Billabong Boardgamers

Die Siedler von Nürnberg

Publisher: Kosmos
Players: 2-4
Reviewed by Debbie Pickett
Reproduced here with kind permission from Funagain Games.

Settlers with close, balanced play

Released to celebrate 950 years of the existence of the German city of Nürnberg (Nuremberg for English-speakers), this game draws on the original game of the Settlers of Catan as well as a number of new elements. It is the latest of a long line of Settlers games from Klaus Teuber, a complete game rather than an expansion, and has a limited distribution, normally only available in department stores in the Nürnberg area (which explains the price of this difficult-to-obtain import).

For those familiar with the basic game of Settlers, this game should not present any challenge, though it should be understood that the game carries quite a bit more complexity. Those who have not played the original game should probably start there instead. My review will thus focus on the differences in game play from the original game, as well as the consequences that these differences have in the feel of the game.

The first major difference is that there is a game board, with all of the land hexes printed on it. This is similar in nature to the Alexander the Great and Cheops expansions, which also come with a preset board. One of the hexes represents the city of Nürnberg; the five roads are already shown on the map. The wooden pieces that look like roads instead represent toll booths, collecting gold throughout the game for the player with a majority of them on any given road. Additionally, each road carries a victory point for the player with the most toll booths on it. Three of the roads earn additional tolls when commodities are sold (explained later). Settlements are built on the intersections of three hexes as before, but since the roads are already built and don't belong to any particular player, there is much greater freedom in where to build.

This map of the surrounding countryside takes up half of the game board. The other half is a close-up of the city of Nürnberg itself. Here you can use resources to construct one of five commodities, to be sold to neighbouring cities off-map (Frankfurt, Prague and Venice) for gold. If you sell these commodities and don't have the majority of toll booths on the road that leads to the commodities' destination, you must pay a toll to the player who does have the majority. You can improve your income by making better-quality commodities, by constructing a workshop in Nürnberg. These cost exactly the same to build as a city would in basic Settlers. Workshops double your income for a commodity without doubling the toll you have to pay. Workshops also allow you to trade resources with the bank at a better rate (like ports in the original game) or give you the right to construct towers, explained shortly. What you can do with your workshop depends on where you place it in the city of Nürnberg. You can build up to four workshops in a game.

With the gold you earn from selling commodities, you can buy a piece of city wall to build around Nürnberg. City walls are important to the people of Nürnberg, and building a segment gains you a point of prestige. Once you have gained three prestige points you earn the right to sit on one of the three city councils, worth from two to a whopping four victory points. (This game element is pretty much straight from the Alexander the Great expansion.) You can accelerate your prestige by building towers on the convex corners of the Nürnberg map. These cost a little more to build, but they are worth two prestige points, and may only be built if you have a workshop in the appropriate area of the city. Because these council seats are worth so many victory points, there is fierce competition for them, up until a player reaches twelve prestige points, after which the seat the player holds (and its victory points) are safe from further attack.

Perhaps the biggest surprise with Die Siedler von Nürnberg is the absence of dice. One complaint that many players have about other versions of Settlers is that it is too random, depending on the outcome of dice rolls, which are just too random in the short term and can make or break a game depending on if a player's numbers are rolled. Many players have suggested ways of reducing this randomness so that it more resembles long-term outcomes by creating a deck of cards with the same distribution as a pair of dice, and drawing one card per turn instead of rolling the dice. Klaus Teuber has taken this idea for Die Siedler von Nürnberg and elaborated on it. As well as each card having a number on it indicating production for the turn, cards have a secondary feature such as moving the robber, permitting cheap building of city walls, paying tolls on one of the five roads, advancing the game towards its conclusion, or reshuffling the deck.

The game ends when one player has reached 13 victory points, or when the ninth advance-time card has been drawn (about three times through the deck). With only 46 victory points available in the game (or fewer, depending on the spacing of settlements), there is a lot of vying for every last point. It isn't possible to win the game without taking the extra possibilities Nürnberg offers into account. The long chain, from settlements to resources to commodities to gold to city walls to prestige to victory points, is certainly more convoluted than the simple settlements-or-cities of basic Settlers, but it hangs together quite well. Every part of the game seems to be balanced. This is probably what helps to ensure close games.

On the down side, this game is expensive for what it is; nevertheless, it should be seriously considered by any Settlers fan, even by some who are not fond of the original as it removes or changes many of the elements that players have disliked. Those who consider themselves Gamers should definitely give this game serious thought. Like most versions of Settlers, I suspect that it plays better with four than three, where the extra congestion creates tighter contests. I would also regard the estimated playing time of 90 minutes as extremely optimistic. The increased play options slow the game down significantly.

In my opinion, Die Siedler von Nürnberg is the best of the large Settlers dynasty, addressing flaws of previous editions while introducing several new elements. Do try it if you can.

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