Updated: Sep 19, 2019
In my opinion Traders and Barbarians is one of the best expansions for Settlers of Catan because the box offers a massive selection of new options, variants and scenarios. In fact there is so much stuff in the box, to try and talk about all of it in a single review would be a mistake. So over the coming year I will post up sporadic reviews of the various elements of the game.
This week I’m going to start with the four Variants included in this box. These are as follows:
The Friendly Robber
Now, I’d just like to say I haven't used this variant. “When a “7” is rolled or a Knight Card is played, the robber may not be moved to a terrain hex that is adjacent to a settlement of a player who only has 2 victory points. If, because of this rule, the robber has no valid terrain hex to move to, the robber moves to (or remains on) the desert hex. In this case, a Resource Card may not be taken from any player who only has 2 victory points. When using this rule, you still lose half of your Resource Cards when a “7” is rolled and you have more than 7 Resource Cards.”
The variant is really designed to be used for families with children, although parents who pick on children who are losing are really playing games for the wrong reason. To be honest this variant would seem to cause more problems than it fixes. Playing the robber on a losing player’s land is usually not beneficial. So as long as all players play tactically soundly the variant should have little effect on game play.
Released (as many parts of T&B were) as a separate add-on for the core game the Event Cards replace the use of dice in the game. I’ve played this variant a few times and I quite enjoy it. Essentially there is a deck of 37 cards, one for each possible dice combination, plus a “New Year” card which causes the deck to be reshuffled. Instead of rolling the dice you draw a card. Some cards just have a number while other cards have a number and an event. Five cards are dealt face down, then the “New Year” card is played face down on top, with the rest of the deck on top of that. You continue to play the game as normal until the “New Year” card is drawn and then the deck is reshuffled and set up exactly as above.
The reason for the Event Cards was really to appease those players who hated the randomness of dice rolls. For example, building on an 8 or a 6 should be really useful, but if the dice don’t fall your way it can be frustrating. For those who like the randomness of dice but want to add something different to their games the Event Cards add some interesting events, like, on a 2, everyone gets a card of their choice. It should also be noted that the Event Cards are compatible with Cities and Knights as they also feature a Red Die depiction.
I certainly wouldn’t play with Event Cards as a default option but they do add a certain level of strategy to the game as well as interesting events. However, be warned, if you play a lot of settlers you will keep looking round for those red and yellow dice and they wont be anywhere to be found, proceed at the risk of your own sanity, you have been warned.
This variant makes better use of Harbours. It has always been less advantageous to build along the coast, but now you can earn victory points for doing so. The first player to achieve 3 Harbour points (1 for a settlement, 2 for a city) is awarded the Harbour Master card worth 2 Victory Points. Like with Longest Road and Largest Army another player can take the victory points by surpassing the total number of Harbour Points by the current holder of the title. The box includes a new Harbour Master card that fits perfectly with the existing bonus victory point cards. I like this Variant, it is played to 11 victory points and in the two games we played with variant the winning player was also the Harbour Master. Coincidence? This is a particularly interesting variant to use in games where player will all try and utilise the coastline, like Fishermen of Catan or even Seafarers.
Ok, so there is a variant 2 player version of Settlers included with T&B, with details on how to adapt the system to work with all the Scenarios and (I think) Seafarers and Cities & Knights. As I talk about the scenarios I will try and include a breakdown of how well they work with this Variant, but for now I’ll just talk about how the game works with the Core Game.
You will need all four colours for the game, not just two. Set up the game as usual and then place two neutral settlements (see above). As you build your own network of roads and settlements you must also expand the neutral players. For every road you build you must build one for either neutral player. For every settlement you build you must build one for either neutral player. If no legal spot exists to place a settlement you must place a road instead.
You also begin the game with 5 trade tokens. You may spend one of these to force a trade (swap 2 resources with the other player) or to move the robber. If you are winning either of these actions cost 2 tokens. You may gain 1 new token if you build on the coast, or 2 if you build on the desert, or 3 if you build on both. Finally, the only other change is that on your turn you roll twice (discarding duplicate rolls) and take resources from both rolls.
Firstly, the Variant works, however… It has some problems. The double rolling slows the game down and increases the number of times the Robber moves. The five Trade Tokens you start with are rather pointless as you will spend one, then you opponent will spend one, to ping pong the robber back and forth. Also, unlike in standard Catan, once you are losing it can be difficult to get back in the game because the winning player can effectively gang up on you with the two neutral players as well.
All that said, I like being able to play Settlers two-player and this Variant does have some nice elements. I like the way that you build up the neutral players, although in my experience after a few turns one neutral player gets neglected as the other is in a stronger position to cut off the opponent. The Forced Trade option is good, especially if you are losing and being able to move the robber means you don't have to waste resources to get Knights from development cards.
Overall there are some interesting Variants in Traders and Barbarians, but it is the Scenarios in the box that make this such a fun expansion to the core game. combining the Scenarios and Variants however can lead to some interesting games.
This review is based on the 4th Edition Printing of the expansion from Mayfair Games.