Classic WGR review:Quickly: great game, highly addictive, feels very different from normal Settlers of Catan.
Take you normal Catan game with your island, roads, cities, settlements etc, and add city walls, knights barbarians, progress, science and politics. This expansion takes Catan to the next level. Besides trying to just build cities and settlements you must also collect commodities (Coins, Paper and Cloth) which you get when you have a city on the proper resource (Ore, Wood, Sheep). Use these commodities to upgrade your cities. Upgraded cities earn you development cards from three different decks. These cards give huge advantages like free road building, trading at 2:1, moving roads, taxing other players and more. While all this is going on barbarians slowly move towards Catan. This leads to the second big addition: the knights. Players can build/feed and upgrade a set of knights. These can be used to scare away the robber, hold good intersections on the board, break up longest roads and a bit more. The main time they come in to play though is defending the land. When the barbarians arrive you compare the number of cities on the map (the barbarians strength) to the number of activated (fed) knights. If the knight number is higher, the barbarians are defeated and the player who contributed the most knights gets a victory point "You are the Defender of Catan!". If the barbarians win, the players contributing the least knights loose a city. This adds a great new level of strategy to the game and also makes it a bit more competitive.
As usual for a Catan game the bits are great. Well made wood pieces (though I hear the new edition has plastic), nice flip books for developments and a great border for the entire island that really helps for an 'Earth Quake of Catan". The level of strategy added is great. There are a lot more things to think about now, and it will keep you much busier then the standard game. Works well with 3-4 players and even better with 5-6 (which requires an additional expansion). The barbarians add a great element of suspense to the game when they are getting close and no one has or has activated any knights. The development cards are great with tons of sneaky and useful cards you can get to mess with other players and advance your own plans.
This isn't always a bad thing, and it depends who you ask but the games take quite a bit longer then a standard Catan game. Even trying to play quickly a game will probably take at least an hour and a half, with some games going much later. There is still a high random factor in this as in the rest of the Catan series, even more so in this one with the extra die (that determines if the barbarians advance or if players can generate progress cards). Personally I don't find this an issue, but anyone that prefers pure strategy may not like this. Lastly, it doesn't 'feel' like Catan. Sure you generate resources, build cities, etc, but it just feels different, like a different game. Whereas Seafarers just added to the basic game, this added so much it 'feels' different. I don't know how else to explain it.
Really this is a great game, I don't have much bad to say and I am really having to think about it. The only ugly I can think of is the way the players may get. This has more backstabbing sneaking and ganging up then the other Catan game so if your group has low sportsmanship there could be an issue (of course I know some groups that love this version of Catan just for that reason). Just play The Spy, Followed by The Bishop then A trade Monopoly and see if your opponent is still smiling, or grabbing a knife ;)
A great game, truly This builds onto Catan in many great and interesting ways. It doesn't feel like the basic Catan game which could be a good or a bad thing. Well worth picking up as the added strategy and the drama of the approaching barbarians will likely bring you back to the table again and again.
How I feel about it six years later:
I've still got a soft spot for this game. I will admit I don't break out any of the Catan games often. I just played them so much back when they were new to me. I've probably played more games of Catan and it's expansions than any other games in my collection. Cities and Knights still remains my favorite way to play Settlers though. Since this was written all of the Catan games have been re-released. They all of the nice wooden bits have been replaced by plastic (boo) but the frame that was so cool in Cities and Knights now comes with every edition (yeah). The gameplay and rules haven't changed though and this is still a solid choice, especially if you are still enjoying Catan but getting tired of just worrying about who has wood for sheep.