Game Review - The Seafarers of Catan by Klaus Teuber

The Seafarers of Catan, Klaus Teuber, Kosmos/Mayfair, 1997/1999.

Like The Settlers of Catan (aka "Settlers"), The Seafarers of Catan (aka "Seafarers") is an enjoyable board game of occupying land, collecting income, and expanding your settlements and towns until victory. For me the most appealing part of the game is the random placement of board tiles and the variety of choices players make as the co-inhabit the board. Seafahrers expands on these enjoyable themes without destroying or radically changing the original playabilty of the game.

Courtesy of Funagain Games
In fact the only changes to the original game are changes in degree and not changes in kind. First of all, Seafarers provides 24 additional tiles, half of which are water, and adds rules and scenarios for a nearly infinite variety of board configurations. The most obvious change from the original circular board is the notion of disconnected islands that must be reached by ships to be inhabitated. A new type of hex, the gold hex, expands on the original game by producing an income of the player's choosing, modelling the fact that gold can be easily converted into any of the other commodities. Also, harbors which were originally printed on the hex tile are now given their own die-cut token and may be placed on top of any water hex. Fourteen cardboard edge pieces which interlock in a jigsaw puzzle fashion are given to hold the new board shapes together.

The second major rules expansion is the notion of ships. Ships cost one wool and one lumber card each and function for the most part as water-bound roads. These ships help you reach and settle new islands, and they also help you win the "Longest Trade Route" bonus having a cumulative effect with the roads they connect. Unlike roads, any ship line which is unanchored by settlements at both ends may move the lead ship one edge per turn.

Lastly, a black Pirate ship ravages the sea, similar to the Robber Baron. On a roll of "7" a player may move the Pirate instead of the Robber and steal a commodity from an adjacent ship.

Other than these rule additions, the rules book contains 24 pages of well-illustrated scenarios to try with 2 to 4 players. Again, the game has not been changed in kind, but rather expanded upon. Those who enjoy the original Settlers game certainly will enjoy the new expansion which will add variety and spice the the game. I heartily recommend and enjoy this game as a well done Settlers expansion.

Now having gushed about the playability of this game, let me get a bit critical about the marketing and release of this game. First of all, Mayfair markets this game as "third edition compatible" which means the tile artwork and playing piece colors (white, red, blue, and orangy-yellow) match their edition of Settlers. Owners of the German imports and the earlier Mayfair editions will have an artwork mismatch and a different color set. I wish Mayfair were a little more foresighted in their release and had settled on artwork and color sets before issuing any edition of The Settlers of Catan.

A second gripe is the release timing of Seafarers. The German edition and its 5-6 player expansion had been released over a year ago. Why does it take Mayfair a year to issue this game when we see the likes of Rio Grande Game producing simultaneous releases? If Mayfair doesn't get their act together I think they will see the German manufacturers opting for a faster U.S. distributor in the future.

Lastly, what is up with the pricing of this game? $35 is a steep price for the set of tiles and wood pieces you get. I imagine they shortly will gouge us again when they release the 5-6 player explansion for Seafarers. If Mayfair really wanted to do Settlers players a favor, they should offer the hex tiles and playing pieces seperately. I would love to call up and order odd lots of hex tiles and have a gazillion extras for longer games. Also, a catalog of 20 playing piece sets in varying colors would be great for variety, visiting tournaments, and the problem of what to do when the dog munches one of the ships. The rules mention that additional sets are available for $5.50, but there is no mention of this on the Mayfair Games web page.

So, to summarize, a highly enjoyable and playable expansion to the original Settlers game, and gripes and warnings to the U.S. distributor of the game. I recommend this game to all Settlers players.

Also see the review of The Settlers of Catan.

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