Traders and Barbarians: Barbarian Attack

Well, it’s been nearly a year since I started writing about Traders and Barbarians and I’m still not done. This week I’m going to talk about Barbarian Attack, possibly my favourite scenario in the book, although I also love Traders and Barbarians.

The Fluff

Catan’s wealth doesn’t go unnoticed. Fearsome barbarians,
eager for booty, are landing on the coasts of Catan,
spreading fear and terror. The fun is over—the peaceful
times are history! One never knows where the barbarians
will strike. There are only a few initial raiders, but their
numbers increase rapidly. At first they only ruin resource
production. But as their strength grows, they threaten to
besiege settlements and cities—with devastating consequences.

But Catanians stand by each other. They respond by
training Knights to send into battle—but will they be
strong enough?


This scenario uses:

  • 1 Castle Hex
  • 30 Wooden Barbarians
  • 24 Wooden Knights (6 for each player)
  • 1 deck of 26 Barbarian Attack Cards
  • 40 Gold Coins
  • Everything from the base game minus 1 Wood Hex, the Robber, Development Cards and the Largest Army Card

The pieces for this part of the expansion are all pretty nice, although why the Barbarian’s are a sparkly gold colour I don’t know!

Setting Up

The island is set up in a very specific way for this scenario, it can be varied a little but not much and it doesn’t combine well with Seafarers. That however, in my opinion, doesn’t mean that it will get stale.

Take 2 forest, 2 hills, 3 pasture, 1 mountains and 2 fields, these tiles will make up the outer ring of the island.

imageThe Castle and Desert hex are place directly opposite each other and the other tiles fill in the remaining spaces along the coast. The inner section of the island is made up of 1 forest, 1 pasture, 1
hills, 2 mountains, and 2 fields. imageNext, the number chits are placed in a way that each coastal hex has a different number. Also note that there will only be one hex with the number 11.

Finally place 1 Barbarian on the 2 and 12 hexes. Remove the Largest Army Card from the game, give each player 6 knights and place the Barbarian Attack deck in reach of all players. The base Development Cards are not in use.

Rule Changes

Ok, so the game plays like a standard game of Settlers, except:

  • Whenever a player builds a settlement or upgrades to a city the game immediately stops as Barbarians arrive. Roll both dice 3 times, rerolling 7s. Place 1 Barbarian on each coastal hex that matches the number rolled. If 3 barbarians end up in any one hex the hex becomes conquered, it’s number is flipped and it no longer produces resources. No more barbarians are placed in a conquered hex but the number is not rerolled.
  • Whenever a player buys a development card it is played immediately. Players can buy as many cards as they like on their turn.
  • Most of the development cards give players knights to place on the board to fight off Barbarians. Usually these are placed on the castle hex, however no knight may end it’s turn on any of the 6 paths around the castle, nor may Knights share spaces.
  • Whenever a 7 is rolled, the robber is not used in the game, but the player who’s turn it is may take a resource from a player of their choice. Also, players with more than 7 cards must discard half, as per the basic rules.
  • At the end of their turn a player may move any of his knights on the board up to 3 paths. For 1 wheat a knight can move an additional 2 spaces once per turn.
  • Finally, at the end of each players turn, moving clockwise from the Castle Hex, the player checks to see if any of the Barbarians have been driven from Catan. To do this the number of Knights around a hex must be greater than the number of Barbarians. Players involved in the fight receive a barbarian or 3 gold if there aren’t enough Barbarians in the hex for 1 each. Two Barbarians equals 1 victory point. Finally a dice is rolled to determine whether or not the knights involved are killed. If a knight is killed the player receives 3 gold per knight as compensation.
  • Gold can be traded 2:1 for any resource. You may do so twice on your turn, after that any subsequent trades that turn are at 4:1. Gold does not count as a resource.
  • The game is played to 12 victory points.

So, to condense that information, whenever a player builds a settlement/city Barbarians come, Barbarians are bad because they conquer hexes and stop production, but they are also good because they earn you victory points. Players will often work together to fight off the barbarians, even if they are not threatening their own hexes in order to earn VPs and/or Gold. Ignoring the Barbarians is not a valid strategy because the other players will be able to develop faster through their easy access to Gold and VPs.


Barbarian Attack is often compared to Cities and Knights and I can see why. However, BA has some significant differences. Firstly, it contains no “civilisation” element that C&K tries to incorporate. Secondly, unlike Cities and Knights, it does not promote a cutthroat attitude, in fact, in BA the players act far more like a team working against the game.

This is one of the reasons that Barbarian Attack is one of my favourite Catan modes. The game is quite different from the base game, which makes it interesting, but it’s not complicated. It sounds complicated in the rulebook, but on the tabletop it’s really simple and elegant. Also, with no robber to reduce production, the game is much less likely to produce a bad atmosphere. There are a couple of ways to screw the other players, but in general the nastiness is kept to a minimum.

I like how simple Knights are in this variant too. Unlike in C&K where you have to know how to activate and move and displace and all that, this is simple. Move 3 spaces and check to see if you outnumber the Barbarians. I also like the fact that if you don’t get to take a barbarian in a fight you were involved in you are compensated with 3 gold, the same for if you lose a knight. This compensation means that players are not afraid to take on the barbarians, or to help out the other players, because they know, regardless of what happens, they will receive some kind of reward.

Finally, Barbarian Attack can be played in under an hour, which Cities and Knights cannot. Sure, it doesn’t feel as deep, in fact, it feels more like Pandemic than Settlers, but it’s fast and fun and it offers an entirely new way to play this classic game. In short, I like it, I wish there was a better way to combine it with Seafarers, but even as it stands, still one of the best Catan Scenarios to date.