I meant to write about Catan Live a couple of weeks ago, but then my 360 died and I lost the will. Lucky for me, before the death throes began, I managed to play four games against the PC on low and medium difficulties (won three, I think) and one game online (just barely finished second.) It was enough to get a sense for it and I was happy to see that Catan Live was about as faithful to the board game as it could have ever been. That’s a good thing: there’s no reason to change what already works.
The mechanics are accurate and the interface is really smooth and intuitive, so the only remaining thing worth considering is the quality of the opponents. The AI opponents, specifically. While I didn’t play it on the hardest difficulty, I found the medium opponents to be surprisingly competent. They were still a little exploitable when it came to trading, but their actions outside of that felt natural. Some people have complained that the AI cheats, mostly by fixing dice rolls, but I didn’t sense that at all (you can hit right trigger and right button to see a bell curve of dice roll odds and how all the current game’s rolls compare. There are the occasional aberrations, but it tends to balance out in the end. Nothing unusual. I once played a physical Catan game during which 12 was rolled numerous times). Others have complained that the CPU opponents tend to mercilessly gang up on you if you’re winning. Well, yes. That is how the game is played.
It’s a great little title and definitely worth the points, and while I am happy with the purchase I do remain a little disappointed. Not because of the merits of the game but because of more tangential factors. One of the reasons that I was looking forward to boardgames on XBox Live, especially these German games that I read so much about, was because I had no one to play the physical games with. Playing online or against a computer was the only way I would experience them and see what all the fuss was about. I said as much a year ago when talking about “Waldschattenspiel”. It was true at the time.
It isn’t any longer. In the last few months I’ve been having semi-regular game nights with some friends. It was Risk and Axis and Allies at first but I quickly suggested this game I read about: Catan. Suffice it to say, it was a hit and now we play that and Tigris and Euphrates (personal favourite) and Carcassonne and Puerto Rico and the Cities and Knights of Catan expansion and what will likely be many more such games in the future.
Catan Live is great, but nowadays I’d rather just play the real thing. In person. Annoying the fuck out of people by constantly proclaiming “I have wood!” during each and every trade phase. The CPU opponents, smart as they are, just don’t find the humour in that.