Updated: Sep 19, 2019
In this review I will be talking about the Seafarers core concepts and how they change Settlers of Catan, as well as giving an overview of the contents of the box. Like with Traders & Barbarians I will do follow up posts to this one about the Scenarios included in the expansion.
What’s It All About Then?
Catan has always been an Island, rigidly constructed from 19 hexagons. However it is not the only Island in the chain and now, with Seafarers you can set sail and explore the islands that surround your beloved Catan.
So then, Seafarers is about Boats and Islands! Did you expect anything different?
So how does the expansion change the way you play Settlers? That partly depends on the scenario, but essentially it adds a larger map with sea hexes and islands that can only be reached by boats.
In most scenarios the enlarged map offers more space to expand and in most cases 3 hexes for every possible number combination (although rarely 6 or 8 and never 2 and 12). Boats are built using two resources, exactly like roads, except that they use Wood and Sheep. They also count as roads when determining the “Longest Road”. They may only be built on water, can only connect to land via a settlement and you can never build a road and boat on the same space. However you may move one boat per turn. You may not move a boat that is connecting two Settlements together. You may also not move a boat that would break your trade route. Finally you cannot move a boat you built this turn.
Example: Here are 2 open shipping routes. In either case, you may move the ship farthest from the homeport (as long as you didn't buy the ship this turn). You may move one of the two ships to any of the edges marked “X” that connect to that ship's route.
The ability to build boats changes the game dramatically. Firstly it makes Sheep more valuable as they now allow you to build 3 of the 5 available options (Boats, Development Cards and Settlements). Secondly, the ability to move boats allows you to change strategies mid-game. In original Settlers, being cut off by an opponent could be devastating, however in Seafarers you can move your trade route elsewhere, meaning you never build a “useless” boat.
In addition to that other strategies offer themselves up for use. You can choose to build a boat instead of a road for your starting settlements, if you build on a coast at the start of the game. This allows you to build a boat in an area you might not really want a trade route in order to get good resources, then move the boat on a later turn to extend your main trade route. You can also use boats to “reserve” coastal spots that you want to place settlements or roads on and then move the boats to make way for these and at the same time as increasing your Trade Route length.
Already you can see that Boats are incredibly versatile. Seafarers also introduces two new terrain hexes, the first being Sea, which can only be traversed by placing boats. The second being Gold. These hexes produce any resource of your choice when the number of the hex is rolled. This is a nice idea but can lead to some analysis paralysis while players figure out what they want.
The last thing Seafarers adds is the Pirate Ship. Remember when I said boats were versatile, well this is the solution to that problem. The pirate ship can be moved instead of the robber on a 7 or when using a Knight card. It may only be moved to a sea hex, but you can draw a resource from any player with boats on that hex. In addition no-one can move boats from or build boats on a hex with the pirate ship on it.
It can actually be very strategic to use the pirate ship instead of the robber, because if a player has to choose, when playing a Knight, between being able to build boats or free up their resource production, 9 times out 10 they will move the robber. Also, you shouldn’t compromise when moving the pirate ship, by placing it in a worse position just to get a resource, it is often more beneficial to block the other player than to draw a random resource. In addition, being able to move the pirate ship means you can leave the Robber blocking valuable spaces instead of having to move it on a 7.
So hopefully that gives you a good overview of what Seafarers will add to the base game, now lets move on and open the box.
6 Frame Pieces
19 Sea Hexes
11 Terrain Hexes (Tiles):
2 Gold Fields Hexes
2 Desert Hexes
1 Fields Hex
1 Forest Hex
1 Pasture Hex
2 Mountains Hexes
2 Hills Hexes
50 Catan Chits
10 Number Tokens
10 Harbour Tokens
60 Wooden Ships (15 x 4 Colors)
1 Pirate Ship
1 Games Rules
When I bought Seafarers I felt underwhelmed by the amount of components for the price. For the same price you can buy the core set or Traders and Barbarians, both of which come with more cards and pieces. However, the amount of extra fun and strategy that this expansion adds is worth the price… easily.
The rules are easy to understand and well illustrated with examples. The 9 additional scenarios are excellent but I will talk about those elsewhere. Although I will say that I felt Mayfair could have provided 5 cards for the Wonders of Catan scenario, rather than expect people to either cut up the rule book or print their own.
The new tiles have more of a matt finish than my core set (which allows me to tell them apart easier) but they look gorgeous as always. The frame fits together quite well, although with the largest maps it sometimes wont stay flat. All in all though it’s a pretty nice package. It could have easily come in a smaller box but I’m very glad I have it in my collection.
Four Player, Three Player and Two Player
Some quick observations about how the game plays with different numbers of people. First off, I have yet to play with 2, so expect an update on the blog when I do. Four player feels very competitive, most scenarios in seafarers require at least 12 Victory Points, so all that extra room doesn’t make the game any less competitive. Even with bonus VP’s for settling foreign islands I find that competition for space is pretty intense.
Three players however is much freer. When playing a three player game of Seafarers going out to sea feels much more like exploring and, although players can cut each other off, there is generally another route available to you. Three is my favourite number of players for this expansion, but perhaps that's because of who the fourth player is!
I really enjoy what Seafarers adds to the game and I really like most of the scenarios in the book. Look out for more Seafarers posts in the future, as well Traders and Barbarian’s scenario posts, which will now talk about the Seafarers variants as well.