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Playing Settlers of Catan

The Settlers of Catan is a now classic board game developed by German board game designer Klaus Teuber. The game was originally released in the 1990’s, but has since been re-released in 4 editions. In addition, expansions to the game have been released which expand the possible play scenarios and other facets of the game to create a more varied experience. The basic board game is intended for 3-4 players, although there are guidelines available online if one wishes to convert the game into a 2 player game through the use of rule modifications and neutral players that keep the game competitive. Game play generally takes 60 – 90 minutes, depending on the skill of the players and the luck of the dice rolls. This game is often cited as a good introductory game to the “Euro game” style of board games, which are distinct from American board games (such as Monopoly) in that they focus more on skill, and they do not eliminate players before the game’s end. While the lines between these types of games can be somewhat blurred, Catan is a classic Euro game that should be played if trying to introduce oneself to this hobby.

The Goal

In the Settlers of Catan, you play as a group of settling colonists in a new land rich with natural resources, the future of which has yet to be determined. It is up to you to carve out your section of this new and wealthy land, establishing your empire to spread over the island before your opponents do so. To win the game, you must obtain 10 victory points, which can be obtained through several ways which are listed below:

  • 1 Point per Settlement
  • 2 Points per City
  • 2 Points for having the Longest Road
  • 2 Points for having the Largest Army
  • 1 Point for Certain Development Cards

How you obtain victory points does not matter. You simply need to be the first to reach total of 10 points in order to be declared the unrivaled ruler of the land of Catan.

Basic Setup

The board for this game consists of a series of hexagonal tiles that connect together to form a larger hexagon consisting of a total of a total of 25 hexagonal tiles. These tiles contain one of six images, which are either of mountains, grassy fields, wooded forests, clay pits, wheat fields, or a barren desert. To set up the game board, one can shuffle together all of these tiles, and then deal them out in a random order starting in the center of the hexagon, thus creating a random assortment of the resources in the game. Alternatively, there are suggested board layouts available online or in the rule books that come with the basic game. While random layouts keep the game interesting, they have the potential to group certain resources together, allowing players that control these resources to dominate the game, making it an important consideration when planning out ones game. On top of each of these hexagons, one of 24 numbered circles is laid at random (the single desert tile does not receive a number). These numbers range from 2-12, and correspond to dice roll values for the roll of two standard six sided dice. Accordingly, numbers such as 6 and 8 are more probable and are thus bright red to remind players of their increased probability. It is again a possibility to have red numbers grouped together due to random assortment problems, and so it may be advantageous to lay out the numbers in alphabetical order (using the small letters printed on each circle) in order to assure a fair layout of probabilities across the board.

Around the major hexagon, six water pieces should be arranged according to the numbers presented on their interlocking segments. These pieces have pictures of ships and beaches with numbers on them that correspond to ports within the context of the game, so it is important to have this side of the piece turned face up for players to see. Once the board is fully laid out, each player should take all of the wooden pieces in a single color (pieces should consist of three types – long straight sticks, which are known as “roads”, small house-like buildings which are called “settlements”, and larger expanded houses which are known as “cities”. In addition, the gray plastic or wooden pawn present in the box should be placed on the desert square at the start of the game – this piece represents the “robber”, and its role will become clear in the ensuing explanations of the game play. As a final portion of the set up process, the cards should be removed from the box. Those cards displaying a resource (with a picture of a brick, log, sheep, wheat bundle, or chunk of ore on them) should be stacked with matching resource cards and not shuffled together. The remaining cards are “development cards”, and should be randomly mixed together and set aside face down. The cardboard cards labeled “longest road” and “largest army” should also be removed from the box. The game board is now set up, and it is time for players to begin placing their pieces on the board.

To begin piece placement, players role dice to determine who is first to place their settlement on the board. The highest roller gets the opportunity to place their settlement at the meeting point of any three pieces on the board (generally the intersection of three hexagons, although placement on single or double hexagon intersections may be made along the sea coast). This represents a settlement owned by the player. Settlements are important, as they provide the player with the resources that they need to expand their empire and win the game. For each resource tile bordering a settlement, players get one of the indicated resource card whenever the number indicated on that tile is rolled. Thus, placing a settlement along multiple intersecting tiles is advantageous. The player also gets to place one road segment that extends from their settlement in any one direction along the border of a tile piece. Roads serve to connect settlements and cities, and are necessary to expand one’s empire in the game. In addition, they can serve to block the movement of one’s opponents, and they are necessary to obtain the “longest road” card. After the first player has placed their settlement, each player does the same, processing in a clockwise direction. When placing settlements, it is important to note that new settlements can not be placed within one tile edge length of any other settlement (including those that do not belong to you). All settlements must be at least two spaces away from each other, preventing the board from becoming too crowded and requiring extra strategy for settlement placement.

Once the final player has placed their settlement, they get to immediately place a second settlement, which does not need to be connected to the first settlement. This settlement follows the same placement rules as the first, and a road connected to this settlement is also built in the direction of the player’s choosing. The player then immediately gains one copy of each resource bordering that newly placed second settlement. Resources gained from each tile are as follows:

  • Field = Sheep
  • Forest = Wood / Log
  • Clay Pit = Brick
  • Mountains = Ore Clump
  • Wheat Fields = Wheat Bundle
  • Desert = Nothing

Each player proceeds in placing a second settlement in this fashion in reverse order, ending with the first player to have placed a settlement on the board placing their second settlement and road and taking the corresponding resources. Once these settlement placements have been made, game play can begin and normal rules come into effect.

Gameplay

The game consists of a series of alternating turns during which players can conduct a number of actions, most of which can only be completed on their own turn. During a basic turn, the player whose turn it is rolls the two game dice. Whatever number is rolled determines resource allocation for the turn – any player with a settlement in contact with a number that was rolled receives one of the indicated resource. If a 7 is rolled, a unique gameplay scenario involving the “robber” piece occurs instead and is as follows:

Upon the roll of a 7, all players must count the number of resources in their hands. If they have 7 or fewer resource cards, no action needs to be taken. If they have more than 7 cards, however, they must discard half of their resources, rounded down. The player may choose which resources they discard, however they are obligated to eliminate half of their resources without attempting to trade them away or otherwise remove them from their hand. After hand size issues have been dealt with, the player that rolled the dice is required to move the robber piece to a new tile on the board. At the start of the game the robber is located in the desert, however on subsequent turns it will be left on different tiles, and the player may not leave it on the tile that it is currently on even if they may wish to do so. Whatever tile is occupied by the robber does not produce its indicated resource for the duration of the robber’s presence on that tile. For example, if a mountain “6” tile had the robber placed upon it and a 6 was rolled on the next turn, then this tile would produce no resources, but other 6 tiles on the board would still produce their indicated resources as normal. The robber is thus a strategic tool that can be used to control resource attainment by your opponents. In addition, when the player places the robber on a given tile, they may steal one resource card at random from the hand of a player that has a settlement or city in contact with the robbed tile. If there are no players bordering the indicated tile with cards in their hand then the player does not get to steal any cards, and the robber phase of the turn ends. Either way, the turn ends after hands larger than 7 have been culled, the robber has been placed, and resources have been stolen. At that point, the game play continues as on a normal turn.

Once the dice have been rolled and resources allocated/ robber issues dealt with, the player may choose how they wish to spend the remainder of their turn. There are a number of possible activities in which they may partake. The most basic such activity is construction of roads and settlements. Construction is carried out by paying the indicated resource costs for the desired structure to the bank, and placing the appropriate wooden piece onto the board in the chosen location. Settlements and cities are the primary source of victory points in the game, as well as the main source of resources. As such, it is generally advantageous for one to expand the number of settlements one has on the board. As was mentioned previously, settlements must be at least two tile edges away from all other settlements. In addition, now that the game is in normal play mode, all new settlements must be connected to another settlement owned by the same player by a continuous stretch of roads. Roads can be built from any settlement owned by the player, or from the end of any road connected to a settlement, however enemy settlements disrupt friendly roads, such that roads can not be built through the location of enemy settlements. Settlements may, however, be built in the middle of enemy roads, and doing so disrupts that road and causes it to no longer count as a continuous road. Continuous roads are important for the Longest Road competition:

The Longest Road card is a cardboard card that can be held by only one player at a time, and is worth 2 victory points. The first player to construct a continuous stretch of road that is at least 5 road segments long gets the longest road card and the connected victory points. If, however, someone else in the game constructs a longer road, the card and the points will instead pass to that player. As such, it is important for someone that is aiming to obtain the longest road points to be mindful of players that are close to them in terms of total road length.

In addition to building a settlement or a road, a player may also upgrade a settlement into a city. In order to do so, they player must pay the indicated cost to the bank. They may then choose a settlement, and replace the wooden settlement piece on the board with the city piece instead. Cities may not be built directly onto the board – a settlement must first be built and then upgraded into a city. This process can be done on a single turn and thus be effectively instantaneous If desired, provided the appropriate resources are available. There are two main reasons to upgrade a settlement to a city. First of all, this doubles the number of victory points provided by the indicated structure from 1 point to 2 points. Secondly, cities produce double resources upon die rolls. If a city was in contact with a 6 mountain and a 6 were rolled, then the player owning that city would receive two ore instead of one, thus doubling their resource output and making cities a powerful tool for empire expansion.

Aside from cities, settlements, and roads, a player may also choose to purchase a development card. These cards are the cards shuffled and set aside face down at the beginning of the game. If one wishes to purchase a dev card, then one must pay the bank the appropriate cost and draw the top card from the dev card deck. Development cards may be played only during your turn, and they can not be played on the turn that they are drawn. They must instead be held for at least 1 turn, although there is no requirement to play them at all. Development cards can have a variety of effects depending on the particular card drawn, and these effects are touched upon below:

A few of the development cards in the deck are worth 1 victory point each. This is the only effect of these cards. These victory point dev cards are kept face down and are not revealed to your opponent until the game ends, however they still count towards your point total even if your opponent can not see them. By far the most common dev card is known as The Knight, which makes up 60-75% of all development cards in the deck. The knight card can be played on your turn either before or after the dice are rolled, and it allows you to move the robber to any location you would like. The knight does allow the player to steal one resource from the hand of any player bordering the robbed city, however it does not trigger the 7 card hand limit rule or consequent card discard. The first player to play 3 knights during the game receives the Largest Army card, which is worth 2 victory points. Like Longest Road, Largest Army will readily pass from one player to another if someone surpasses the current total for number of knights in play in the game. It is important to note that only one development card may be played per turn. Other development cards have certain effects that are described on the cards themselves. For example, the “road building” card allows the player to construct two roads for free and place them anywhere they may be placed. Other dev cards generally help the player accumulate resources that they may spend. These cards can be an important boost to one’s play style, however there is an element of chance involved in getting the desired cards out of the deck.

Another important activity in which you can partake during your turn is the trading of resources. Resource trading is exactly what it sounds like - the exchanging of resources of one type for another. Resources can be traded either with the bank or with other players, and distinct rules govern each type of interaction. For trading with the bank, players exchange resources at fixed exchange rates. The baseline exchange rate with the bank is 4:1. That is to say that normally a player must exchange four identical resources to the bank, and in return they will receive one resource of any type they desire, which may be immediately spent or held on to for future use. The four exchanged resources must be identical; one can not exchange an assortment of resources to the bank unless you have four of each of these resources. If you own a settlement that is build on one of the coastal sand bars that are linked to a port, which will either say 3:1 or 2:1 on them, then you get to enjoy cheaper bank trades. Specifically, the 3:1 port allows you to trade any 3 of a single resource for any 1 of another type. The 2 to 1 ports are a bit more limited in their utility, in exchange for their cheaper prices. These ports allow you to trade 2 of a specific resource to the bank in exchange for any 1 resource of your choice. The resource that you can trade two of is indicated in a picture form on the port in question. As these two to one ports are more restricted in their utility, it is usually a more strategic decision to occupy these ports, whereas three to one ports offer general utility to all players.

If you choose to trade with other players instead of with the bank then all rules of port trading become irrelevant. Any two players may exchange any number of resources with each other at an agreed upon rate. There are certain actions which players may not take during their trading phase, however. For one, players can not trade a number of one resource for a different number of that same resource. This is disallowed because it allows players to effectively distribute free resources, and it enables players that have more than 7 cards to avoid the robber related discard actions without any real effort. Additionally, players may not make “free” trades where resources are given to other players as a show of good will or to reduce hand size - all trades must be in exchange for another resource, no matter what the agreed upon exchange rate is. While players may even exchange at the same rates as those they might use with the bank (ie. 4:1), this is generally not wise as it gives their opponent a significant advantage without offering any such advantage to the player. That being said, when trading with an opponent there is no need to exclusively trade resources of a single type. You may, for example, trade two sheep and one ore in exchange for one wheat and one brick, or any other combination you can imagine within reason. The player whose turn it is may initiate a trade offer with any other player in the game. In addition, players who are not currently in control of the turn may make a trade offer with the active player, but they may not make offers with any other inactive player - all trades must include the active player as one party to that trade, and all trade actions must be completed on that turn. It is not allowed to accept a trade in exchange for a promise of future resources or a future port trade.

Once all trading, construction, and knight movement is complete, the player's turn is over. There is no hand size limit that need be assessed at the end of the turn as there is in some games, however players do need to be mindful of the number of cards in their hand in order to avoid issues with the robber card. The player then passes the dice to the next player, who begins their turn and completes all of the same actions as above. Game play continues in a circle in this manner until such time as one player has 10 victory points, which can be made up from any combination of points granted via settlements/cities, largest road/ largest army cards, and development cards. Ties are not possible in this game, and as such the first player to 10 points is the winner of the game.

Strategy

When planning your initial placement of settlements on the board, there are certain strategic points to bear in mind that can help improve your odds of winning the game by tilting certain factors in your favor. Initial settlements do not need to be connected to each other, and can thus be placed anywhere on the board. After this initial placement all settlements need to be joined to existing settlements by roads. As such, placing one’s starting settlements in central locations greatly improves one’s ability to branch out across the board during game play. In addition, placing settlements in two separate areas entirely can improve board accessibility, although it may become difficult to connect these settlements later, thus making Longest Road a difficult goal to achieve, if it is desired. It is important to not sacrifice one’s board position just to expand across the board – taking tiles that feature low probability rolls is often unwise if it is only to expand board position. In addition, placing a tile on a desert border is rarely advised as this is a useless tile, although in certain circumstances doing so may be advisable. Similarly, beginning the game on a port can be a mixed blessing – while 3:1 trade ports are of general utility, 2:1 resource specific ports should only be used if there is reason to believe that you will have large amounts of the indicated resource during the game, thus making them a worthwhile investment at the cost of lower overall resource income.

When placing your first settlements, there is one critical principle that you should aim to embody – diversity. This extends to both diversity of resources and diversity of potential die rolls. While it may be great to have a large number of “6” spots whenever a 6 is rolled, you will receive no resources when any other number is rolled. As such it is wiser to place settlements at intersections that offer you a number of possible die rolls rather than those of a single number. Obviously higher probability rolls are best (5,6,8,9), and lower probability rolls should not be prioritized over higher probability rolls in the interest of diversity of numbers. Diversity of resources is another important principle to embody – one does not want to have only a single resource when playing the game, as this severely limits what you can do on a given turn. While having 6 wheat may be great if you own the 2:1 wheat port, it is otherwise largely useless and clogs up your hand. Instead, try to place your opening settlements in such a way that you have a chance at all five resources on any die roll, if possible, even if some of these will be low probability chances. In addition, keep in mind which resources will likely be rare during that particular game, and try to capitalize on these resources – if all of the forest tiles have 2’s and 11’s or 12’s on them aside from one that has a 6 on it, dominating that 6 forest tile will be to your advantage as you will be the only player with large amounts of wood in the game. This will put you in a favorable strategic position and will give you greater leverage during trading.

The final player to place their first settlement on the board has an interesting advantage, in that they have the most control over which resources they start the game with because they place two settlements in a row. As such it is important that this player consider both ideal board placements and ideal resources to start the game with. Starting a round with a brick and a wood card can be a huge boon as it allows for an immediate road to be build, enabling the expansion of one’s empire quickly, making this a valuable opening play for this or any player. Of course, this opening play should be tailored to fit the resource layout on the board – if a particular resource looks to be scarce in the coming game, with only low probability numbers being associated with it, it may be smart to collect a copy of this resource for your starting hand to avoid an early roadblock to productive colonization. If one can begin the game with a sheep, an ore, and a wood card then one can immediately build a development card. Depending on the identity of the card drawn, this can be an early boon to gameplay, although it does somewhat rely on luck to succeed well. Balancing diversity, probability, board position, and starting resource allocation is nontrivial, but it is crucial to the mastery of the strategy of this game.

During gameplay, there are many potential pathways to victory; however it is important to bear a few important factors in mind. Managing hand size is very important, as routinely keeping five or six cards in your hand at the end of a turn puts you at high risk of falling victim to the robber on an opponent’s turn, leading to the loss of up to half of your cards. As such, it is often wise to try to trade your excess cards before your turn ends so that you can purchase something of use. If nothing else, it may be a good idea to port trade your resources that you have in excess in order to both reduce your hand size and increase the number of useful resources in your hand.

During game play, there are many potential pathways to victory; however it is important to bear a few important factors in mind. Managing hand size is very important, as routinely keeping five or six cards in your hand at the end of a turn puts you at high risk of falling victim to the robber on an opponent’s turn, leading to the loss of up to half of your cards. As such, it is often wise to try to trade your excess cards before your turn ends so that you can purchase something of use. If nothing else, it may be a good idea to port trade your resources that you have in excess in order to both reduce your hand size and increase the number of useful resources in your hand. Doing so will enable you to keep a greater number of useful resources in the event that a 7 is rolled, and given that a 7 is the most common die roll when using two fairly weighted dice, this is a wise strategy. Alternatively, you may trade resources with your opponents in order to keep your hand size down. When doing so, it is critical that you recall the rules of trading with other players - you may not make “free” trades, nor may you trade one resource for the same resource. In addition, there is some modicum of strategy to trading, which is detailed below.

Trading with your opponents is a two edged sword. In general, it allows you to get the resources that you need for much cheaper than if you had to trade resources to the bank, however it gives those resources to your opponent. For this reason, when trading with an opponent it is important to consider the types of resources that you are giving them, as well as their relative position on the board and in the game. For example, if you have the longest road in the game, but another player is only one road segment away from passing you in the road length competition then you may wish to avoid trading them bricks or wood as this may allow them to steal away your much needed victory points. Similarly, if a single player has many more vicory points relative to other players, or is very close to winning the game, then it is often a bad idea to trade with them at all as that may give them the advantage they need to win. When considering which players are in danger of winning the game, do not forget that face down development cards have the potential to be worth 1 victory point each, and so they should be factored into tentative calculations accordingly, especially if the player has been holding onto those cards for a long time as this increases the odds that these cards are worth victory points rather than simply being an unused knight. While you may wish to avoid trading with certain players at certain points in time, it is unwise to avoid a certain player at all times. This can breed negative feelings and lead to an effective trade embargo between these two players. By shutting yourselves out of a trade option, you generally end up giving the play advantage to the other players in the game, at the cost of both of the players participating in the embargo. While you are under no obligations to trade with other players in the game, you should at least keep the option open in order to maintain positive feelings and avoid unfairly biasing the game towards certain individuals.

Placing the robber on the roll of a seven can be an important strategic consideration, as this placement gives you both an immediate resource card and it restricts the flow of resources to your opponents. Barring extreme circumstances, you almost never want to place the robber in a position where it reduces the availability of your own resources. Similarly, there is no reason to place the robber on a neutral tile where it does not disrupt the resource flow of other players - this gains you nothing, and good will is worth little in a game such as this. Instead, try to place the robber in a place where it maximizes the damage that it does to your opponents. Placing it on a high probability roll tile, especially a 6 or an 8, is often wise as this will deal a major blow to resource income for your opponents. Placing the robber on a tile that restricts the availability of a high probability resource to an opponent's city is doubly useful, as this deals even more damage to their income. If you can position the robber to take resources away from multiple layers then this is even more ideal. Because such positions are relatively uncommon on the board, the robber will tend to vacillate between two or three positions on the board throughout the game without much change, barring a sudden shift in the players that are in the lead that requires an adjustment in strategy. You should also take into account the resources you will be able to steal when you move the robber - careful attention to players income and spending can allow you to predict what resource you will steal from their hand, which may be useful if you have a specific need. You should also be sure to avoid accidentally placing the robber on a tile where you will not steal a resource unless the strategic benefits outweigh this cost. Also keep in mind that players with development cards will often move the robber before the start of their next turn with a knight card, so all robber placements are temporary and will tend to lead to retribution.

As a Euro style board game, new players may find that there is far more strategy available to them than in traditional board games in more American styles. As such managing all these strategic options can be a daunting task, especially on your first few play through-s. Do not worry too much about every strategic detail at first, just try to get a feel for the game as a whole. Unlike many Euro style board games, Catan still has a fair amount of luck involved owing to the die rolls that dictate the outcome of the game, as well as (to a lesser extent) the randomness of the development card shuffling. For this reason, even novice players stand a decent chance of winning the game, especially if they have good board placement at the start of the game with a decent amount of resource and die roll diversity. While die rolls should follow a traditional Gaussian distribution (a bell curve), you may find that in any individual game certain rolls occur more often than they will in such a distribution, which can become frustrating if certain players excel because of their exceptionally good luck, however these are just the odds of the game. Also unlike many other Euro games, while Catan does not have player elimination pathways as many American games do, it does allow players that are falling behind to enter into relatively negative cycles from which recovery can be difficult. If players lack key resources then they will generally be unable to build new roads or settlements, or to take the longest road card, which serves as something of a negative cycle of resource restriction. If you find yourself entering into a rut in the game, try to pull out of it as soon as possible by either aggressively trading with all other players for what you need or by buying many development cards. These cards can swing the game around in your favor if you are lucky in their drawing.

In the end, be sure to have fun while playing the game. Friendships have no doubt been ruined during Catan games due to trade embargos, aggressive knight placement, and improbable die roll frequencies. Manage your board placement and hand size, and let the rest of the game fall into place without excluding interactions with other players, thus allowing you to keep your options open both with in the game and in real life. And enjoy - once you have gotten a feel for the Settlers of Catan, you may wish to try some of its many expansions, or other European style board games.

Expansions

As Settlers of Catan is a very popular and successful board game which has won game of the year awards and has been around for nearly two decades, it may come as no surprise that there has a been a series of expansions produced that expand upon the original gameplay and incorporate new rules to govern the play of the game. These expansions are sold online and in many specialty game stores, and can be used to mix up general Catan gameplay once all your friends have mastered the base game. Rather than a complete explanation of the entirety of the games, below serves as a short summary of each expansion in order to give the reader a sense for what game play elements are added in each case. When purchasing expansions, it is important to make sure you purchase expansions that are of the same edition of the game as your base game. The current edition is the Fourth edition. Different editions will exhibit distinct box art and tile art, and in some cases differently sized cards or tiles making it difficult to combine multiple sets in a reasonable fashion.

5-6 Player Expansions

A 5 – 6 player expansions exists that increases the number of players in the base game, and in the process expands the size of the game board to accommodate this increase in player numbers. In addition, an additional phase is added to each turn, whereby players have the opportunity to take an extra build phase on other player’s turns. This possibility was included in the expansion because with large numbers of players, time between turns can be quite long, making it easy to acquire too many resources without a chance to spend them, making a 7 roll dangerous and debilitating, in addition to serving as an impediment to game progress. Beyond the extra build phase and expanded board, the 5-6 player game is largely the same as the original. Comparable 5-6 player expansions are also available for each of the other expansions listed below. In these cases, the expansions contain additional cards and extra copies of board pieces, tokens, or player pieces as appropriate to that given expansion in order to increase the number of players able to take part in the game at a given time.

Seafarers of Catan

The Seafarers of Catan was the first expansion to the Settlers of Catan, and in many ways the gameplay in this expansion is identical to the original game. The primary new component in this expansion is the possibility of sea travel. Instead of having the building area end at the coast, the board is expanded with water tiles that connect to smaller islands elsewhere on the board. To reach these islands, players can construct ships, which serve as aquatic versions of roads and allow them to reach these islands. Additionally, the water tiles may contain fish, which can be used to gain certain resource advantages in certain situations. The expansion also includes a pirate pawn, which functions identically to the robber except that it can only move onto water tiles. When a 7 is rolled, players choose whether to move the robber pawn or the pirate pawn. The final new element in this game is the inclusion of a new resource tile – gold. Players that control a gold tile are able to get one of the resource of their choice upon an appropriate die roll. As such, gold spaces are extremely rare and desirable, given their strategic advantage. They are however only located on islands, and the cost of building ships to reach these islands has the risk of outweighing the actual benefit of the gold tile itself.

Cities & Knights

Cities and Knights was the second Catan expansion to be published, and it represents a major overhaul to many aspects of the base game, unlike the Seafarers expansion. This expansion may be used with the base game and the Seafarers expansion, or with just the base game. The components in this expansion alter multiple aspects of the player’s play style to suit the theme. You now need to not only construct settlements; you need to protect them from invading marauders and pirates. In addition to constructing cities, players can spend resources to activate a knight, which goes on the board in place of a settlement. The knight does not generate resources, however at some point in the game there will be attacks by bands of marauding pirates, which can only be repelled by knights. While knights protect all players from attack, players that do not contribute to the defense of their cities are punished. In addition, the are new ways to build and improve different types of resources based upon tech trees that are provided to players as coil bound booklets. Each branch of the tech tree can be upgraded during game play, thereby allowing the player to take several different paths to victory. This expansion represents a major diversion from the base game in terms of strategy and game play style, with both competitive and cooperative elements, and as such players should familiarize them selves with the rules thoroughly before attempting to play a round of Cities and Knights.

Traders & Barbarians

Traders and Barbarians was the third major expansion to Settlers of Catan to be released. It is not a unified expansion in the same sense that Seafarers and Cities and Knights were. Instead, Traders and Barbarians is a collected compilation of several miniature expansions that had been released previously as game promos or that had only been available in Germany (where the game was originally published). These mini expansions can be integrated with any of the above expansions, and as many or as few as desired can be used at any given time. Included expansions include the Harbormaster, a card comparable to Longest Road or Largest Army. This card provides extra victory points to the players with the most port settlements, serving as an extra incentive to build at these locations. Additional expansions include river tiles that alter normal resource release, new fishing tiles, and a series of trader tiles that bring in unique elements to the trading process and provide means of augmenting normal trading outcomes. The remainder of this expansion is not the traditional series of altered rules, but instead consists of a series of scenarios that bring together the different mini expansions in predetermined layouts in order to maximize the utility of these different scenarios. Additional information can be found in the appropriate rule books. In addition, Traders and Barbarians comes with a set of altered rules that allow for two player Catan play using neutrally controlled third player characters to balance the game flow.

Explorers & Pirates

Explorers and Pirates is a very recent expansion to the Catan base game, having only been published in 2013, nearly 20 years after the release of the base game. The major change that this expansion brings to the game is a new scenario, in which players get to explore the game board. The board is divided into multiple islands, and the islands on which players do not begin consist of unrevealed tiles. When a player builds a settlement that contacts these new tiles then the tiles are revealed and the player finds out what kind of resource they will be getting and on what number. In addition, players that do not receive resources on a die roll receive one gold piece, and they may exchange two gold pieces for any one resource of their choice, thus preventing unlucky players from being completely shut out of the game too early on. Additionally, players may construct settlements on port cities for an altered price that provide an extra victory point. Remaining features of this expansion are all scenarios that are described in the rule books, much as was the case for the traders and barbarians expansion described above.

Scenarios and Alternative Editions

As such a popular game, it is perhaps unsurprising that Catan has had a number of spin offs and miniature expansions over the years, some of which are harder to track down than others. At the most basic level, there are multiple games that are essentially just re-skins of the Catan base game. These include Star Trek: Catan and Settlers of Canaan (a Mormon inspired spinoff of the Catan franchise). Rule changes in these editions are minor, though the boards have been radically re-themed to better correspond to their source material. Another similar set of mini expansions exist known as Catan Scenarios or Catan Geographies. These consist of roll out maps of certain locations, such as Delmarva or European countries. The tile layout on these scenario boards is predetermined as are the dice rolls. This removes an element of randomness from the game play in the interest of fitting the confines of the scenario in question. Other Catan spin offs involving dice games and card games also exist, and have distinct rule sets. These games are not compatible with the Catan base game, and are effectively an entirely different game that simply shares the same theme. Lastly, a Catan: Junior game has been published that is intended to bring the fun of Catan to a younger audience. This version of the game is greatly simplified and the strategy is easier for young children to grasp. Altered resources and a pirate theme are used to encourage children’s interest.

Gaming | Board Games


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