So, what is Settlers of Catan about? Well when I was first asked if I wanted to play I assumed it would be similar to the computer game Settlers and I guess it kind of is, just without the complexity.
You are a Settler on the new island of Catan. Your aim is to build a thriving settlement and achieve 10 victory points before any of the other settlers. Unlike in a computer game however there is no war aspect to the game and no way for players to be eliminated, a common element in most modern games, particularly eurogames, after all where is the fun in not being allowed to play any more?
There is an island made of 19 hexagon tiles, each tile barring the desert tile has a number between 2 and 12 on it, with two of each number, except 2 and 12 (there is no 7). There are five different terrain hexes, each of which generates a different resource (Lumber, Brick, Ore, Grain and Wool or as they are called in my games Wood, Clay, Rock, Wheat and Sheep) Trading different resources allows you to build different structures (Roads, Settlements, Cities or Development Cards).
Each player takes it in turn to place a settlement and a road, then a second settlement and road but with the last player placing first and the first player placing last, ensuring a more even spread of resources amongst players.
Play then begins, on their turn the player rolls the dice and any player who has a settlement on the numbered hex that is rolled takes a resource of the correct type. If they have a city on that resource they take 2 resources. The player who rolled may then either build or pass the dice.
If a seven is rolled the robber comes into play. The robber, a black pawn, stops production in whichever hex he is placed in. Using the robber you can prevent the other players getting the resources they need. When you roll a 7 you move the robber to a hex of your choice and take a card from any player who has a settlement boarding that hex. Also whenever a 7 is rolled any player with more than 7 cards must immediately discard half, which is often devastating!
Play continues in this way until somebody has 10 victory points. Points are scored as follows, 1 point per settlement, 2 points per city (cities can only be built as an upgrade to a settlement) 2 points for owning the longest road (5 or more roads) and 2 points for owning the largest army (3 or more soldiers). Points can be gained through Development cards too. These cards can give you soldiers, which allow you to move the robber and count towards the largest army, they can give you structures worth Victory Points (usually 1) which you keep secret until you have enough points to win or they can give you special actions, such as road building or taking resources.
Sounds Kinda Dull?
If I hadn’t already agreed to play it before I learnt what it was I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and said “Sounds kinda dull…” But I promise you, its not. The strategy and player interaction in the game is fantastic. The randomly generated island means that no two games are the same. Although some places are better to build than others, this not like monopoly where owning Mayfair and Park Lane will grant you an almost guaranteed win. Rolling the dice adds a further random element to the game, you may well have built all your settlements on good numbers, but if they don’t come up you might as well have built on 2 and 12.
Although in the base game you only have 4 building options there are still plenty of choices to make. For example do you hold the 8 cards in your hand and hope no one rolls a 7 so that you can build a city on your next turn, or do you use all your rock, wheat and sheep to build development cards instead? Do you build inland or along the coast? There really are endless strategies to employ and the expansions to the game really do expand your options greatly.
So, what do you get for your money?
19 Terrain Hexes (Tiles)
6 Sea Frame Pieces
9 Harbor Pieces
18 Circular Number Tokens (Chits)
95 Resource Cards (19 of Each Resource: Ore, Grain, Lumber, Wool, Brick)
25 Development Cards (14 Knight/Soldier Cards, 6 Progress Cards, 5 Victory Point Cards)
4 "Building Costs" Cards
2 Special Cards: "Longest Road" & "Largest Army"
16 Cities (4 of Each Color Shaped like Churches)
20 Settlements (5 of Each Color Shaped like Houses)
60 Roads (15 of Each Color Shaped like Bars)
2 Dice (1 Yellow, 1 Red)
1 Games Rules & Almanac Booklet
Sounds like a lot right? Well, its not, but it is all very nicely produced. The tiles are all unique, so despite there being 4 pasture hexes the image on each is different and that’s a nice touch. The settlements, cities and roads are just coloured blocks but they are wood rather than plastic and they look pretty nice on the board. The number chits are nice and solid and feature a number of dots on them so that players can tell at a glance how often that number might come up. The resource and development cards are all nicely done with some lovely artwork.
The rulebook is very well done, complete with a set up for beginners and the almanac which gives a full rules explanation for any question that comes up during play and its easy to reference. The almanac also offers options for experienced players, which is nice.
Possibly my favourite aspect of the design of this set though is the fact that the tiles were double sided with sea printed on the back. When combined with the seafarers expansion this really expands your options for different set ups.
Settlers can be played over and over again (and is), even within the same gaming session (I find most players want to play it at least twice before changing game and it’s not uncommon that I will play 5 or 6 games in an evening.) The island changes each game, as does the availability of resources through the randomisation of the number chits and harbour tokens.
Sometimes, not very often, play can be bogged down, especially by a lack of Clay and Wood in the early stages of the game. Sometimes players can be cut off from building by other players and this can lead to a very dull and frustrating game for that player, but in general Settlers is very fair, it promotes player interaction and due the variety of ways to win it is often a very close game.
3 or 4 players?
Settlers is best played with 4 players for maximum interaction and competition. When played with 3 players, there tends to be less trading as players can access resources more easily by themselves. Also in a three player game, going last is often more of an advantage than going first as you can choose the 3rd and 4th best building sites and often bag yourself an 8 and 6 in a decent position.
Other expansions offer 5 or 6 and even 2 player options. I will discuss the 2 player game when I talk about Traders and Barbarians. However I have not yet played a game with more than 4. The nice thing about Settlers is that even during other players turns you take resources and get involved in trades so there is little downtime and everyone is always involved.
Still not sure? Check out the Catan website. The rules are available in pdf format here for all the games and expansions, as well as a demo for the computer game. (The full version is well worth buying just for the campaign mode). All the images in this review are taken from the pdf rulebook.
This Review was based on the 4th Edition of the game but is relevant to the current edition at time of publishing.