Succesful Adaption of a Successful Board Game

Hendrik Weimer


Normal version

An obvious difficulty of free software games is that they cannot obtain million-dollar licenses for adaptions of well-known books, movies and sports leagues. Fortunately, this is different for board games because the game design itself is not copyrightable. This makes games like Pioneers possible, which is an adaption of "Settlers of Catan", a board game focussed on trading and building. Settlers of Catan won multiple awards including the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game. Pioneers was formerly called Gnocatan but this name has been dropped for trademark reasons.

Settlers of Catan takes some elements from board games like "Civilization" but adds in new ideas as well. The players build settlements and cities for collecting resources, which in turn are used to build new sites. Each round consists of each player throwing the dice, which determines the resources the players obtain, trading resource cards and building.

Resources can be traded both with the bank at a fixed ratio but also between players. Trading with the AI players in Pioneers is a bit dull, but with other human players this often means tough bargaining and resulting in a sophisticated deal. While the game is highly competitive (the player reaching a certain number of victory points first wins) the trading part mandates some cooperation because a player that never trades most certainly will not win. But neither it is a throwing of cotton balls — soldiers and monopoly cards, which allow to steal resources, add enough aggression to the game.

Pioneers contains every element from Settlers of Catan including some extensions like the "Seafarers" expansion. Lots of new maps leading to new game situations (e.g. a map of Europe with grain being the only resource) come with the game. If that does not suffice you can easily create new maps as they are simply small ASCII files.

At the end of the game

At the end of the game
(click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, in other areas Pioneers does not do such a good job, as the user interface is certainly not ideal. After a turn of one of the AI players you have to gather all information about the turn from the message lock because the action takes place way too quickly. The map window is not perfect as well, as you can't zoom in on larger maps, which makes it hard to distinguish the individual tiles at lower resolutions. And even though there are several tilesets to choose from, none is really pretty.

But that is already all that is negative about Pioneers. The AI players are not too weak although there is no possibility to adjust their playing strength. The multiplayer mode allows to play the game with some friends or on dedicated game servers.

To be honest, much of the fun you can have with the game comes from the classic board game rather than from the computer implementation. But in the end it is the fun that counts and therefore Pioneers is a great game.

Got a question on Pioneers? Post it as a comment!

Distributions: [?]■ Debian stable■ Debian unstable
□ Fedora■ Mandriva
□ Suse■ Ubuntu


  • Brilliant game concept
  • Lots of variants
  • Bad user interface

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