Whenever I move, I think it’s the biggest hassle in the world. Packing everything up, changing addresses, and meeting the new neighbors. It all makes me cringe. But when I step back and think about it, we have it easy compared to what others have endured to change locations. Imagine what it was like for any group of people that decided to go and settle in a new world. This idea is what the Settlers of Catan emulates. Players take the role of settlers to a new land and try to become the most successful civilization on the island. The Settlers of Catan is an award winning, 3-4 person dice rolling and hand management game designed by Klaus Teuber. The Settlers of Catan plays in about 90 minutes and is best with 4 people.
Each player starts the game with two roads and settlements on the board. Each player turn, different resources, either brick, wool, ore, grain, or lumber, will be produced to help the settlers build new roads, settlements and even cities on the board. As the players build more roads out across the island, new settlements will be erected and new resources gained. This will lead the player to gaining victory points. The play continues until one player has established enough of a foothold on the island to gain 10 victory points and win the game.
One thing that doesn’t get mentioned a lot with components is the rule book. Settlers of Catan has one of the best rulebooks that I have seen. It has full pictures of the board set up, very detailed descriptions on turn order, and an almanac for more advanced rules and clarifications. It makes the game very easy to learn for people who haven’t played, as well as questions raised by more frequent players.
As for the game board, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the fact that it has hexagon shaped pieces for the land and sea and allows you to have a different setup for to the board every time you play. This allows you to have endless variety in game play. But the lack of a solid outside border in the early editions of this game (they have fixed this in new editions), makes it very easy to bump the board and mess up everything on the table. It isn’t the biggest deal, but still is annoying. The component quality overall is very high on this game. Allowing for many plays without any signs of wear and tear.
How to Play:
The game starts with placing the game tiles on the table with the number tokens on each of the land squares. These tokens are each numbered from 2-12, skipping the 7. This number will determine the total needed to be rolled to produce that resource for that turn. Each player will place two settlements with a road on any of the intersections on the board. The player will also receive the resources adjacent to the second settlement they placed and then the game begins. Each round goes as follows:
1. Resource Production
Each player rolls both dice and the total determines which of the resource hexes will produce resources that turn. Each player who has a settlement or city adjacent to the hex rolled gains a resource card and places it into their hand. If a player rolls a total of 7, the robber comes into play. First, if any player have over 7 cards in their hands, they lose half of them. This game mechanic forces players to use their resources very quickly rather than hoard them. The next thing that happens is that the robber figure is moved. This allows the player to block any other terrain hex from producing any resources when its number is rolled. The current player also gets to steal a card from anyone who has a settlement or city next to that hex.
After the resource cards are collected the player may trade their resource cards with any of the other players. This is a major part of the game due to the limited amount of hexes of each resource type. Inevitably, you will be waiting and waiting for a number to be rolled, and trade can help you construct the building that you need much faster if you can find a willing trade partner. This allows for great player interactions during the game as you haggle how much that wool is worth to each player. The other type of trade is either a 4:1 trade with the “bank”, where you trade in 4 of one type of resource for another, or a harbor trade. Harbor trades are when you have a settlement or city on a harbor indicated by the outside sea hexes. These allow you to either trade 3:1 or trade two of a specific resource for any other resource.
This stage is when players can use the resources that they have gained through production and trade. They can construct buildings, roads, or buy development cards. Buildings are the settlements and cities I have mentioned earlier. Cities are updated settlements and gain you two victory points as well as double the production of the settlement it replaced. Roads allow players to build out from their first two settlements and find other areas of the island to build on. These roads are placed on the edges of the terrain hexes and must be connected to either a settlement or existing player road. The last thing a player can do with resources is buy a development card. These cards are drawn for the top of a deck and there are 3 types of cards, soldiers, progress and victory point. Soldiers allow a player to move the robber without waiting for a 7 to be rolled. Progress cards allow the player to do special actions, such as build extra roads and collect resources. The last kind is victory point cards, of which there are only 5 in the game.
Once a player is done rolling the dice past to the next player and they take their turn. The first player to 10 victory points wins the game.
The first time I ever played Catan was one late night in college. I would bet that most people wouldn’t be able to remember the first time they played a game from a year ago, let alone 8 years. This isn’t the case for me. I still remember that game and it’s one of the reasons that I currently play the boardgames I do now. Catan was a different gaming experience for me and will be a game that I will hold onto forever. Despite being slightly overwhelmed at the start of the game, I quickly figured out a strategy that I wanted to implement. It failed miserably, but that didn’t matter. I was having such a fun time that winning didn’t matter, it was the experience. Now that I have taken everyone down the nostalgia track, lets get into why the game works so well.
I think Catan is one of the few games where I enjoy every aspect of the game mechanics. There is a great combination of both luck and strategy in this game. You can work to get yourself to a location with very high probability resource number, but it might not be rolled for another 10 turns of the game. This wonderful balance of these two elements can be frustrating at times, but is necessary for making the game accessible for new players as well as a challenge for veterans. Because the game has a natural modular element, being able to shuffle the resource locations on the map, the replay value is amazingly high. I have played over 50 games of Catan since my first game and we have never had the exact same setup.
But what I think I like most about the game is the trading aspect. This isn’t a super complex part of the game or is something unique to The Settlers of Catan, but I think it’s implemented perfectly. Sometimes there will be entire games where the dice are rolling in someone’s favor and the player won’t need to trade. However, most of the time you will have to trade to get the resources you want. It is this informal interaction of people outbidding each other, trying to swing deals for later in the game, and hand bluffing where the true fun of the game exist for me. I have many fond memories of people trying to convince another player to trade a resources with them. I have even seen players begging and even groveling at someones feet to make a deal happen. It is this player interaction that makes the game a joy to play.
And that’s one of the great things about The Settlers of Catan. The game features some fantastic player interaction. This also makes the game easy for new players to learn while keeping an experienced player engaged. Trading and bartering is second nature to almost everyone. Catan’s rules make is incredibly easy for a new player to learn and the modular board make sure an experienced player will have to form a new strategy each game. It’s rare when a board game can captivate both new comers and experienced players alike. I know Catan is one of the first games I will pull out for people who are new to the eurogame genre. Its easy to learn rules, minimal down time and high player interaction make it a perfect game for new players. Add in the fact that that Catan has no player elimination mechanic and you have a game that can keep everyone engaged until the very end.
It isn’t a secret what I think of this game, I LOVE IT. The simple elements of resource management, trading, and building is blended into a near perfect game for me. I still haven’t forgiven them for the lack of an outside border to the hexes in the original edition, but it won’t stop me from playing the game. It’s a minor gripe at best. The modular board gives the game almost unlimited replay value without feeling stale. Catan has a straightforward and engaging player interaction with a perfect balance of luck and strategy. This allows both new players and experienced ones to play a competitive game with one side always having a chance of beating the other. Catan sometimes gets pigeonholed as just a game for people that are getting into the board gaming world (gateway games), but it’s a game that should be in every gamer’s library.
While The Settler’s of Catan does, in fact, make an excellent gateway game, it will continue to be played for many years after your first play. It’s no wonder The Settlers of Catan has won many awards over its first decade of play, including the coveted Spiel des Jahres. Pick up your copy today, its sure to have a lot of time at your gaming table.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $30
Final Score: 5 Stars – A game with great game play balance and changing board setup make this game a joy to play with both experienced and new players.
• Great balance of luck and strategy
• Very easy to learn rules with a well designed rule book
• Simple trading elements allows for excellent player interaction
• Modular board allows for endless variety of game boards
• Lack of outside border causes game board to shift a little to easily