Entertaining board game is a nice change of pace for XBL Arcade...
The object of the game is to build settlements (eventually cities) on a board with hexagonal spaces, each assigned a number and a resource, like wood or bricks or ore. When the die is rolled, you get the resources on that space if you have a settlement built along its edge.
Very simple. You get points for each milestone (like building a settlement) but also for other achievements, like building the longest road. You can also purchase cards which give you other advantages, like building an army. A thief piece also can be moved around the board, when someone rolls a seven, which allows you to steal resources from other players. In addition, you can trade resources with other players, if they've got the need and inclination. It's in this trade mode that the game can become very interesting, as you try to haggle for the resources you need to finish that last settlement or city.
There's more to it, but that's the gist. Simple as the rules are, the game is very deep when it comes to strategy. A lot depends on where you place your settlements early in the game. And the game certainly rewards those who think ahead.
Graphically, the game is nice. You can zoom in and out from the game board, which is sometimes necessary to get a sense of where you need to expand to next. But as you would expect from a board game, there's not a lot going on on screen. It would have been nice if the designers had used more of the screen for stats and other data that would be helpful. Which is another problem--when the game is over, you are given access to data, but it requires awkward button pushes to access. A single summary screen would probably have been better.
The music is, unlike most Live Arcade games, actually not intrusive at all. Neither is it spectacular. But it fills in the background, and doesn't irritate, which makes it above average for this type of game.
You can play online against real people (which I haven't done) or against the AI, which has three levels of difficulty. I've found the medium level to be enough for a casual game, and the difficult level is actually difficult, but since I'm new to the game, those who have played it before may not find it so challenging, and will thus want to go online to find a more substantial challenge.
I found the board to be cramped and small. It would have been nice to have a larger board as an option, with modes which allow for achieving more than just ten points to win. I understand the desire for sticking to the original game, I just think that it would have added more to the game to offer an option for longer, more drawn out sessions.
For those looking for a change of pace and who enjoy board games with some depth, Catan is definitely a good choice. And at $10, it's definitely a good deal.