Settlers of Catan ‘Fog of War’ variant

I’m always looking for new ways to spice up The Settlers of Catan, and got the idea for ‘fog of war’ from the real-time strategy computer games of my youth, such as StarCraft and Warcraft II.

The idea behind fog of war is simple. When the game starts, the map is hidden to the players. As they progress through the game, the map reveals itself. This can make exploration a lot more fun and spontaneous! It also minimizes the effects of settlement placement during set-up, as it essentially randomizes what hexes people build on.

Set-up

To start, lay out all of the hex pieces face down (for this example I’m playing the standard Catan game, but this variant would work with other scenarios and expansions as well). Keep the frame pieces off for now. This will make it easier to flip the pieces over. After laying out the hexes, then put the number tokens on as normal, leaving one hex blank for the desert.

Catan Fog of War Setup

Next, everybody places their settlements and roads blindly, same rules as normal. No hexes are flipped yet. People are basically placing their settlements based on what numbers they like, how close they want their settlements to be, and whether they want to be on a port or not.

Catan Fog of War Setup

Flipping the tiles

After set-up is complete, flip all the tiles over! If you wanted to play true fog of war rules, you’d only flip tiles that have a settlement or road touching them (my friends have never wanted to play this way). Although with 4-6 people playing, chances are almost all the tiles will be touched by something, so it’s a moot point.

Catan Fog of War Setup

One concern with this set-up, though, is what to do about the desert? More than likely, the desert hex will have a number on top of it: by normal Catan rules, that’s not possible. How we’ve always played is this: when you flip the desert over, if it has a number on it, the number token simply transfers to the one hex without a number token.

In this example above, blue built on the blank hex, knowing that the odds were favorable that the blank hex was NOT the desert.

Catan Fog of War Setup

We keep flipping over tiles and find that the desert is underneath orange’s six spot! Tough luck for orange. Now the six moves to blue’s blank tile, which reveals to be:

Catan Fog of War Setup

A mountain! Now blue ended up with two sixes on one settlement! This is the part of fog of war that I enjoy the most: seeing where the desert is and which number gets moved. Sometimes it’s a six or eight that gets moved, other times it’s the less desirable 2 or 12.

Once when we played fog of war with 6 people, one guy built one settlement on two blank tiles (with 5-6 players there are two deserts), hoping to get something good, but ended up getting both deserts!

Ports

I didn’t include ports in these pictures, but there are a couple things you could do about them. You could loosely set the frame pieces around the hexes, either face up or face down. Or you could use the smaller port tiles instead and place them face down around the edge of the board. That’s usually what we do. Then when people have finished placing their settlements, you flip over all the ports.

Using third-party frames

There are now a variety of third-party frames and boards for Catan. These frames or boards keep the tiles locked in place so they don’t slide around during gameplay.

I use hexels, and placing the hexes in the hexels face down gets tedious trying to flip them back over. I set the hexes on top of the hexels, but turn them slightly so they don’t fit in the frames, like this:

Catan Fog of War Setup

The triangle shapes that appear between the hexes are the intersections. Place settlements on the triangles, following the normal set-up rules.

Catan Fog of War Setup

Then after everybody has placed, flip and turn the hexes and put them in the frames as normal.

Give this variant a shot and let me know what you think! While writing this post I did a little research on fog of war and see that other people have independently created their own version of it. This website lists some great alternate rules and has some slight variations for fog of war compared to my variant.

For example, one variant is to even flip the number tiles over so nobody knows what they are going to get!

Game on,
~Dennis

Setting Up My Odyssey2

In Summer 2013, I taught the inaugural session of The Cultural Impact of Video Games, a class I developed at the University of Florida. In this class, we examined how video games have developed over the last 50 years, as well as all the controversies about video games.

We began the class by talking about the origins of video games, spending ample time studying the earliest consoles. I posted something about the class on Facebook, and my friend’s dad sent me a message:

Would you like an original in the box Magnavox Oddessy II with a bunch of games?

Would I! Born in 1985, I missed the Odyssey² completely as it was discontinued in 1984. The Odyssey² competed against the better-known Atari 2600, which sold 30+ million units compared to the Odyssey²’s measly 2 million.

By the way, they pronounced it Odyssey “Two,” even though it’s written Odyssey “Squared.”

I tried to impress upon my students how revolutionary these earlier games were, even if they haven’t aged well. I thought the Odyssey² would be the perfect teaching tool, so I went about setting it up in my office.

Outdated plug-ins

Modern video game systems are plugged into TVs using a variety of cables, such as Component HD AV cables or standard AV cables (the three-pronged Red, Yellow, White one). I opened up the Odyssey² box and was surprised to find this:

Odyssey2 Switch

This switch is supposed to attach to an analog TV antenna, something my current digital television is not outfitted with. The audio/video was connected through an RCA cable, yet even that was outdated:

Odyssey2 RCA Outdated Cable

Notice that little notch at the end of the cable? Yeah, that makes it incompatible with modern hookups. I showed the guy at Radio Shack the cable and he says he’s never seen such a thing before. Such is 1982 technology!

Hacking the system

Luckily, I found this tutorial on how to hack/modernize the Odyssey²’s hookups. I’ve never hacked a gaming console before, so I was a little nervous but confident I could do it (even though the instructions look like they were created back in 1997).

The procedure was actually pretty simple.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 1

First, I removed the back cover. Notice all the empty space inside.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 2

Next, I unplugged the old RCA cord. Unlike modern consoles, the a/v cord could not be removed from outside the console: it was attached internally.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 3

Unfortunately, the modern RCA cord’s end was too fat to fit in the little space. So instead of having the cord come out the back of the console, I drilled a hole for it to exit the side.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 4

Finally, to connect the Odyssey to my television, as all of the other video inputs were in use, I used the coaxial cable. Connecting the RCA to the coaxial cable was simply a matter of using an RCA female to F female adaptor, purchased from Monoprice.com.

Testing the Odyssey²

Next came the big moment: firing it up! I remember fondly the days of playing with a half-broken NES. My brother and I often began our play sessions with a half-hour trial in getting the thing to work (procedure: blow on the cartridge, turn on machine, turn it off, remove cartridge, blow on it again, insert, turn on machine, hit reset, hit reset, try hitting reset a third time, turn off machine, repeat). I envisioned a similar thing happening with the Odyssey². Fortunately, about 75% of the games worked on the first try, and the others just took a little fiddling to get them to work. Success!

Odyssey2 Test 1

Odyssey2 Test 2

This game, Blockout, is similar to (a rip-off of) the arcade classic Breakout. The difference? Those little men walking around inside the rows will slowly rebuild the blocks if you aren’t fast enough in destroying them.

I spent the next 2 hours playing through my pile of games with my roommates. As these kids were all born in the 1990s, about 6-8 years after me, this technology is even farther removed for them than it is for me. I at least remember playing a 2600 a few times as a kid, so I knew what to expect. One of my roommates, an avid gamer himself, had a hard time imagining how anybody could’ve enjoyed these games. He remarked, “If I had been born back then, I don’t think I ever would’ve become a gamer.”

Even though my friend’s dad gave me tons of games, only about half of them were playable. Why is that? Well, my Odyssey² is one of the original models, which did not have detachable controllers. Yep, the controllers are hardwired into the system. Weird, huh? And unfortunately, the right controller doesn’t work.

And why is that unfortunate? Two reasons:

  1. Some games are only playable with two players, like racing games and sports games. They don’t have single player modes. I can still turn them on and start them up, but Player 2 sits there helplessly while Player 1 has all the fun.
  2. Some single player games require the right joystick, not the left, to play! This just blows my mind, but I guess it makes sense when you think about it. In the early days of video games, everything was being created for the first time: industry standards were a few years away. The Odyssey² was released at a time when Player 1 wasn’t standardized as the left controller. My theory is, the designers thought that most people are right-handed, so it only makes sense to use the right joystick for single player games.

Despite the unplayability of many of my games, I still had a blast with the system. It’s a great reminder how far video games have come in such a short period of time.

Now the real test: Students

After getting my fill of the Odyssey² at home, I brought it to school and set it up in my office.

Odyssey2 in Office

Yes, everything’s connected to a cute little 13″ CRT television, right next to my Super NES and Atari Flashback 3. I’ve already showed it off to some students and colleagues. Even though the games suck by today’s standards (let’s be honest, they haven’t aged well at all), everybody’s had a lot of fun so far.

If anybody has any memories of the Odyssey², share them below!

Game on,

~Dennis