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Beloved boardgame Settlers of Catan comes to iPhone

For fans of the strategy classic, it's a $4.99 dream come true. For newcomers to the game, it's $4.99 well spent. And for everyone, it's a chance to play solo and on the go.

Catan brings the complete Settlers of Catan boardgame experience to the iPhone.

If you've never heard of Settlers of Catan, you owe it to yourself to read the Wired story, Monopoly Killer: Perfect German board game redefines genre.

Then you owe it to yourself to buy a copy, as I did, and find two or three friends for one of the best board game experiences you'll ever have.

No friends? No problem: Settlers of Catan just landed on the iPhone and iPod Touch. And you don't need 2-3 available humans, 3-4 available hours, and a flat surface to play it.

For the uninitiated, Catan unfolds on an island. It's your job to score 10 victory points by capturing the most settlements, building the longest roads, and so on.

Once you learn the rules--and there's definitely a learning curve--it's strategy gaming at its finest: fast-moving turns, balanced gameplay, and enough randomness that even a player who falls behind can quickly get back in it.

Thankfully, Catan for iPhone offers excellent built-in tutorials so beginners can learn the ropes.

Unlike Kolonists, a Catan clone that debuted in July (and has since been pulled from the App Store for reasons unknown), the real Catan follows the board game's exact rule-set--including the use of dice for randomized resource gathering (a key gameplay element Kolonists decided to forgo).

Catan requires three or four players. You can assign as many AI opponents as you want, but when other humans are involved, the only option is to gather around the iPhone (board-game-style) or pass it around for each turn--not a great solution, as you need to keep a close watch on the island so you can plan your moves.

The lack of Internet multiplayer seems disappointing at first, but that kind of play would be nearly impossible given the time required to complete a game.

On the plus side, Catan affords plenty of gameplay options, including a "friendly" Robber mode and an adjustable number of Victory Points needed to win the game. Make it eight, for example, and you can finish more quickly.

In other words, there's more than enough variety here to keep Catan newcomers and veterans alike gaming happily for hours, days, even weeks on end. And given that the actual board game routinely sells for around $40, the $4.99 iPhone edition is practically the bargain of the century.