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What is Settlers of Catan? – Introduction and Review

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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. It was one of the first eurogames that hit global market and made its way into mainstream entertainment. Suddenly, everyone was playing it.

After the original release, various different extension and expansion packs (together with reprints) have been released. For now, we will focus just on the base game.

Clicking on the picture above will take you to Amazon page. If you then decide to buy something, I will earn a small commission – to no extra cost to you.

Players: 3 or 4

Playing time: 1 to 2 hours (depends on players)

Ages: 10+

Skill factor/game complexity: moderate

Luck/random factor: moderate

My score: 8/10

BordGameGeek page: link.

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 traded and used to build additional settlements, roads or buy development cards.

Theme is very similar to a video game called Settlers, which was also made by a German studio BlueByte an enjoyed success worldwide. I guess there is something appealing about colonizing virgin lands and claiming them as yours. And having the word settlers in the title obviously also helps.

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.

In it’s core Settlers of Catan is an abstract strategy game with elements of card collecting and resource management. It’s secret is, that the theme is well thought-out and works brilliantly hand-in-hand with the concept.

settlers-of-catan-board

 

Seting up a game of Catan

Game preparation begins with 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 number tokens 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. Again, there is a suggested pattern for numbers – or you can just go all out random.

Number tokens represent the probability of a tile producing a resource in a turn. This is determined by throwing two dice 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.

It’s all pretty easy and straightforward. After a couple of games, you’ll be setting up games with blind eyes almost.

If you would like to avoid setting up the game altogether, you can do this by playing Settlers of Catan online for free – check the review of Asobrain platform.

Gameplay

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.

Settlers-of-catan-resourcesThe 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 on 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 inside a player’s turn.

Highway Robbery

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 (draw one from opponents hand). settlers-of-catan-robber

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 called 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?

Goal of Settlers 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, depending on the player count and their experience. More experienced players will complete their turns faster and game will progress more smoothly.

If you hate losing at Catan, then check this article: Tips and Tricks for winning.

 

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 lo 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 a player will (and can) employ. Diplomatic skills also play a great role, since there is much to gain by trading.

Catan is game of moderate skill level. This can be further deepened by the expansions.

Read about most common Settlers of Catan expansions in following articles:

 

settlers-of-catan-city

What is Settlers of Catan?

Hopefully I have answered this question for you and you now have a pretty good feel for how the game of Catan is set-up and played.

But this article 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. A lot of those are covered in other articles (you’ve seen links to them already), so go ahead and check them out.

Check out Settlers of Catan on Amazon

If you found this overview useful, have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Any feedback is immensly appreciated.

Vasilij

10 thoughts on “What is Settlers of Catan? – Introduction and Review

  1. Looks like a really fun game. Thanks for the summary rather than just writing the instructions 😀 Do you have a favourite game?

  2. This is such a new game concept. I never thought games like these would actually be put on game boards especially since I have seen some many like the Simpsons being just online.

    I did not see the pros and cons or these games. What are they? do you know?

    1. It’s 24 years old already. You would be amazed about all the things that have been made into board games.

      Pro’s and con’s of Catan. Maybe i’ll make n post on this topic, but to be brief:
      + great theme and presentation,
      + easy to learn but engaging game mechanics,
      + fun to trade with your friends,
      + luck doesn’t play a big role,
      – not a lot to do when it’s not your turn,
      – in later stages the wait time can get long,
      – can’t be played by 2 players, 3 is minimum.

  3. WOW, thank you so Vasilij. This is a game that i enjoy seeing people playing it but i have never had a deep knowledge as your post has gotten me more enlightened. Startiung laying the hexagonal terain tiles, giving resource tiles numbers down to Initial settlement placement.
    So, elaborate that i feel playing right away.
    thank you for such a wonderful post.

  4. Hi Vasilij,

    I really enjoyed reading your review of settlers of catan. It sounds like a great game and definitely one to put on my Christmas list. I would also like to check out your recommendation of Scythe. Do you have a review of this game as well as it sounds really good? Thanks in advance, Andrew

  5. Thank you so much for this informative introduction to Settlers of Catan and review. I’ve been told that a family member really loves the game so I’m hoping to find something for him for the holidays that would be a good addition to his game. He’s already a pretty avid player, so I think the expansion packs you mention might bring a new level of excitement for his games. Thanks for helping me to understand the language — hopefully the next time I see him he will teach me how to play!

    1. I reviewed the main expansion packs: Seafarers and Cities & Knigths already, but try to feel him out a bit , he might already have them. Maybe Traders & Barbarians or Explorers & Pirates would interest him, they are a bit rarer.

      I have not reviewed them (yet), but they were well received by other critics, so I would recommend them.

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