Some games are a flash in a pan, they burn bright but not for long; others are embers, they may only let off a dim light but they fail to die out; then every once in a while there are games that are forest fires, they ignite in an instants then before you know it the world is aflame and will burn for what seems like forever. The Settlers of Catan is a forest fire.
As a reviewer one of the most common question I am given is, “What are your views on Catan?” the game has almost come the gold standard many judge other games by; partially because it is the game that brought many into the hobby but also because it is a game so many are familiar with. Quite honestly the question is a hard one to answer solely because to many Catan is a sacred cow, while to many others it is a past memory worth recalling but not revisiting, and to a few it is a mediocre game that failed to draw them in as it had others.
Designer: Klaus Teuber
Plays: 2-4 (up to 6 with expansions)
EPT: 90 minutes
I was first introduced to The Settlers of Catan in the winter 2005; at the time I was intrigued by the game I had heard many talk about but had not yet personally played. When the game finally reached the table I was quick to learn I was in over my head. Not only was I new to the game but I was playing with three cut throat competitors who were not by any means new to the game. I was crushed thoroughly.
Not long after I bought the game for myself and taught it to new friends who bought it and taught it to others; it was not long before it seemed as if you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting an active Catan board.
For those of you who are new to the hobby or found alternate means of entry let me briefly describe the game; hexagonal tiles representing 5 resources and a desert are placed in a pattern (size altering if playing 5-6 players vs 2-4). Each hex gets a number assigner to it representing the sum of two rolled dice. Players go in a switchback order placing settlements (switchback meaning first to last player; then last to first player. Once all settlements are placed play begins.
Each turn the active player rolls the dice and if the any player haa a settlement built on a hex with the corresponding sum they get a resource for each settlements on the hex(es) with the number. On a players turn they can spend their resources to build roads, new settlements, upgrade settlements to cities, and buy development cards. Players score points based upon their developing communities (1 point per settlement, 2 per city, 2 for longest road, 2 for the largest army, and various other bonus point from the development cards for 1 point each.) and earn double the resources from a hex as they upgrade from settlements to cities with the ultimate goal of being the first player to 10 points. The game has roughly 5 thousand expansions (minor over exaggeration) each adding new elements and mechanics, and each player having their own favorites; some altering the end condition as well by raising the points needed to win as well as additional ways to score points; but those are blogs for another day.
After my first play of the game I needed more; and the other players were more than willing to humor me after my crushing defeat. I quickly learned optimal strategies and found ways to make mostly beneficial trades leading to a decent win rate. Even so after a while everyone gets Catanned out. As a poor college student/starving artist I couldn’t merely go and get new games and thus created new versions of Catan, something I find many other Catan fans have done as well.
My playgroup and I quickly had created Narnia Catan, Middle Earth Catan, Early America Catan, and many others (some of which have since been made professionally). Not long after we started adding the real expansions; then creating expansions of our own. This lead us down the road that is game-modding. I have since created many alterations for most of my favorite games (though my favorite home mod will forever be ‘Hogwarts: A Horror’ for Arkham Horror).
The game designed well; which has lead to its endurance of now 20 years. The art and components have gone through a few variations; my favorite being the early versions where the border was made of hex tiles as opposed to the puzzleesque border in the modern version (though the modern version is more bumped table friendly).
The game plays fairly quickly though with the reliance of dice rolling it can stagnate at times when your numbers aren’t coming up. In a 5-6 player game the pacing can get even more stagnated in the increased 7s which leads to card discarding; this is solved with the added mechanic of a building phase between rolls in which players can, in turn order, build as if it was their turn.
Catan for me is not a sacred cow; nor is it a game I have shrugged off and forgotten. Matter-of-fact Sean and I have plans to make an episode dedicated to Catan and its many expansions at some point. The highlight of my Gen Con last year was likely the giant Catan (video of my victory will be below), but I must confess the game’s score has fallen from its pedestal as other games have stepped up and provided experiences I currently prefer.
Remember this is just the base game; I am not including the expansions in the following scores; standing alone as it does Catan has fallen to a 6.5 (it was once a solid 8). Mammoth Catan and the expansions bring the score up a good deal (trust me find and play Mammoth Catan – or build one [I am working on designs for Modular Mammoth Catan]) but those are blogs for another day.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1.5 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1 // 2
Mechanics – .5 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
Come back Monday when look at the mechanic of Tile Placement! Until then you can find us on social media;