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Die Siedler von Nurnberg

Siedler von Nurnberg
Klaus Teuber
3-4 players
90-150 minutes
Reviewed by Dale Yu

This is the most recent addition to the Settlers series it is a limited edition game released to celebrate the 950th anniversary of Nurnberg. It is meant to be sold only at local stores during the festival there in 2000, but unagain was able to bring some back from Essen99. After a few playings, this may have already reached the status of my favorite game in the Settlers series. Some people have described Siedler von Nurnberg to be a more complex version of Settlers however, I think that this game adds more than just complexity to the Settlers of Catan. One potential drawback that people have to the game is that it is entirely in German. However, everything is clearly marked with pictures so that working knowledge of German is not necessary.

If it helps you, I have already made quick reference sheets that you can give to each player to give translations of German text on cards as well as provide a quick synopsis of the rules and scoring. It should be noted that these sheets were made for people already familiar with Settlers of Catan, so there may still be some rough spots that you will have to explain.

The Board

The game has many similarities to Settlers of Catan while adding a few new twists to the mix. The board itself is rather large (roughly 36x24 inches) and is split into two main portions. The right side of the board is a familiar looking hexgrid of lands (however, these lands are fixed so no random distribution of hexes as in Settlers). The lands are spaced out so that similar lands seem to be close to each other. Furthermore, the fixed lands have fixed numbers on them so that the distribution map is constant.

Nurnberg is prominent on the right side of the board and it has five roads coming out of this hex; three of the roads lead to cities (Venice, Frankfurt and Prague) and two roads just end in the forest without going anywhere. The wooden pieces for settlements and roads are the same (as is unfortunately the color selection including that nasty puke colored orange). However, their roles and placement are somewhat different. The road segments are tollbooths in this game. Tollbooths (1 wood and 1 brick) are placed on one of the five roads that leaves Nurnberg, and they are placed sequentially outwards from the city. In order to build a settlement on one of these roads, you must have a tollbooth on that road. However, unlike Settlers, you do not have to connect your settlements with tollbooths; rather you can build a settlement (1 grain, 1 wool, 1 wood, and 1 stone) anywhere on the road as long as you have a tollbooth somewhere on that road. The settlements still have to agree with the familiar spacing rule (same as regular Settlers) on a particular road though settlements can lie on adjacent hexes if they are on separate roads. There are also longest road cards in the game, one card (worth 1VP each) for each of the five roads the player with the most tollbooths on the road gets the longest road card. So, in short, the right side of the board is very similar to regular Settlers except the board is fixed. But, the left side of the board is totally different.

On the left side of the board, is a blown up map of the city of Nurnberg. Around the edges of the left side are pictures of five commodities. Any player can build these commodities to produce gold. Each commodity pays out gold, however, since these commodities are sold in different cities, a toll must be paid on each commodity made. For instance, you can make suits of armor for 3 stone and 1 wood. In return for these commodities, you receive 6 pieces of gold. However, these suits of armor are sold in Prague, so whomever controls the Longest Road card for the road to Prague collects the toll (which in this case is 3 pieces of gold). The addition of commodities to the game allow the player to convert some of his resource cards into gold either to escape the robber or to use the gold for other things (such as city walls and towers). Gold can also be traded like any other resource. [Note: unlike some of the seafarers variants, this gold cannot be transmuted into a resource of the players choosing it is just gold, a resource like the other five]

The city itself is surrounded by a city wall. Throughout the course of the game, players can build segments of the city wall (3 gold and 1 brick) or towers (3 gold, 1 brick and for prestige points. If you can build generate enough prestige points, you become a Council Member of Nurnberg. Why is it important to be a Council Member? VICTORY POINTS. Whomever gets to 3 prestige points first gets the High Council card which is worth a huge 4VP! Next to 3 Prestige points gets a 3VP card and 3rd player to three prestige points gets a 2VP card. (In a 3-player game, you take out the 3VP council card). Like other cards in Settlers, if you ever have more Prestige points than another player, you take their Council card from them (or exchange cards if you also already have one). Of note, if you would ever get to 12 Prestige points, your Council card can never be taken away from you.

The interior of the city is divided up into familiar hexes. There are 12 red dots in the interior of the city where players can build workshops (same cost as cities in Settlers 3 rock and 2 wheat). Unlike settlements, there are no spacing restrictions on the placement of the workshops. The location of the workshops is two- or three-fold. First, there are no ports for trading on the right side of the board. The only ports are within the city of Nurnberg. There is one port for each of the five resources (that trade at 2:1) and a single 3:1 port (good for all resources). If you build a workshop on that particular spot, you get the benefits of the port. Otherwise, you have to trade with the bank at 4:1. Second, all of the workshop spots border pictures of one or two commodities. If one of your workshops borders a picture of a commodity that you have just made, you get double the gold production from that commodity. (The toll, however, does not double). Third, there is an area in the city labeled Bauhof. In order to build city towers (worth 2 Prestige points each) you must have a workshop that borders the Bauhof.

The Gameplay

Siedler von Nurnberg is similar to Settlers in that you collect Victory Points (VPs) to win the game. The game is over when someone gets 13VPs. There is also another way to end the game if the clock strikes 1400 AD (by going thru the dice deck three times). The rules, as written, use a new method for production. There is a deck of 36 cards which have a full distribution of 2 to 12 represented on the cards. This was put in place to combat the capricious nature of dice which can greatly skew production in regular Settlers when you roll for production. In addition to a production number, each card also has an event on it (to be explained later in the review) which is put into play after the distribution of the resources.

There is also a robber, which comes up 6 times in the deck (i.e. same probability as a 7). It works like the old robber stopping production in whatever hex it is in. The player that placed the Robber then gets to steal a resource card from another player. One difference from the regular Settlers is that the player can steal a resource from any player, not just players affected by the Robber. So you determine production and go thru the event for the turn. After that, similar to regular Settlers, you can trade with other players for resources or you can build stuff (and there is much more stuff to be built in this game!)

The other events are: 1) Wegezoll which is a toll card. The card tells which road is collecting a toll whomever controls the road named on the event card can collect one gold piece from each player that has a settlement on that road. If the player has no gold, the owner of the road can draw one resource card at random from that players hand. 2) Hourglass this card moves the timer marker up one spot. There are nine spaces on the timer bar each representing 5 years of time. This is just a mechanism to add some indeterminancy to the end of the game. There are 3 hourglasses in the deck; when the 3rd hourglass comes up, the deck is reshuffled. This mechanism also provides some randomness to the resource distribution because it is rare that the entire deck of 36 will be turned over (because this will only happen if an hourglass is the last card in the deck). 3) City Wall = 3 gold this card allows each player (starting with the player that turned over the card) to build one city wall piece for three gold pieces. 4) Robber explained earlier, 5) Margrave this card just removes the Robber off the board.

As mentioned earlier, the game is over at 13VP. How you score points 1VP for each settlement, 1VP for each workshop, 1VP for each longest road card, 4VP, 3VP or 2VP for being a Council Member. If you build all of your settlements and workshops, you only have 9VP so there is fierce competition to keep someone from getting those last 4VP which are openly competed for by all players.

Comments and Variants

I like the fixed setup of the right side of the board. This works out well in my opinion because it takes away from the importance on initial placement in regular Settlers based on the randomly setup board. It seems that in Settlers, much of the game is decided in the game setup by wise selection of settlement placement and initial commodity distribution. However, with a fixed map, there are some places which are obviously better than others (and are seemingly always picked by the first players). But there are not enough of these good spots to allow each player to get two prime spots. Thus you either get one great spot and one poor spot or two good spots for initial production. Also, some of the better spots for production are on the roads which do not lead to any cities, so those players taking those spots will take control of a less valuable road. I feel that this setup allows for a higher level of competition in the game.

One thing we have changed in the rules is the method for production. There is just something missing from the game without the tangible feeling of rolling the dice. To that end, we have gone back to rolling dice to determine production rather than using the number on the event cards. This adds some incertainty to the production, which seems to add to the game rather than take away from it. It also takes away from the one problem seen with the dice deck. While a more even distribution should be guaranteed by using the deck to determine production, there are also some shortcomings of the system. First, the distribution is only even if the 3rd hourglass card is the last card in the deck. This should only occur 1/12 of the time, so the odds of production are still not equal. Second, since there are a fixed number of cards, once all the cards for a particular number are gone, you know that there wont be anymore production from those spaces until the deck is shuffled. (i.e. once all three 11s come out, you know that they cant produce anymore) this is a negative in my view. It gives a huge advantage to players that can count cards. But is also very frustrating to know that your lands wont produce anymore and if other people know that, it puts you at a huge disadvantage in trading if people know that you have no chance of making a certain resource. The dice deck also seemed to slow down the game a little bit because it slowed down trading when people knew that what future production would be.

So we have gone back to rolling the dice to determine production. A 7 brings out the Robber just like in Settlers. After the roll, we then flip over an event card and work out the event. We have removed the 6 Robber cards from the deck (because you dont need them since you roll dice). Also, if you roll a 7, you dont get an event card (because the Robber would have been the event in that case). This change in production method seems to spice up the game a little bit.

The event cards add a twist to each turn and can change ones strategies constantly. They provide reason to battle for the Longest Road cards (not just for VP, but for the gold in Wegezoll cards). They also can quickly alter the Prestige point standings (As everyone has a chance to build one wall piece if that event card comes up). On the whole, they add a nice controlled randomness to the game. The entire game is in German, but this doesnt prove to be a deterrent. Everything you need to know is represented pictorally on the board or card. In addition, the text on the card is really unnecessary because there are only five different types of cards and once you learn the text translation, you only need to look at the picture on the card to be able to play.

Overall, this is probably my favorite game in the Settlers series. While I love the random setup found in Settlers, I find the depth of strategies available in this game to provide much better gameplay. There are so many things to do in the game to get ahead you can build settlements, tollbooths or workshops like Settlers. However, you can also build commodities to produce gold which you can stockpile for use in future turns. The game in many ways is like two games in one, you need to excel on both sides of the board in order to win this game. The more complex scoring system adds some meatiness to the Settlers game without bogging it down into a drawn out game.

The game takes about 1.5 to 2.5 hours to play, but we have had a game end in about 1 hour when one player snuck up on us to get the 4VP Council Card. While I couldnt play this all the time instead of Settlers, I think that I would play this more often than Settlers because of the added complexity of the strategies.