Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Continuing with my series of reviews on Catan: Traders and Barbarians, we’ve finally arrived at the red-headed step child of the bunch… Well, that’s probably a bit harsh, but Caravans is probably the least innovative scenario in the book, despite adding wooden camels to the game, it changes the base game so little that I’d rather just play Settlers… probably…
Still reading? Good, haven’t scared everyone away yet then. The Fluff in the rulebook reads:
“Nomads have settled at the oasis. They are in dire need of wool and grain, and they offer commodities of the desert in exchange. Since the settlers of Catan can always spare some sheep and grain, the nomads are sending out camels to transport those coveted resources”
It sounds like quite a cool theme, but it really doesn’t come across. Lets take a look at what comes in the box….
1 Oasis Hex
22 Wooden Camels
The wooden camels are nice enough, why they are gold is a mystery, but who cares. The Oasis hex replaces the Desert Hex in the core game and other than a slightly bigger oasis, the only special thing about this hex are the three arrows which indicate where Caravans may be begin.
Playing the Scenario
Set up the game exactly like standard Settlers with the exception that the Oasis hex is always placed in the centre of the island. Although you will use wool and wheat to bid on camels, there is no special requirement for them to be overly plentiful. Everything works the same as standard Settlers with the following exception. Whenever a player builds a settlement or upgrades a settlement to a city, at the end of the round a Camel is auctioned off. The number of settlements and cities built during the turn has no effect on the number of camels up for auction, only one camel is auctioned at the end of the round.
Starting with the current player, each player in turn openly bids a number of Wool and/or Wheat. All bids are spent regardless of who actually wins. Each resource bid entitles you to one vote as to where the camel goes. In the case of a tie the player whose turn it is places the camel, regardless of how many bids they had.
Camels must be placed so that the tail end connects to the head end of a previous camel or one of the arrows on the Oasis hex. Once started Caravans can converge to form a single caravan but they may never branch off. So at most you will have three Caravans of camels.
A road with a Camel on it is worth 2 Roads for the purpose of determining longest road. A settlement or city with a camel on two of the three connecting paths is worth an additional victory point. The game is played to 12 victory points.
Camels is too similar to the base game, therein lies my problem. It takes quite some time to explain to players what the bids are and who gets what and how you score additional victory points, but at the end of the day the game plays pretty much the same. It’s rather complicated to explain without any noticeable reward.
Also, it doesn’t really change the strategy of the game. Sure it makes Sheep more valuable, but so does Seafarers but in a much better way. Admittedly you could hoard sheep and wheat and win every auction but at the expense of building settlements and cities.
Also the open biding mechanic doesn’t really work for me. During the last game we played I would deliberately let an auction go because I could only tie with another player meaning the current player would get the camel unless we could decide between us a neutral location to place it and generally it was less damaging to me to lose the camel than to tie for it and lose the resources.
The victory requirement of 12 VP’s is not so high as to force you to win camel auctions either, which means players can choose to ignore them and whenever a game element can be ignored is not a good thing. Overall, if you want a Catan game experience that feels like you are trading with nomads or other cultures then either of the seafarers scenarios Cloth for Catan or The Forgotten Tribe are ultimately more satisfying.
But lets not despair too much because the final two Scenarios in T&B are awesome. Barbarian Attack and Traders and Barbarians really explore just what this expansion is all about, Options!
Please note this review is based on the 4th Edition of the game.