.

Fortunately, players can do something about the pesky robber always being around them: they can build an army. Doing so requires “development cards,” purchased at a cost of a wheat, a sheep, and an ore. Unlike the resource cards, these cards can’t be traded, and only one can be used each turn—and not on the turn it was purchased. Of the twenty-five development cards, five are Victory Point cards. These are an exception to the limitations on development cards; they can be played on the same turn as other development cards, and can be played immediately. These cards should only be played on the turn that a player wins; they are very useful because holding these cards is less obvious than having another settlement or city on the board in plain view. Six cards are special “Discovery” cards of three varieties: “Monopoly,” “Road Building,” and “Year of Plenty.” “Monopoly” is commonly believed to be the strongest card in the game; it allows a player to name a resource and confiscate all of that type from the other players. “Road Building” allows a player to put down two additional roads anywhere on the board, and “Year of Plenty” allows a player to take two resources of any kind(s) from the bank, which is often useful for big purchases, when a player needs to get two resources that are particularly scarce in that game. For those counting along at home, this leaves 14 development cards to fall into the “soldier” category. These brave men can be called upon at any point in one’s turn—even before rolling the dice—to chase the robber off to a distant place. Each soldier can only be used once, but keep his card after playing it, because having the Largest Army (minimum 3 soldiers) is worth a bonus of 2 Victory Points. Playing a soldier card triggers all of the mechanics of the robber—one must choose a new location for the robber, allowing one to steal a card from a neighbor of that tile and blocking future production.*

*In the 5-6 player expansion, there are nine more cards—six soldiers and one each of each “discovery” type. There is also a blank card that can be used to represent the place of a lost/damaged card, or stand in as another Victory Point. However, I’ve concluded that doing so makes the strategies I like slightly more powerful, so I’m going to avoid such play in the future and recommend against it to others.



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