Archive for the Games Category

Review: PlayCatan.com

Posted in Games, General with tags , , , , , , , on Monday, 14 December 2009 by Deems

Following my impromptu and informal review of Settlers of Catan, after playing it at a friend, I was contact by Jim from PlayCatan.com who offered me a one-month coupon to register as a premium user and review their online version of the game.

Well, here’s my review of my experience playing at PlayCatan.com:

The PlayCatan.com website is themed similar to the graphics of the actual board-game. The site itself, is jam-packed with lots of information about the game and its variations, instructions, news, prizes to be won online as well as an event calendar (although as of this time, there are no upcoming events).

If you’ve never played Catan online before you can simply go to the introductory game page where you can play against two virtual players and get used to the interface as well as learn to play the game before delving into the online world and playing against actual players.

You simply need to pick the resolution you prefer, type in your name/nickname and click the Start Game button and away you go.

Note: you will require the Java Runtime on your machine to play the introductory game, as well as the actual multi-player online version. Just follow this link and click on the Free Java Download button to download the appropriate runtime for your machine and operating system.

Once you’ve clicked on Start Game a new window (in your preferred size) is opened up and the game is loaded (this might take a little time the first time, depending on the speed of your Internet connection).

The game starts off with a welcome screen with various buttons to explain the various aspects of the game, rules, and even game hints.

Click on each of the buttons to learn about the various aspects of the game before you actually begin playing. You can also play the game against the two virtual players with, or without the tutorial. Even if you’ve played the actual board-game before but not the online version I suggest trying it out first with the tutorial so that you also get used to the game layout and icons, although they should look mostly familar to those of the board-game.

Your “opponents” will be situated at the top left and top right corners of the screen and you are placed on the bottom left of the screen. As each player gets a turn a shield icon appears next to their name so that you know who’s turn it is.

However remember there are certain things that you can still do during the game even though it’s not your actual turn, such as trading with the player whose turn it currently is.

The reason I also strongly suggest playing with the tutorial on the first time, is that the game play can move along very quickly with each roll of the dice as your are given your resources automatically depending on what was rolled and where your cities and settlements are placed.

Below each of your opponents characters and name are a set of icons and values. Each representing either their score, strengths, resources and development cards they have in their possession. It’s important to keep an eye on those numbers as you play as well as your own which appear along the bottom of the screen.

To get help, zoom in/out, switch sounds on/off, view in-game statistics or exit the game use the toolbar situated at the top of the screen.

Remember that when you’re playing the virtual version of the game you can play at your own pace as you get used to the interface and learn the game. My first experience with playing online against real players was a little difficult as it so happened that the first two people I played against were definitely not newbies, like myself, but seasoned players who were also very impatient with me, and kept on telling me to hurry up.

As Jim pointed out to me, in the online version of Catan you can add people to your friends list as well as add them to an ignore list so that you don’t have to play with them or hear from them again in the chat window – more of that in a bit.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the game and gotten used to the interface you’re ready to enter the Catan Online World (COW) and converse and play with other real-world players.

Once you’ve closed the virtual game you can click on My PlayCatan link to login/register.

If you’ve not registered yet click on the click here to register a new account link to create a new account. You simply need to provide a nickname of your choice (your character name in Catan Online World) as well as your email address (your registration confirmation will be sent to this address to verify its authenticity).

The game is currently only available in English and German. Your ZIP code and country are required to ensure that you are playing against other plays from the same city and country but you can pick anyone you wish if you’d like.

You can even change your preferred country and city in the game but note that your statistics are linked to the country/city your are playing in and are not carried over.

Remember to provide a secure and memorable password for your account (even more important when you have a paid/membership account).

Logging into PlayCatan.com through the website you can see what your previous game statistics are as well as play the browser versions of the game.

Yes, there are other Catan-related games also available that you can play in the browser – as a free member you can only play each of the games once a day but as a premium/paid member you also stand a chance of winning a prize in the monthly draw.

To play the actual online version of Catan you also need to download the Java client application from their website and install it on your computer. It’s around 34MB in size and there is an installer for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux available. If you’ve already played the tutorial/virtual version you already have the Java Runtime installed.

The only gripe I have about the client is that it is Java and I’ve experienced that Java applications can sometimes be slower and less responsive than applications written in other languages and on other runtimes (like .Net for instance).

Once you’ve installed the client application, fire it up by double-clicking the Catan Online World icon.

The Catan Online World (COW) Starter will open up the PlayCatan.com online website for you with a nice big button at the bottom to start up the Catan Online World game.

You’ll first need to select your desired resolution (or full-screen) and then click the Start button.

Now you need to provide your username and password as you supplied them when you registered online (remember to check your email first for the confirmation email to activate your account first, otherwise you will not be able to log in).

Depending on your connection it make take some time to connect to the server and load the main window. You’re first prompted with the Message Of The Day. From here you can either go to your own house (if you’ve built one) or the hostel or even go straight to the games section (Tavern).


If you go to the Hostel (where you can only go as a non premium/paid member) you can see other new users arriving in the Catan Online World. Here you can change your appearance and clothing to distinguish yourself from other players.

Marianne welcomes you and asks if you’re here for the first time. She’ll give you helpful hints about what to do and how to go about doing it.

You should also recognize the toolbar at the top as well as your resources and other statistics in the bar at the bottom of the screen.

As I mentioned, there’s not much to do in the town as a non premium/paid member so you’ll either want to chat with other players or dive right into a game.

All the people currently in the tavern will appear in the list on the right hand side of the screen under the first tab (yellow). The second tab (green) shows you all the people you’ve marked as friends as well as their online status and current statistics and the last tab (red) shows you the list of people you’ve added to your ignore list.

Click on the little face icon on the far right of the info window and make a selection whether or not you wish to chat to the person, add them to your friends/ignore lists. Their language preference is also denoted by the en/de icon.

The bottom section of the screen contains the chat window. Here you can either chat with people in the same room as you or one-to-one with another player.

Just like most quest/role-playing games you accumulate certain resources/items as you play the various games and you can trade them with other players using the trade icon in the toolbar when you’re in the Hostel.

When you click on the Teleport to Tavern icon (first in the list) you get taken to the Tavern where you can chat with other users in the tavern or see the list of games available.

I would suggest the very first thing you do click the In Progress and Interrupted checkboxes so that they’re not checked so that you only see the Open Games as the list updates very quickly as games end and/or new ones are created. These are the games that are available but have not yet started. You need 3 players to join a game before it can be started.

You have the option if clicking the Open Up button and selecting a game-type to create a new game but I’d suggest you join a game created by another player if you’ve not done this before or are not familiar with the various game types, rules and options.

If you prefer, you can also watch a game in progress by checking the In Progress checkbox again, clicking on a yellow/in progress game and clicking the Watch button.

When you’re done click on the Exit button in the toolbar at the top and select Leave to return to the tavern and games list.

You’ll see in each game there is an icon to depict the type of game as well as the name e.g. Basic Game or Cities & Knights as well as the players currently in/waiting for the game to start. Each game has a different set of rules and options and as you play the various games you’ll figure it out. You’ll also find some players can be really helpful and offer assistance during game play, which really does help if you’re new.

An important thing to remember when trading, this got me confused in the beginning too, is that when you wish to trade with someone the red arrow depicts the item/resource you are offering and the green one depicts the item you wish to receive for your offer.

So in my example above, I’m interested in getting a Brick resource from someone and I’m offering a Sheep in return. Should another player be interested they a green/red arrow combination will appear next to their icon and you can either accept (green tick) or reject (red cross) their offer. Should another player wish to offer a trade on their turn you will see the same next to their icon but the resources required and offered are also shown.

As I mentioned in my previous post, resources don’t have fixed values and depending on the game type and your current situation any resource can be traded for any other one (or combination thereof).

While the game’s interface is relatively intuitive and there are help sections available it takes a little getting used to but once you’ve used it a a few times you’ll navigate around with ease.

I did find some problems at times with the screen not refreshing/drawing correctly (like leaving a building and returning to the city map) but I’m sure as they role out more updates to the game interface this will improve over time.

After having played a few games on an actual board and a few games in the online world, I must admit, that I really do prefer playing on the actual board as opposed to online – but that’s my personal opinion as I prefer to play at a slightly slower pace and interact with people during game play. Others might prefer the anonymity or the way you can interact with other players online as opposed to face-to-face.

Since the game can be played in a window-mode you could always find a friend and strike up a audio and/or video conversation with them through Skype while playing the game against one another.

I think the above should give you a good head-start into the Catan Online World and if you’re keen to explore the world and the various games let me know in the comments what your experience was like.

I hope this review has been useful not only to you the reader but to PlayCatan.com as well. Thanks once again goes out to Jim for the voucher and giving me the opportunity to try out PlayCatan.com for myself and write up this review for you.

Now go forth, build your armies and your settlements, and conquer others in the Catan Online World.

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Settlers of Catan

Posted in Games, General with tags , , , , , on Saturday, 12 December 2009 by Deems

Last night, after work, we dropped off the kids at my folks place and went through to friends of ours for a pizza and games evening. They had recently purchased a copy of Settlers of Catan and we were keen to have a go and see what all the fuss was about.

Here’s the description of the game from the official Catan website:

Players are recent immigrants to the newly populated island of Catan. Expand your colony through the building of settlements, roads, and villages by harvesting commodities from the land around you. Trade sheep, lumber, bricks and grain for a settlement, bricks and wood for a road, or try to complete other combinations for more advanced buildings, services and specials.

Trade with other players, or at local seaports to get resources you might lack. The first player to achieve 10 points from a combination of roads, settlements, and special cards wins.

I’d say it’s a somewhat similar to Risk (and maybe a little bit of Monopoly) but a lot more fun and even though there are a lot of rules and options during game play, a lot quicker too. We played two games last night that lasted between 60 and 90 minutes each.

And because of the board pieces (hexagonal map piece depicting a certain resource) being placed randomly to make up the map at the beginning of each game and randomly picking (by throwing a pair of dice) the starting person and direction, each game is very different from the previous one.

And example of such a map is like the one below:

The winner of the game is the first person to accumulate 10 points. Points are achieved by building settlements (1 point), cities (2 points) and getting various other special items like Development Cards that give you points, building the longest road (2 points) or having the strongest army (2 points). But don’t be fooled, just because you won a certain achievement that doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away from you by another player who betters your achievement.

What also makes the game interesting and different each time is the fact that resources (like wood, brick, ore, wheat and sheep) don’t ever have a fixed value to them and depending on which resources are most useful to you at the time will determine how you trade with other players. For example one game you’ll end up trading one for one of different resources and other times you might be willing to give up 2 or even 3 of a resource (or combination) for just one other resource from another player.

You also don’t have to wait to play until it’s your turn as every player gets to do a certain amount of things for every dice roll.

There’s a really nice interactive “How To Play” the Settlers of Catan board game that shows you what the game looks like and how to play it.

It’s an expensive board game so I suggest you play with a friend first to see whether or not you too enjoy the game before investing in your own copy (oh and there are various version and extension packs available too) or why not give it a go online against 2 virtual players.

Thanks for the invite guys – it was a great idea and a lot of fun – we’ll definitely have to do it again sometime soon.

Organise your desktop, with Fences

Posted in Games, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , on Friday, 6 March 2009 by Deems

Is your desktop a little cluttered? Are there icons all over the place, sometimes not in an organised way? My desktop sometimes gets that way, especially when I work on various different projects and things. I like to keep it as clean and organised as possible, although it sometimes needs a serious spring-clean. 

You should probably try out Fences, from StarDock – they’ve a number of other useful windows tool and utilities which you can see on their products page

At the moment it is in a public beta form – their final released product, they say, will remain free. The current beta expires at the end of August this year. I’ve just installed it on my laptop and organised my desktop into categorised sections – nice! 

fences-desktop-example

It’s fully customizable as to how you want your fences to look by changing the colour, opacity, whether or not the borded is shown or not. Another nice feature, expecially for screencasting and/or doing demos is if you double click on your desktop it hides all the icons and fences. Double click again and they’re all there again. 

fences-configuration

If you do try it out, let me kno what you think in the comments. Note that this is a windows application and will require version 2.0 of the .Net Framework pre-installed.

[via the-How-to-Geek]

Online gambling, cheaters unmasked

Posted in Games, General, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , , on Thursday, 4 December 2008 by Deems

poker
We all like playing games in some or other shape or form – some more challenging than others, some more intelectually challenging than others. But one game that is becoming more and more popular is poker. And with the advent of the Internet and more and more connectivity to it, it’s now become easier than ever to play online poker, either through your local casino, having their own online gaming website, or other international gaming website, not affiliated with any casino. 

In the United States, online gambling is illegal, but since almost all of the gaming servers are hosted in countries outside of the US jurisdiction, there’s little that can be done. 

Last weekend I bought myself a 1000 chip poker set to play with at home with friends and family – I’ve always wanted a set of my own. Now, I’m by no means a gambler – I don’t play the poor-man’s-tax (lottery) and don’t visit the casino (a big one just 5 mins drive from where I stay) but I do like playing with friends the odd game or two for fun – or as a charity event with a few colleagues. Some people are obsessed with it and spend their own earnings, and those of others without the blink of an eye (after all they don’t want to show their tell).

It has become so easy (availability of sites to play on) to play online poker these days that everyone can do it – and if you don’t want to just play for funny-money, you can simply use your trusty plastic credit card and purchase some credits to play online. But even then, because you’re not dealing with the physical chips and money in front of you, it almost doesn’t seem real – well that is, until the end of the month when you get your credit card bill and you don’t know how you’re going to pay it off!

As with things like death and taxes, there is another thing that is inevitable – cheaters.

pokercomputerCBS’s 60-minutes recently did a story on how some online gamblers found out that they were being cheated out of their money by a player who kept on winning, no matter how they played. And, as they say, when the chips are down and the cards are dealt, it was uncovered that the guy cheating people out of their money, was none other than an ex-employee from the online casino, who had managed to find a work-around for the software that as an administrator could see all the other player’s cards on the table and thus would always end up the table winner.

You can read the full report on CBS’s website or view the video. Maybe next time think twice before playing online, for money.

Thanks to Connie for spotting this one and passing it on to me.

Game: Fantastic Contraption

Posted in Funny, Games, General with tags , , , on Thursday, 23 October 2008 by Deems

Here’s a fun little flash game that will either frustrate the crap out of you or keep you busy for hours – have fun! The idea behind the game is to get a object from one location (light blue area) to the target location (red area) with the aid of various bits and pieces that roll or pull – you can even join things up to move the object around. 

Click on the image below (on of my own contraptions) to get to the game online. Source How-To Geek

Did you know: Vin Diesel is an avid D&D player and fan?

Posted in Games, General with tags , , , , , on Tuesday, 21 October 2008 by Deems

I just came across this interview today where Vin Diesel is interviewed by Sean Adler of UGO regarding The Chronicles of Riddick.

How on earth did I put Vin Diesel and D&D together? Well John Hodgman (plays the “PC” role in the “Mac vs PC” adverts) talked about it on his blog and I thought, WTF?

Then I found this video on YouTube – can you imagine what it must be like playing against him, no matter what level his character is at?

Game: Frets on Fire (FoF)

Posted in Games, General with tags , , , , , , , , , , on Friday, 29 August 2008 by Deems

I’m not the biggest game enthusiast but when a colleague of mine showed this to me, I was instantly hooked. If you’ve got a PS3/XBox you’ve probably played/seen/heard of Guitar Hero, well this is a free version for your PC (Windows/Mac/Linux compatible).

You can download the version of your choice from the official website.

 It turns your keyboard into a guitar and you can play various levels of the 3 tracks they’ve included with the game. There’s even a song editor built in so that you can make your own songs if you like.

It also supports importing of downloaded songs, and even importing Guitar Hero songs. If you do a quick search on YouTube you’ll even find videos of people that have created a guitar by modifying a keyboard completely.

It takes a little getting used to in the beginning (and the tutorial is very funny) but if you’ve played guitar before you’ll pick it up pretty quickly. You use the five function keys (F1-F5) for pressing down the strings and the Enter key as the pick. I played it for the first time last night and was hooked that I played (without realising) for about 2 hours after everyone had gone to bed!

Go ahead, try it out and shred some frets!