I’ll answer the title question, What is Settlers of Catan (often shortened to just Settlers or just Catan – I will use Catan) in the shortest possible way: it’s a board game for 3 or 4 players. Not satisfied? 🙂 OK, keep reading …
It was designed by Klaus Teuber and originally published in Germany in 1995. Game became hugely successful and popular, got translated in multiple languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.
After that various different extension and expansion packs have been released, but for now, we will focus just on the base game.
Theme and Concept of Catan
What is the idea behind Settlers of Catan? The players assume roles of settlers, who are trying to settle on an island which produces various resources. These resources can then be used to build additional settlements, roads or buy development cards (which contain knights, inventions or victory points). Settlements, roads and armies then add up the victory points. The goal of the game is to accumulate ten or more victory points – the first player to do so is the winner.
Seting up the game of Catan
Game preparation begins with the laying of hexagonal terrain tiles (18 resource tiles + 1 desert tile) and surrounding water tiles. These can be arranged randomly, although there are suggestions in the game manual for a fixed arrangement which should give players equal opportunites.
Next it’s time to give resource tiles numbers from 2 to 12 (excluding 7). Number 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11 are represented twice, while numbers 2 and 12 are represented once – a total of 18 numbers.
These number represent the probability of a tile producing a resource in a turn. This is determined by throwing two dices and the sum of the throws is a number from 2 to 12. As a general guideline 7 is a result with the highest probability and further away from 7, rarer the throw will be.
Initial settlement placement happens next. Players place two villages each with one road next to it. They do this in a predetermined order as not to give anyone an advantage: player 1, player 2, player 3, player 4, player 4, player 3, player 2, player 1. Each places 1 village at the time.
When players receive their starting resources based on their initial villages, the game can start. On each player’s turn, there is a dice throw. Resulting number determines which tile(s) will yield resources. Each village on the edge of such tile receives one resource and each city receives two resource cards. There are five different resources.
There is no hard cap on how many resources a player can hold in its hand, however when a 7 is thrown, each player with 8 or more resource cards must discard half of the cards.
The player in turn then has option on what to do with his resources. He can spend them on building villages, upgrading villages into cities, building roads or buying developement cards.
Player also has an option to trade them. He can trade with the bank at a rate of 4:1 (4 same resources for one he needs), 3:1 if he has a settlement on a 3:1 port or even 2:1 if he has a settlement in a special port slot. Another option to trade is with other players, here only player’s diplomatic skills determine what one is able to bargain.
If a player buys a development card, the card is drawn from a special tile. These can contain invention cards (special ability cards, like an option to build two roads for free, draw 2 resources for free or play a resource monopoly – drawing specific resource cards from other players), outright victory points or knights.
Development cards can be played out inside a player’s turn.
When a 7 is thrown, no resources are given out. Instead, a player has to move a special figure, a robber (at the game start, the robber is placed in the desert), to a resource tile. That tile is then blocked from producing resources until the robber is moved somewhere else. Moreover, if there are settlements on the adjacent tiles, the player who moved the robber, can rob one of the other players (who has a settlement on the edge of that tile) of a random resource card.
Playing a knight card is basically the same as throwing a 7 – it gives a player a chance to move the robber (hopefully to one of opponents tiles). When a player has played 3 or more knight cards, he receives a special card call the Largest Army, which is worth 2 victory points. This card is transferred to another player if he fields a larger army.
How is Catan won? – Victory Conditions
Aim of Catan is to be the first to accumulate 10 victory points. Village is worth 1 point, a city 2 points, longest continuing road 2 points and largest army also 2 points. On top of that there are victory points received from developement cards. Victory is usually achieved after 1-2 hours of gameplay.
Luck in Settlers of Catan
There are two ways random factor plays a role in Catan. One is the inital tile placement and the second is the dice throws each turn. First factor is the same for everyone, while the second tends to even out somehow as there are many dice throws in a game. Overall there is low to moderate luck factor involved in Catan.
Skill and Diplomacy
There are a lot of options the player has in a game. It starts with inital settlement placement which is by far the most important decision. It hugely impacts how the rest of the game will be played out and what strategies he will employ. Diplomatic skills also play a great role, since there is much to gain by trading. Catan is game of moderate to high skill level. That can be further deepened by the expansions.
That rounds up the basic gameplay and should give you a pretty good feel for how the game of Catan is played. But this is only the tip of an iceberg, there are many more aspects which we haven’t covered here: inital settlement placement studies, general game strategies and tactics, different editions and expansions and much more.
If you found this overview useful (or even if you didn’t :)) and if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.