Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Candamir – The Odyssey

Candamir is Klaus Teuber's latest Catan-branded game, which came out last year at Essen. I didn't get a chance to play it right away, but considered it one of the more promising games at the time. Sadly, the initial plays were disappointing (where you can also find a more extensive description of the game). The potential was there I felt, but the game was significantly too long and definitely not interactive enough.

However, Mayfair was signed up to do an English version, and they seemed to recognize that there were some problems. So they announced that their version would include richer exploration tiles, which would hopefully have a number of salutary effects – mainly shortening the game and creating resources surpluses so that you'd see some actual trading. So far so good.

But it seems that nothing in the gaming world is ever easy. When I got my copy of Mayfair's Candamir, I looked through with anticipation to see the changes they had made. I was dismayed to see that the tiles were exactly the same! Figuring that couldn't be right, I found in the back of the rulebook a tile inventory, in which all the 4 tiles had an extra resource, unless they already had two resources, in which case they had an extra experience. So an email went off to Mayfair, wondering what had gone wrong; but in the back of my head, I was worried that this improvement in just the '4' tiles wouldn't be enough.

It turns out, things were even more confusing than that ... not only were the tiles misprinted, but so were the rules ... the 3 tiles all have an added resource or experience as well. Fortunately, Mayfair has printed up some replacement tiles, and if you have purchased or will purchase their version of Candamir, I strongly recommend you write them and get the replacements.

Because when I finally had a chance to play with them, I found it to be a major improvement. In the old game, the rate of acquisition of stuff was so slow that the game was much too long and nobody ever had excess resources to trade, resulting in basically a multi-player solitaire game. In our game with the new tiles, all of a sudden there was plenty of trading (if not quite as much as in classic Settlers), and while the game is long – closer to Starfarers than Settlers, maybe 1.5 to 2 hours – it doesn't drag for most of the game. Like all of the Settlers games, towards the very end there can be a "grinding" phase when only one or two of the players have a chance to win, but the game still needs to close out. In classic Settlers, this is rarely more than 5-10 minutes. I think Candamir was pushing more like 15-20, which is more than one might hope, but not too bad given the nature of the game.

All in all, I rather liked the new, updated Candamir. It's still no match for the original Settlers, but not much is. Still, Candamir is a game that manages to combine solid, clean, Teutonic game-design elements with a flavorful setting and fun adventuring elements that, as a whole, functions on both levels. From Entdecker to El Cabellero there have been many attempts to do exploration-themed games, and none of them have worked at all thematically, in that for me none conveyed any sense of traveling in a dangerous unknown. Likewise, many adventure games (like Runebound or Return of the Heroes) don't give much sense that there is a balanced, interesting game underneath. Candamir doesn't quite manage to pull everything off either, but for me it's a vast improvement over previous efforts in this regard, is very solid on both levels, and it definitely still feels Catan-ish (including the randomness that drives some serious gamers berserk, but is never quite that severe when you really look at it). While Kosmos' Candamir definitely fell significantly short, I am ultimately happy with the Mayfair Candamir, which is now a welcome addition to my collection.

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