Settlers of Catan is another board game classic. However, this is a game that is a bit more divisive than some of the other classic games you might have heard of. Catan lives and dies on player interaction. If you play with the right group, it’s a lively and strategic game that will turn you all into politicians and negotiators. It can fall a little flat with the wrong group and descend into a game of pure luck.
Catan is a race for victory points. The winner is the first player to reach 10 points. There are a few different routes to collecting points, so there are various strategies you can try based on the resources you end up with. As resources are collected randomly, you will need to trade with other players to get what you need. It’s this trading that really brings the game to life.
The premise of the game is that you are building competing societies. You get points for having settlements, cities, the longest road, the biggest army, and from collecting development cards.
Because the game resources are collected randomly, it can be tempting to just hold onto lots of them at once. But, the game has a mechanic to prevent this. If any player rolls a seven, players with too many cards have to give up half of them. This keeps the game moving and prevents anyone from really building a monopoly on resources.
The board is made from hexagonal tiles, which you can arrange however you want at the start of the game. This makes it very replayable.
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Catan vs. Settlers of Catan
With the 5th edition of the game in 2015, “Settlers of Catan” was rebranded as simply “Catan”. However, since the game has a long history under the former title, many players still refer to it, including the recent editions, as “Settlers of Catan”. In this review of the Catan board game, we use both terms interchangeably.
There are a lot of pieces contained in the box. When you first get it, you will have to pop out all the card pieces. There are around 50 of these pieces, so it’s a good idea to do this before you intend to play.
There are 19 terrain hexes and 6 sea frame pieces. These are what you use to build the game board. It can be a little fiddly to get the parts together, but as long as you have a flat surface to play on, they stay in place well once all the tiles are in place.
There are 6 different types of tile. The various tiles correspond to different resources. Hills produce bricks, pasture gives you wool (or sheep as most people call it), mountains make ore, fields make grain, and forests make lumber (or wood). There is also one desert tile that produces nothing.
To complete the board, there are also number tokens to place. These link each tile to a number on the dice. Helpfully they show you which are the most likely to be rolled. This helps you decide where you’ll want to build your settlements while you play.
There is also a large box which contains two sets of cards. There are 95 resource cards (the wool, lumber, grain, ore, and bricks) and 25 development cards, which you can learn more about later.
Helpfully there is a building cost reference card for each player. This lets you quickly check some of the key points you need to know to play the game.
There are two other large cards in the box. These are the Longest Road and Largest Army Cards. These will switch hands a lot during the game. As each is worth 2 victory points, that means there is a 4 point swing each time a new player claims the card from another.
There are also 16 cities, 20 settlements, and 60 roads. These come in four different colors and are lovely wooden pieces. Finally, there is also 1 robber token which is also made from wood.
How To Play Catan
Settlers of Catan is a reasonably complex game. It’s not as in-depth as Gloomhaven, but it can be a little overwhelming for those who are new to board games. I’m just going to give you an overview to give you a feel; I’m not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details. The instructions that come with the game do an excellent job of making it easy to look up rules for specific situations, which is definitely a plus.
Setting Up The Game
The first step to playing Settlers of Catan is to set up the board. There are a few different ways to pick the arrangement. The most challenging option is to randomly select the tiles and the dice rolls that match them. This can lead to unbalanced boards, which are interesting but challenging to play. The middle road is to randomize the tiles but distribute the matching dice rolls more evenly. For beginners, there is a suggested tile arrangement that gives a balanced and more accessible game.
Once the board is set up, you need to separate the resource cards, development cards and place the robber in the desert. Once each player has their road, settlement, and city pieces, you can start by placing the first settlements. Players take it in turns to place first one settlement, then a second, next is a road, and finally one more road.
Once the settlements are placed, each player gets three resource cards. The resources they get are from the three tiles that their first settlement is touching. Once this is done, it’s time to start the game.
Taking Your Turn
On your turn, you start by rolling the two dice. The sum of the numbers on the dice determines which of the tiles will produce resources. Any players who have settlements that touch those tiles get one of the corresponding resource cards. Cities produce two resources.
Once resources have been distributed, the player whose turn it is can make trades. These can be with the bank at a ratio of 4:1, through a general harbor that they control at 3:1, through a specialized harbor at 2:1 for the material noted, or with other players at any agreed rate.
The final part of your go is the ‘build’ section. In this part of your turn, you can spend resources to build roads, settlements, or cities. You can also buy a development card.
You can use development cards at any point on your go. But, more on those later.
Trading is a really integral part of this game. It’s where the immortal line ‘I’ve got wood for sheep’ comes from. This game works best when players are willing to make trades. Some players get caught in not wanting to make trades that benefit other players too much. This can lead to some friction. It’s often a good idea to have some house rules about how long discussions on possible trades can last. This keeps the game moving and can reduce a bit of friction within a group.
While Catan is primarily a trading game, it’s also a resource management game. The different things you can buy have very different requirements. The resources you end up with play a large part in shaping your strategy.
These cost one lumber and one brick to build. New roads must always be connected to an existing road or settlement, and only one road can be built on a single path. This does create an opportunity for players to interfere with each other’s plans.
Settlements cost one each of brick, lumber, wool, and grain. You can only build a settlement in an intersection that has no other settlement neighboring it. It must also be connected to at least one of your roads. In practical terms, that means you need at least two roads between your settlements, but you will often end up with them more spaced out than that.
Cities are upgraded settlements. So, you must first have a settlement. You can then pay three ore and two grain to upgrade it.
Development cards are an interesting addition to the game. Depending on how they are used, that can make a big difference to the final outcome. They cost one each of ore, wool, and grain.
When you buy a card, you take the top one of the deck. You only show it to other players when you choose to play it, which you can do at any point on your turn. There are three types you can pick up.
Knights add to the size of your army. They also allow you to activate the robber when you play them (more on that later). Progress cards have special instructions. They can do all sorts of things, like build two roads for free, or take everyone else’s wheat. The last type is victory point cards. These you can’t play until you are confident you have 10 victory points.
The fact that you have to conceal your victory point cards adds some unknowns to the game. These are the only points that other players can’t identify. Because you can play them when you want, they allow you to spring surprises on the other players when it best suits you.
Whenever a 7 is rolled, the robber is activated. This means the player has to move the robber to a new tile. When the robber is on a tile, it doesn’t produce any resources. The player can also take one random resource card from any player who has a settlement or city that neighbors the robber’s new position.
When the robber appears, any player with more than 7 resource cards in their hand has to choose half to return to the bank.
If there is any mechanic in this game that is most likely to cause arguments, it’s this. If you’re playing with kids who are a little sensitive, it can be a good idea to add house rules to prevent this mechanic’s abuse.
You have to keep track of your own score as you go along. The aim is to reach 10 points on your turn. Players will likely spend a lot of time finding different ways to add up to ten while playing. Points are as follows
- Settlement – 1 point
- City – 2 points
- Each Victory point card -1 point
- Longest Road (at least 4 pieces) – 2 points
- Largest Army (at least 3 soldiers) – 2 points
Catan is not a quick game. Exactly how long a game will last depends a lot on the group you are playing with. A short game might finish in an hour, but it’s more common for games to last for around two. If you have a particularly stubborn set of players, it can easily be a game that takes a whole evening.
Catan Number of Players
Catan only works with three or four players. For either group size, it works equally well. If you want to play with larger groups, there are a couple of expansions that allow you to play with up to 6 players, but the game mechanics do change quite substantially.
Suitable Age Range for Settlers of Catan
Catan is one of the more complicated classic games. The many layers of strategy and intricacies of trading mean that older players tend to have an advantage. Eight is probably the minimum age at which kids will be able to engage well with the game. However, you may want to wait until your kids are around the age of 12. At that point, they should be well equipped to give as good as they get in terms of strategic thinking and planning.
Different Versions and Catan Expansions
Settlers of Catan is such a popular and long-running game that it has spawned a vast number of expansions. The four main ones are Seafarers, Cities & Knights, Explorer & Pirates, and Traders & Barbarians. Each of these adds new mechanics to the game. You can also mix and match them to create the perfect variation for your group.
If you have younger kids and want to introduce them to the Settlers of Catan, you’re in luck. There is a junior version of the game which has simplified mechanics. It’s aimed at kids ages 6-9.
Some variations have different themes, the mechanics are essentially the same, the setting is just different. For instance, there is a Star Trek version and a chocolate one as well.
Best Things About Catan
- With the right group, it’s a lively and exciting game
- You can arrange the game board in hundreds of different ways
- Large point swings make it hard to predict the winner
Weak Points of Catan
- With the wrong group, the game can drag a little
- Setting up the board takes quite a while
Games Like Settlers of Catan
Here are a few of my top picks for those who like Catan already and are looking for something different to try. Each has something in common with Catan, whether it’s tile-laying, planning, or player trades.
The Final Verdict
Settlers of Catan is a classic for a good reason. It’s a challenging and strategic game that will bring out the competitive spirit in everyone. With the large point swings on the largest road and army, it really is a battle to the end. If your family/gaming group is enthusiastic and vocal, this is the perfect game for you to add to your collection. If, however, you are a little more reserved and would rather avoid direct conflict, there are other games out there that you might enjoy more.
Last update on 2021-04-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API