The Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan board gameI hesitated a bit when I started thinking about reviewing The Settlers of Catan. When some friends of ours introduced my wife and I to this game nearly a decade ago, I had never heard of a Eurogame. I had played a lot of games over the years, but I just wasn’t aware that Germany had created so many new and innovative types of board games.

Settlers is commonly called a gateway game, or a game that is good for introducing new people to the board gaming hobby. It certainly did this for me, even though it would not be a game that I would choose now to introduce new players. I do have to give credit where it is due, though. Playing The Settlers of Catan led to me to a hobby that has given me a great deal of joy and introduced me to some wonderful people, many of whom are now my closest friends.

I hesitate to review Settlers at all, because it’s so ubiquitous. There have been over 30 million copies of the game sold worldwide. It’s won just about any gaming award you can think of, including the Spiel des Jahres. It’s been featured in sitcoms and documentaries. It’s everywhere. It’s available on everything from t-shirts to smart phones.

Designed by Klaus Teuber and published in 1995, The Settlers of Catan plays from 3 to 4 players ages 8 and up. I just taught my son to play a couple of weeks ago, so I can verify the age recommendation. Settlers will take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

Settlers is a game about building a civilization on an island, obviously called Catan. Players must use the available resources to build roads, settlements, and cities, eventually earning enough victory points to be crowned the ruler of Catan. The board is modular, and each hexagonal tile represents some resource that can be gathered from that region like stone, wood, brick, wheat, or sheep. It’s a little strange if you think about it, an entire region of filled with brick next to another filled with sheep. It’s like the Genesis planet from Star Trek 3. Anyway, if you have a settlement placed next to a tile, you have the ability to gather that resource, but only if you or another player rolls the value associated with that region on the dice.

Players may trade resources with each other as they attempt to earn the game winning 10th victory point by building settlements and cities and also by earning certain achievements like the longest road, the largest army, or the world’s biggest frying pan.

If you really want to learn how to play Settlers of Catan, you have a wealth of resources at your disposal. There are many videos and reviews. It was even featured on Tabletop. I would start with the entry on BGG and go from there. Let’s just assume you did that already, ate an ice cream sandwich, and are back to read more of what I have to say. I love ice cream sandwiches!

Boy playing Settlers of Catan
The tongue helps you keep your balance.

I hadn’t played Settlers for years, but I did get it out recently and played it with my wife and son. Did we all enjoy ourselves? Absolutely. My son took to the game right away. He loved trading for some reason, and his enthusiasm helped moved things along. I think my wife and I had learned to not trade as much as we might have wanted because we used to play with another couple who always seemed to be either making trades based on promises of affection or wrath, depending on their mood.

One thing that we all agreed that we didn’t like was the robber. Stealing is not very popular in our games, and we felt that we rolled the robber far too often. It made the game seem to go on way too long. I told them about the the event card expansion that can be used to replace the dice, but they really like to roll dice. I like the cards, and I’ve used them to play Settlers with some other gamers, but I believe they are out of print.

After the game was over, I did a little bit of research and found a variant called The Market or The Friendly Robber. This removes almost all of the negative aspects of the game, and I do look forward to giving it a try with my family. Will it be the same game without the annoying robber blocking tiles and stealing resources? No, but I don’t really care. It’s a good game. It’s not one of my favorite games, but maybe the variant will change that. We shall see.

The Settlers of Catan is available just about everywhere. If you don’t own a copy, you probably know someone that does. I’ve even seen a Star Trek version at Target. Maybe it really is the Genesis planet?

spiel_des_jahresThis is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1995 winner, The Settlers of Catan, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.

4 thoughts on “The Settlers of Catan”

  1. See? There’s something about THIS game, even when we know its flaws, that is really magical. I think it’s the amount of polish that went into it. Instead of adding more and more stuff (which, actually, the expansions do), Klaus Teuber has famously told the story of how Settlers is the result of the other kind of development–the better kind of development–where the artistic product is honed and refined down to something elegant. You see the same process at work with books or movies that are expertly edited. Settlers just has that elusive spark of fun & life that other games often lack.

    I’m not sure where it originated, but on Brettspielwelt they usually play with the Turnier variant. (I think that means Tournament.) It lets everyone start the game with a settlement and a CITY, not just two settlements. You also get one more road segment. The starting city gives you more initial cards in your hand, too. This is one tweak I really like, helping to jumpstart the game and get to the best parts quicker. Note that this means you also start with 3 VPs instead of two. Try it!

    1. I think I’ve played that version in some digital format, but I can’t remember where it was. It wasn’t BSW because my BSW-fu is terrible. Maybe this weekend we will try everything at once.

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