Like chocolate and peanut butter, The Settlers of Catan and the iPad are two great tastes I love, coming together to make something that should be even better. Board games and the iPad are a perfect fit, and Catan is arguably the very best board game.
How could this combination go wrong?
Well, it did: Catan: The First Island hit the iPad App Store this week for $4.99, and it's the biggest disappointment I've experienced this year. Yes, the larger board size suits iPads better than iPhones, but that's the only way this app succeeds. Instead, I'll tell you where it fails the most.
1. It's not a universal app. Carcassone for the iPhone promises a free universal app upgrade for existing customers, and it's a better iOS game, too. Charging separate prices for iPhone/iPad games is increasingly becoming a questionable/shady practice, especially when both games are so similar.
2. It's slow. As with poker, I appreciate being able to blaze through a game of Catan against AI opponents. The animations and turn-waiting are so slow here they make me want to quit a game rather than finish. It's why I deleted the similarly slow iPhone Catan app.
3. No online multiplayer. The Xbox Live Arcade version of Catan (and the PS3 version) allow multiplayer, the real killer way of playing video game Catan. Local pass-the-board multiplayer is possible, but it's a horrible way of playing--after all, you want to shield your cards from others.
4. Cheesy graphics. In the worst possible way, Catan on the iPad looks like a PC game from 1992. Retro is one thing, but we'd much prefer crisp, clear, simple graphics instead. It's also hard to make out roads, settlements, and other necessary features.
5. No expansions. We've been patiently forgiving the lack of Catan expansions available in video game form for years: Seafarers of Catan and Knights and Cities never showed up in Xbox Live/PSN/iPhone editions. That's not the iPad's fault per se, but it's getting silly now. There's no reason a simple update couldn't be offered for a few more dollars--not that we'd pay it on a game that feels so unfun to play.
For some better iPad board games, check out our Top iPad games list.