One of the first board games published outside of the US that I ever played was Settlers of Catan. I remember feeling overwhelmed while also enthralled by the game’s art, style, and unique method of play. Games that traditionally come from the United States, like Monopoly or Life, have players following a track toward an objective (or objectives) and see players either being eliminated or finishing one at a time, thus effectively ending their play experience for the session. Settlers, along with many other Eurogames, do not have these features, allowing players a totally unique play experience. Here is my review of Settlers of Catan, the base game with 5-6 player extension.
Settlers of Catan is a resource management/building game designed by Klaus Teuber and published by Mayfair Games. In Settlers of Catan, players take turns gathering resources, trading with other players, and building settlements across the island of Catan. Players compete among each other to earn Victory Points (VP) from a variety of sources. The first player to reach 10 VP wins the game.
The game is unique in that the board is created randomly at the beginning of each session. First, the coastline is assembled following numbered guides. Within the coast, hexagons with one of six different images (resources) are placed randomly. (The Almanac provided does recommend a particular layout for the hexagons for your first time playing). On top of those, numbered chits are placed, either randomly or in alphabetical order, denoting the value that must be rolled in order for that resource to produce (more on that later). With the hexes and chits randomly placed, there is unlimited replay value to the game as no two maps will be the same.
Order of Play:
The game begins with the oldest player going first. In clockwise order, players place one settlement and one road onto the board. Once the last player has laid their first settlement, they then place their second settlement and road. The same thing proceeds in counter-clockwise order until the oldest player lays their second settlement and road. At this point, the game is set and ready to play.
On a player’s turn, they roll two six-sided dice and view the result. Every resource hex that contains a chit with that number produces a resource. However, players must be adjacent to that hex in order to collect the produced resource. This means that few resources will be collected during the early part of the game. Also of note is that ANY player may collect resources from hexes that produce, not just the one taking their turn.
Once all resources have been gathered, players are able to trade with themselves or merchants “overseas” (with the bank). This step is often filled with lots of “sheep and wood” comments as players both barter for resources, and simply try to figure out which one the player wants (too many “are you asking for sheep or giving away sheep?!” moments). After trading is complete, the player may use any resources s/he has gathered to build structures. These may be roads, settlements, cities, and Development Cards. The game comes with a reference card so players don’t have to remember how much everything costs, which is always appreciated. Once all building is complete, the play continues to the next player.
If you are using the 5-6 player Extension and have 5+ players, an extra building phase is added after a player’s turn in which ANYONE at the table may build structures as long as they have the proper resources.
Play continues in the above manner until 10 VP are earned. VP are earned from building settlements or cities, as well as found on some select Development Cards, and special conditions such as having the Longest Road or Largest Army.
One special circumstance occurs if the player rolls a seven. On the board, chits are numbered 2-6 and 8-12, so no resources produce on a 7. Instead, the player activates the Robber. ALL players must count their resource cards. If they have more than 7 cards, they must discard half of them (rounding down). The player then places the robber on any hex and may steal one resource card from a player whose settlement or city is adjacent to it.
This game is beautiful. All hexes, coasts, reference cards, and Road/Army cards are printed on colorful, heavy cardstock. Chits are made in a sturdy plastic and have a nice, glossy finish. All road, settlement, and city pieces are painted wood and are very professionally crafted. The rulebook comes in a large Almanac with big pictures, detailed explanations of terms, and instructions for play.
The game is definitely a fun one. You will sit around the table, plan on what pieces to play, try to determine what resource to gather next, watch as your opponents cut off your road, and hope that Dan will not talk about his #&%! sheep next turn. The game is not fast pace or violent, but does require attention and focus to avoid getting behind. The dynamic nature of the board means that no two games play out exactly the same, forcing you to adjust your strategy on the fly to accommodate the resources and chits as they fall. If you are looking for a calm, relaxing game that has a lot of strategy, Settlers of Catan is for you.
This game is one with a lot of upgrades. At this point, there are four expansions to Catan (as well as their 5-6 player Extensions), adding naval trade, knights, barbarians, pirates, and more. All of these expansions and extensions can be combined together to create an epic session of Catan. My wife and I played one such game of Catan with friends who have all of the expansions, and since then have not enjoyed the base game as much. That isn’t to say that basic Catan is not enjoyable or fun, but it can feel rather bland once you get a taste for all of the variety the expansions provide.
Go out, buy basic Catan, enjoy it for what it is. Once your funds or desire allow, purchase the expansions. And donate one to me so I can review it properly.