Catan was originally released in 1995 by Klaus Teuber in Germany. The name originates from Catan which is the name of the fictional island on which the whole game is played. It’s fun and challenging on multiple levels. Millions of copies have been sold in over 30 languages and in addition to numerous other accolades, Catan won The Game of the Century Award at Gamescom in 2015. I wanted to see if this game, which is also known as The Settlers of Catan or Settlers, was up to the challenge of entertaining each of the family. The ages of the family range from 9 to 37 so we wanted to know if it could suit the whole family and keep us entertained during family games night.
The board itself is made up of 19 interchangeable hexagonal tiles, each representing different terrains: forest, field, mountain, hill, and pasture. Each of these terrains corresponds to a “resource”—lumber, grain, ore, brick, and wool. Each player need to grow their settlements. There is also one desert tile (which gives you no resources), and number tokens – which will correspond to the numbers later rolled on the dice.
The edge of the board is made up of six thin coastal frame pieces representing the ocean. In the box they are also small wooden tokens representing houses, cities, and roads that let players literally build their settlements on the board. The tiles themselves, the game cards, and all the rest of the pieces are colourful, sleek, and beautifully designed.
The strategic thinking needed to decide when and what to buy is somewhat sophisticated, giving more mature players a leg up on younger ones but this doesn’t mean that they can’t play. It is all about strategy but so is Monopoly and other similar games.
The backside of the hexagonal tile features the same water design as the coastal pieces. This design element allows the resource on the front side of each tile to stay hidden so that the tiles can be drawn and placed at random when the board is set up at the start of the game. It also allows for the integration of the Seafarers of Catan extension, in which the tiles are placed upside down to form an ocean. In this version of the game, players seek to expose resources through exploration during each turn.
The game is designed for 3 to 4 players. If you have a larger group, you can either team up or use the game extensions which are available and allow up to 6 players. There are also many other versions of the game available, including, a Game of Thrones edition which is super popular currently.
It takes about five minutes to set up the board for the game and then around an hour for each match, if played with adults and slightly longer if playing with younger players. It took us around a 90 minutes to play with 2 adults and 1 teenager and it wasn’t too painful as he understood the rules.
The strategy and tactics components come into play during setup: Each player takes turns placing two settlements and two roads. Settlements may be placed anywhere on the board if there is no other settlement within one road segment. This creates a similar situation to a map for each game.
Once the last player places his or her first settlement, that player gets to then place his or her second road and settlement, followed by the remaining players in reverse order. You need to strategically place your settlements in spots near a variety of resources on the board. An example is if you choose a spot surrounded only by hills then you won’t be able to get the resources necessary to advance your game later as all you will have collected is brick. If you choose well then you will reap the rewards with each roll of the dice; choose poorly (or unluckily) and you’ll quickly be cursing those choices.
When teaching the game, we always try and make sure the tile selection process is as fair as possible. We make sure to evenly distribute the resources as well as the number tokens.
The game is over when a player earns 10 points and, in my experience, it tends to be competitive until the last point is won / stolen, depending on your perspective. Points can be racked up in a variety of ways, such as building houses / cities, owning the longest road, or building the biggest army. You can also win by holding point-bearing “development” cards.
How To Play Catan:
Each turn begins with a roll of the two dice and the sum will correspond to the number token on a hexagonal tile. If your settlement is adjacent to that tile, then you earn the resource that it represents. Settlements earn one resource card each and cities earn two. So, for example, if you placed two cities next to a mountain tile with a 5 on it, you’ll get four more cards every time a 5 is rolled.
The game marks the number tokens with the probability that they’ll be rolled using one to five small dots. Five dots and a red-coloured number means that it’s one of the most likely numbers to be rolled (both 8 and 6 have this designation). The least likely numbers (2 and 12) just have one dot. You’ll want to place your settlements near tiles with higher-probability numbers.
When a sum of 7 is rolled, that player gets to place the “Robber Pawn” on any tile. The robber brings death to the tile it sits on, which means no resources can be collected there until the robber moves. It’s placed or moved on the board when the next player rolls 7s or when a “knight” development card (purchased by that player), is played. Additionally, whenever a 7 is rolled, players with more than seven resource cards in their hands have to discard half of them (rounded up).
“Resource cards” display pictures of the coveted resources, which provide the building blocks for everything a player wants to do. This includes expanding roads, building new settlements, converting settlements into cities, and purchasing “development cards” (more on those later).
Each person has a building cost card that shows what combination of resources they need for each possible purchase. A road can be bought with one wood and one brick resource card. A settlement costs one each of wood, brick, wheat, and sheep. An existing settlement can become a city with two wheat and three stone. Development cards cost one wheat, one sheep, and one stone. It’s good to refer to the building cost card throughout the game to see what resources you need to target next in your gameplay.
Players may attempt to trade resource cards on their turn with any other player. If both agree, then any trade is permissible. You can only initiate a trade during your turn, and you must be part of the trade taking place.
Holding Development Cards
As we mentioned, players can buy “development cards” using their resource cards during a turn. These cards are picked from the face-down stack so that you don’t know what you are getting. There are five types of development cards: knight, road building, victory point, monopoly, and year of plenty.
The knight cards (which symbolize a settlement’s military might) allow you to move the robber and work toward winning the “largest army” card (worth two points), which means you have at least three knights and more than all the other players. A road-building card will give you two free roads to place without having to use your resource cards. Victory points are what they sound like: You can turn these cards over at the end to secure your win. A monopoly card allows you to take all resource cards of a certain type from all the other players. Say, for example, you really need ore cards, but your settlements aren’t placed well to get them. You can turn over the monopoly card in that case. Finally, the year of plenty card allows you to take two resource cards of your choice from the bank.
The only drawback is that sometimes you end up in a game where you have no chance of winning, and that can be less than fun.
Earning Bonus Cards
Bonus cards, each worth two points, are earned by the player who has the longest road and the biggest army. Fellow players steal this honor (and the points) if they build a longer road or bigger army, meaning these points are always in flux until the end of the game.
Our Thoughts On Catan
For adults: Though I’ll pretty much try any game at least once, I’ll admit that the concept of Catan was originally off-putting to me—partly because the idea of building settlements didn’t sound exactly exciting. It was also hard to understand at first, but I was wrong: It turns out that Catan is an absorbing game, and vying to build the biggest settlements is as exciting as it gets.
For Pre-Teens: My hyper-competitive 9-year-old, Ethan, has a love-hate relationship with this game. When he’s winning, he’s a fan; if things aren’t going his way, he may storm off and need to be coaxed back to the table.
Catan retails for around £40-£45. The price is somewhat steep compared to other board games, but it is along the same pricing as similar games such as Carcassonne which we also reviewed. However, this is not your average game, it is well designed, intricate, adjustable board pieces and lovely cards. This game can be played again and again and with the options for expansions, which can be purchased, it creates even more unique playing experiences.
If you want to know more about this game then check out www.unboxnow.com for more info.