Saturday 1 February 2014

The Settlers of Catan

The game that started everything for me: Settlers is often said to be the gateway to all Euro games.

I wrote this for my friend Diana who wanted to know a bit more about the game...

Name: The Settlers of Catan (1995)

Publisher: Mayfair Games

Special Note: Winner of the Spiel des Jahres 1995 [German Game of the Year 1995]

Players: 3 to 4, though I suppose nothing is stopping this from being a two player game - except it would probably be too easy as you'd have a lot of free space.

There is a 5-6 Player Extension available which I own. It is a good idea if you are new to this game to play 4 players using the 5-6 player map provided by the Extension as it makes the game easier for everyone (This will set you back by an extra $23 to $35).

Expansions: There are plenty of expansions to this game which I have not played, but some look quite fantastic - especially Seafarers.

However, for the purposes of Catan, be aware of the difference between an "Extension" and an "Expansion". An Extension refers to extending the number of players that can play in the base game. An Expansion however is a totally new sequel to the base game that adds new gameplay and new rules.

But note that Expansions themselves also have their own separate Extensions. So buying the Seafarers Expansion would let you play with new rules but you wouldn't be able to accommodate more people in the Expansion unless you bought the Seafarers Extension.

See also Startrek Catan and Catan: Frenemies. Check out these cool boards as well <--(I don't think I could ever justify buying a board with that kind of price tag)

Update (November 2014): Check out Catan: Ancient Egypt below - it looks really cool

Age: 10+

Time to play: About 60 minutes. If you create an unbalanced custom map though it could take a longer time

Price Range (AUD): $35 to $60. When I first bought the game I got it for about $33 but since then prices have jackpotted immensely into the $50 zone.

Availability: Due to its notoriety, very widespread and available in many department + toy stores as well as online.

  • Euro
  • Mild Civilization-Building Strategy
  • Trading
  • Negotiating
  • Family

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.5* out of 10. (Excellent - See my Rating Scale)

This game is a great introduction to the world of empire-building and trading, where light diplomacy and area planning skills come to the fore.

Catan's artwork is impressive and vividly depicted - the game does have a slight fantasy or "exploration" feel to it as well. The gameplay itself is engaging; even the process of setting up the game is likely to fascinate anyone new to the world of Euro board games (See Rules and Components below)

Settlers is also simple to learn yet has considerable strategy (of course, much will come down to luck through dice rolling and placement of chits) but at the same time it is not overly complicated as compared to other Euro games.

Often players must face a tradeoff between expanding quickly (and capturing territory) or withholding from this and stockpiling resources instead - if you do the latter too much you may be completely surrounded and blocked by your opponents later in the game!

Overall, I think this makes for a great family game. It can be competitive too amongst friends, but not in the bad sense.

*July and October 2014: Revised from 7.65. After re-visiting this (after journeying around the metaphorical world of board games), I've come to appreciate how clean and simple this game is. The artwork is quite lovely though the pieces themselves leave a bit to be desired (eg. the road doesn't completely fit the edge of the hexagon); however the wheeling and dealing element is superb in that you constantly haggle your opponents for bargains when it comes to trading resources. The tension in a close match is quite fun in a competitive sense, especially in games where territory and monopoly over resources is disputed. The rules are easy and clean to explain. I can see why it's such a classic and I consider this game to be the borderline standard for an 8.5 score.

The Good:
  • Relatively easy to play and explain
  • Maps are customisable
  • Civilization-building and area dominance tensions provide all players with many decisions to make and strategies to think about
  • Negotiation and diplomacy skills are put to the test to a limited extent 
  • Great gateway (introductory) game into Euro games
  • Great visually in terms of the components and artwork - strong fantasy themes.

The Bad:
  • May turn off someone not interested in mild to moderate strategy, but this is probably the most inviting it will get
  • Trying to customise your own map may be disastrous and could potentially make the game imbalanced - try to consult a map generator by typing into Google "Settlers of Catan Map Generator".
  • Road pieces don't exactly cover the edges of the hexagon tiles properly

What makes this game fun? 

Building, expanding your empire and negotiating sly deals with your neighbours coupled with the tension of competing for limited resources and land makes for a great game experience. Even if you are new to the idea and have never played this sort of game before you should give it a go - it is quite interesting.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

Setup is interesting.

First you must assemble the border pieces like so (which form the beaches and ocean of Catan).

Outer edge with last piece to be placed (by just matching the numbers on the edges - 5 goes with 5, 6 goes with 6 etc)

Then you fill the void with various tiles. Tiles include forests, pastures, fields, "hills" and mountains - which respectively give wood, sheep, wheat, brick and rock

In this example I use the setup provided in the Instructions book but you are free to use whatever setup you like. 

I once played a game where we grouped resources into different areas, thus creating separate monopolies. You can also play a fog-of-war scenario where there are gaps in the map and you draw a tile whenever you build a road to an empty gap.


After you fill the voids, then you place numbered "chits" onto each tile. Again, in the picture below, I'm just following the standard setup in the manual.

[WARNING: if you choose to randomly place chits onto tiles without consulting an online map generator you could have a very unbalanced and disproportionate game.]

*EDIT as at August 2014:  I didn't realise this at the time I initially wrote this, but the game provides an easy way for you to number the board by following the letters in alphabetical order starting from A (anywhere on the outskirts of the board) and then going in a counter-clockwise formation

These chits correspond to the numbers rolled on two standard dice.

Red numbers (or numbers with more dots) are more commonly rolled (such as 6 or 8) whereas numbers with less dots are less commonly rolled (such as 12 or 2).

Robber and desert tile

Note however that the desert tile does not have a chit. Instead it has a robber placed onto it like so:

You may have also noticed in the above map that there is no "7" chit. This is because if anyone rolls a 7, they may choose to move the robber to steal a resource from any player (without looking at the cards of the player being stolen from - just choose one randomly).

Additionally, if the robber is on a resource tile, that resource tile will stop generating resources (which is bad - you will see why).

Starting Positions

Then everyone gets to place two "houses" (villages or as the game calls them, settlements) and two roads anywhere on the map. Here I've used the recommended start-up map provided in the instructions booklet (which is for beginners and as such, doesn't require you to place villages - they are fixed from the start)

However, if you decide to play the advanced version where people place one house at a time then...

..for fairness purposes, the player to place their first settlement must place their second settlement last. Thus the order of placement is symmetrical.

So if Red goes first (by placing their first settlement), then Blue places their first piece, then Orange goes, then White, then when it comes round to placing the second settlement, White will go first , Orange goes next, then Blue and Red goes last.

Note that there are rules for placing roads and settlements:

  • Roads are placed along the sides of a hexagon, rather than intersections (An intersection is the point where the corners of the hexes meet).
  • A road must always link back to (ie. touch) your existing road or settlement.
  • Settlements cannot be adjacent to another settlement. Thus, another way of saying this is that all intersections surrounding the settlement have to be empty
  • However a settlement of one colour can be placed next to a road of another colour so long as the intersections themselves are empty (as the roads occupy the sides of the hexagon, not the intersections)

Starting Pieces

Each player starts out with 5 settlements, 4 Cities and 15 Roads. 

In this picture, Red's 2 settlements and 2 roads have already been used up in the opening set-up

Starting Resources

Let's take a look again at the setup map

You will notice that Blue's two settlements are sitting on the intersection of many different resources.

For the Left settlement, Blue's settlement is touching the Brown Hills to the west, the Green Pasture to the East and Mountains are on the south. 

Thus, Blue gets 1 Clay card, 1 Sheep/Wool card and 1 Rock card, corresponding to these three resources.

For the Right settlement Blue gets 1 Lumber/Wood and 1 Wheat card.

Thus, this is what Blue gets in total:

Everyone gets their resources in a similar way.

Aim of the game

The aim of the game is to achieve 10 Victory Points before anyone else does.

  • Each settlement is 1 Victory Point (Thus at the start of the game you automatically have 2 Victory Points)
  • Each City is 2 Victory Points
  • If you have the Longest Road you get 2 Victory Points
  • If you have the Largest Army you get 2 Victory Points
  • Various development cards (which you keep hidden) also give you Victory Points.

Turn Order:

Each player goes through the following turn order:

Step 1) Roll the two dice.

If a 7 was rolled:

  • Each player with more than 7 resource cards must discard half of them (rounded down)
  • The Robber must be moved onto another hexagon by the player who rolled the dice.
  • The player who rolled the dice gets to steal one card from another player whose settlement is on that hex's intersection, without looking at what cards they have.

If a 7 wasn't rolled:

  • Each player receives one resource for each settlement adjacent to the hex that has the rolled number on the chit. So if 5 was rolled, Blue gets 1 Rock and Red gets 1 Brick (in the above diagram)

Step 2) Trade/Build/ or play a Development card in the order of your choice.

Trading: You can trade cards with another player in any manner you wish (eg. "If you give me 1 wood I'll give you 2 sheep")

You may also trade with the bank by swapping 4 of the same resource for 1 resource of your choice. If If you build a settlement on a harbour you can get better trades with the bank.

So in this example below, you can now trade 3 of the same resource for 1 resource of your choice (eg. 3 bricks for 1 wool).

In this example you can trade 2 wood for 1 resource of your choice.

Building costs are as below:

  • Roads cost 1 Brick and 1 Wood
  • Settlements cost 1 Brick, 1 Wood, 1 Wheat and 1 Sheep
  • Cities cost 2 Wheat and 3 Rocks (they replace your settlements and you get 2 victory points)
  • A development card costs 1 Sheep, 1 Wheat and 1 Rock

Note that if you buy a development card, you can't use it immediately - you can only use it on your next turn unless it's got victory points.
Building costs for Blue and example of development cards below

Some development cards give you a Knight, which allows you to move the Robber and steal from another player. Whoever has the most knights gets the largest army card which is worth 2 points.

This title can keep changing throughout the game but the default rule is that whoever got the title first gets to keep it in the case of a tie.

Do not forget the longest road title - whoever has the longest continuous road gets this title.

Step 3) That player's turn ends. The next player starts their turn, following Steps 1-3 again.

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