Friday, January 17, 2014

Game Profile: Catan Explorers & Pirates

Explore wild, mysterious seas!

Classification Family Game Expansion
Mechanics Modular Board, Dice Rolling, Network Building
Publication Mayfair, 2013
Ages 12+
Time 90+
Players 2 - 4

If you are looking for a way to change up your Catan play, the Explorers & Pirates Expansion is a great way to do it.  This expansion takes the Catan resource management base game and turns it into a resource management - pick up and deliver - mad dash to get victory points’ game.

With the Explorers & Pirates Expansion, the game begins with 3 islands.  The starting island is very “Catan” like.  The other 2 islands are unexplored and the key to the game changes.  Each player starts with 1 settlement and 1 harbor settlement.  Harbor settlements are worth 2 victory points, but do not double up resource production like cities do in the base game.  Cities are not used in this expansion.  Harbor settlements start with 1 ship rather than a road.  Ships are used to transport crew members and settlers to the islands and to transport fish and spices back to the base island.  A game turn has 2 distinct phases.  The 1st phase is the traditional role of the dice, get resources, trade and build.  With this expansion there is a significant change in getting resources in the event a player does not receive a resource, they will receive one gold coin.  The only time you will not get anything is when the infamous 7 is rolled.  During a player’s turn twice they can exchange 2 gold coins for a resource of their choice.  Players almost always get something and almost always can do something on their turn.  This game really feels like a constant flow of actions.

The second phase of a player’s turn involves moving their ships.  Up to 3 ships can be moved each turn. The early game is spent exploring the 2 new islands.  Land on a tile, flip it over and receive a resource of that type or 2 gold coins.  The new island consists of standard resource tiles, pirate lairs, fish shoals, and spice tiles.  Once these tiles have been discovered they become available to build settlements on.  To build settlements on these tiles a player must buy a settler, place it on a ship and sail to the desired discovered location.   Both the settler and the ship are then relinquished in order to place your new settlement.  Once there, players can build roads and more settlements on the new island.  Upgrading a settlement located on a coastline to a Harbor settlement will gain additional victory points.  A Harbor provides you a place from which you can launch ships, pick up settlers, and pick up crew members.  Crew members have 2 purposes; first, they can defeat pirates gaining you victory points and turning the pirate’s lair into a gold mine for future settlements that will yield gold coins.  Secondly, they can be exchanged for shipments of spice.  Spice delivered to the base island also gain you victory points.  Additionally victory points can be gained by picking up and delivering fish to the base island.

Explorers & Pirates game ends when a player reaches 17 victory points.  Points are scored for settlements, harbor settlements, defeated pirates, and deliveries of spices and fish.  During the game additional victory points can be gained for being the best conqueror of pirates, the best spice merchant, and the best fisher.  These additional points can be moved from player to player just like the longest road and largest army do in the Catan base game.

One of the things I really like about the Explorers & Pirates expansion is the flow.  Receiving the gold coins when you don’t get resources gives players the ability to do something virtually every turn.  Even without buying, players will always get to move their ships – 3 of them running all over the board.  Even though “7” still forces the card hand limit of 7, the pirate ship in this game is less inhibiting than the robber in the base game.  Players get to replace the existing pirate ship with their own and steal a card, but it does not block resource production and other players can pay gold to move past the pirate.  This game just doesn’t bog down.

Another thing I find intriguing is the options available for replays.  There is a lot of variety just with the randomization of the 2 undiscovered islands, but the door is open to randomize what tiles go on which island.  This expansion is something we can play around with for a long time.

We have an open copy of both the base game Catan and the Explorers & Pirates Expansion available in our Store Demo Games Library for you come in and try out.

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Come and visit us at 30 NW 2nd Street in Historic Downtown Gresham. We have a full range of family games, strategy games, Euro-style games, war games, card games, dice games and more. Also for the puzzle enthusiasts we carry quality puzzles from Ravensburger, White Mountain, and Cobble Hill.

We proudly serve Gresham and the greater Portland and Vancouver area.

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