Building civilizations and managing resources is a common element of plenty of real-time strategy games. There's Civilization of course, and StarCraft. But these each also have an element of war, where gathered materials are used to create barracks and eventually lead to the destruction of the enemy player. Catan, by comparison, is the "friendlier" version of a resource-management game. There's no violence (well, at least not any written into the rules.) As an adaptation of the classic board game to a video game format, Catan for the Switch beautifully renders the hexagonal-masterpiece, even if it can't quite capture the magic.
This isn't the first time Settlers of Catan has been adapted to the digital world: there's already a PC/Mac and iOS/Android version, and a functional VR version for multiple platforms. With the Switch's portability and versatility, it was a no-brainer to bring it to the system. Catan as a board was released in 1995 and has since gained a huge amount of popularity as an (relatively) easy to learn, difficult to master board game. 3-4 players race to get 10 points by building roads and creating settlements and cities, while strategically trading resources and blocking their opponents from victory. Needless to say... games get heated.
In Catan on the Switch, all the rules and necessities are carried over, with a fair amount of customization. Players can change the amount of points needed for victory, add a timer to speed up individual's turns, and even play using certain scenarios. From ones where sheep are far more common than ore, to elements from the free expansion "Seafarers," there's plenty of ways to play. Of course, the sheer randomness of the main basic game (the map is always randomized) makes for endless replayability to begin with.
Along with the rules, the wonderfully simple aesthetic of Catan has been ported over, with some slight graphical updates. The tiles are crisp and bright, and while players can use the traditional tiles for roads, settlements, and cities, the fresh "Nintendo" versions look spectacular. There's calming music in the background, which might be drowned out as you scream at the AI for blocking your path. Regardless, it's a great score that sets the mood perfectly for a trade war.
The UI isn't incredibly intuitive, but after a few turns, players will have no issue picking it up. Even someone with no board game equivalent experience will find themselves building in no time. There's a button for dice rolling, building (or purchasing a card), and trading. Some actions have a few too many steps, like holding down a button when you should just have to release it. Trading is the most cumbersome as there's no perfect way to ask a specific person to trade, and adjusting a trade takes a bit too long. Luckily when another player asks to trade with you, that system is a bit nicer.
And if you're playing Catan correctly, you'll be trading a lot; unfortunately, just not with friends face-to-face. In what first appeared as a baffling choice, Catan on the Switch doesn't offer offline multiplayer. There's ways to play with AI (of varying difficulties) without internet, but you'll need a connection if you want to play with your pals or random settlers. Why? It actually makes sense. Because Catan is all about trading and always knowing your resources (which are hidden from other players), there's no real way to have multiple people share the same screen. It may be a bit disappointing, but once you think of this version of Catan as an alternative way to play, not a replacement for your board game, the path to fun is unblocked.
After you've convinced your friends to buy the game (it is $30 cheaper than the physical version, AND it includes Seafarers which is usually an additional $50), the online mode is an excellent new way to play. It's probably best to open a Discord channel or a Skype call with your friends so you can mimic the intimacy of battling in the same room. The game doesn't offer any voice chat or text chat, so the games can feel a little less personal, like online poker. Without the personality, playing against others feels just the same as playing against the computer.
Though that isn't necessarily a bad thing; the AI are well-programmed and offer a fun challenge to those looking for a place to train. Online leaderboards and leveling up from wins encourage the very best settlers to prove their worth. Since each game runs about an hour or two, it can take awhile to play (which may not be the best for random matches) but the time really whizzes by.
Make no mistake, this version of Catan is exactly the same as the one you know and love, it just can't be played the same way. You'll need friends, each with their own version and solid wi-fi to play with you. You could even play in the same room with a couple of AI if you so desire, but something tactile would be missing. Not quite a companion, not quite a stand-alone version, Catan for the Switch is nonetheless a fun, captivating alternative way to end friendships and conquer the island.
Catan is available now on Nintendo Switch for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital copy for the purposes of this review.