Catan Board Game Guide

Latest posts by Nicholas Morris (see all)

Settlers of Catan is one of the greatest board games of all time, in my opinion. And if you’re like me, it’s stood the test of time on my board game shelf, somehow never managing to gather dust. Across the globe, more than 30 million copies have been sold, across 40 different languages. The game has single-handedly shifted board game culture and has been one of the best-selling games of all time.

I’ve been playing the game for almost a decade now, and it has created many fond memories for me. I hope that by creating this guide, I can help you experience the good times that Settlers of Catan has to offer as well! Let’s dive in.

History

Settlers of Catan was first created in 1995 by Franckh-Verlag. He was a hobbyist board game designer at the time, and this happened to be one of them. 

The strategy game made its first debut in Germany and was inspired largely by Viking settlers. The island of “Catan” was created to be a fictional island that most likely would have been discovered by Vikings, and was designed to be reminiscent of lands like Iceland. 

Franckh-Verlag build this game as an escape from his day job as a dental technician, and never expected it to explode in popularity. At the time, it belonged to a niche genre of games called Eurogames. 

What are Eurogames?

Eurogames, also known as German-Style Board games or Designer Board Games, are a type of board game focused on economics. Although they originated in Europe, not all Eurogames are from Europe, especially now that the genre is more mainstream. The important thing about Eurogames in particular is that they all share similar gaming mechanics.

In general, Eurogames are characterized by resource building and strategy management. They avoid direct conflict and rely on little amounts of luck. Inevitably, these games lead to a great social atmosphere that promotes competition without spite. They also require a decent amount of commitment to play, but often aren’t too difficult to start playing.

Settlers of Catan is known as the first Eurogame to come into the mainstream, as prior to this Eurogames often fell into deeper board game culture. Many argue that Settlers of Catan did this because it is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Thus, it was able to slip into new gaming circles without too much debate. Now let’s check out how to player Settlers of Catan!

Gameplay

Objective

The main objective of Settlers of Catan is to be the first player to score 10 Victory Points. Victory Points can be achieved in one of three ways:

  1. Building Settlements (worth 1 Victory Point,) and/or Cities (worth 2 Victory Points.)
  2. Having either The Longest Road (worth 2 Victory Points) or the Largest Army of Three or Greater (worth 2 Victory Points.)
  3. Receiving one of the five Development Cards that award Victory Points.

Setup

The setup for Settlers of Catan may be one of the most ingenious parts of the game. The entire setup is modular, which allows for a new playing board each time. There are literally thousands of combinations that allow for a unique gameplay experience every time you come back. The setup is also quick and easy:

  1. Start by choosing a player color, and the number of players. Settlers of Catan can support 2-4 players but is best played with 3-4 players. (If you purchase an Expansion Pack, you can play with 5-6 players.) You can choose between red, blue, white, and yellow in the original game. From there, place the 15 roads, five settlements, and four cities of that color in front of you.
  2. Give each player a Building Cost card for reference, and then sort the Resource Cards into 5 piles and place them face up beside the game board. Next, shuffle the Development Cards and place them face down on the side of the game board with the dice. Finally, take the Longest Road and Largest Army cards and place them face-up on the side of the board.
  3. Next, set up the board. Start by piecing together the blue water frame of the board, according to its matching number. From there, shuffle the hexagon land pieces upside down, then randomly place them within the frame, face up. 
  4. From here, take the small numbers and shuffle them upside down. Then randomly place them face up on every single hexagon tile, except for the desert tile. Place the robber pawn in the desert tile.
  5. Finally, take turns placing your first two roads and two settlements on the board. Keep in mind that settlements can only be placed at the corners of the hexagon land pieces, and roads can only be placed on the edges of the hexagon land pieces. Your roads may not touch another player’s settlement, and settlements cannot be placed in a spot right next to another’s settlement. (I.e, there must be one empty corner between settlements.)
    1. Now collect your “starting” resources by referencing the three tiles touching your bottom leftmost settlement. You’ll collect three resources in all unless one of your settlements is touching a desert, in which case you’ll take two.
  6. Now you’re ready to play Setters of Catan.

*Keep in mind that if it’s your first time playing, Settlers of Catan recommends a certain way to set up the board that isn’t nearly as randomized. This allows for a more balanced experience for new players. To check out this setup, visit the Official Rules Guide at https://www.catan.com/understand-catan/game-rules

On Your Turn

The oldest player takes the first turn. In your turn, there are three different phases. First, you’ll roll the dice to determine the number of resources produced. Second, you’ll have the option to trade your resources with other players. Finally, you can build roads, settlements, cities, and/or purchase Development Cards. Keep in mind that the Development Cards can be played at any point during the turn. Now let’s dive into each phase a bit more deeply.

Resource Production 

Start your turn by rolling the two dice. Now take a look at the two numbers that were rolled and add them up. Reference this number to the numbered tiles on the board, and take a resource card for each resource within which you have a settlement touching it. This roll applies to everyone- meaning each person has the opportunity to collect resources every time the dice are rolled. 

If a 7 is rolled, move the robber pawn over the top of any number you desire. This allows you to steal a random resource from a player who has a settlement touching it. This also now makes this resource hexagon ineffective until the robber pawn is moved elsewhere again. Finally, any player that has more than 7 resource cards must return half of them to the bank.

Trading

Once the dice have rolled and everyone has collected their resources, you are now allowed to begin trade. You can either trade with other players by creating your own deals (this is called Domestic Trading,) or your can trade with the resource bank itself, which is called Maritime Trading. Maritime Trading essentially allows you to trade four cards of one resource for one card of another. 

Harbors may alter this rule. If you have a settlement or city on the outside of the board touching a ship icon, you may get reduced trading laws. For example, you may be able to exchange only three resource cards for one, or even two. 

Building

The final portion of a player’s turn involves building roads, settlements, and cities. Players may also purchase a Development Card during this portion. Throughout the course of the game, no one player can build more than 15 roads, five settlements, and four cities. 

As stated earlier, roads can only be placed along the edges of hexagonal cards, and settlements/cities can only be placed on corners. Roads cannot touch another player’s settlement and/or city, and settlements/cities cannot be placed right next to another’s settlement/city. 

Building Costs

When it comes to the third phase of your turn, Building, each type of building and/or Development Card comes at a certain cost. In this section, I’ll break down what is required to purchase each.

Road

Roads cost one brick and one wood resource. All roads of yours must connect, and once a corner is taken, it may not be used by another player for a road. 

If you build more than 5 interconnecting roads, you may now take the card for the Longest Road, which is worth two Victory Points at the end of the game. But watch out another player can take it from you if they build a longer road!

Settlement

A Settlement costs a Brick, Wool, Lumber, and Grain resource in order to create. All Settlements must connect to your roads, and they cannot be placed next to another player’s Road, Settlement, or City. A Settlement cannot be placed next to one of your own Settlements or Cities, either- this means there always must be a corner space between any two Settlements of Cities in the game. Your new Settlement now produces additional resources for any hexagon it is connected to if the dice are rolled to match its corresponding numbers.

Keep in mind that each new Settlement is worth one Victory Point, and only 10 Victory Points are required to win the game!

City

Cities cost three Ore and two Grain. Cities are similar to Settlements in that they allow you to collect resources with the corresponding hexagon. However, Cities allow you to collect two resources instead of just one. In order to build a City, you must have a Settlement there first, and replace it with a City once it is built. 

Cities are worth two Victory Points.

Development Card

Buying a Development Card costs one Ore, one Grain, and one Wool. These are “mystery” cards that can help progress your game in various ways. Development Cards can be played at any point during your turn, but keep them hidden until you play them! There are three different types of Development Cards- Knights, Progress, and Victory Points.

Knight cards allow you to move the “robber” pawn immediately and are entitled to its benefits. If you play 3 Knights from Development cards, you may now collect the card for the Largest Army, which is also worth two Victory Points at the end of the game. Keep in mind this card can be stolen as well!

Progress cards have various rules on them that differ depending on the card. Simply follow the instructions.

Victory Point cards are straightforward as well, they simply allow you to collect an additional Victory Point. However, they can only be revealed at the end of the game and used to win. This adds an element of surprise to the game, keeping you and other players on your toes.

End of Game

The game is over once a single player has 10 or more Victory Points in their hand at once. You can only win when it is your turn!

Strategy

In terms of playing Settlers of Catan successfully, there are lots of ways to go about it. However today I’m going to teach you what I have found most effective. I’ll be listing these five strategies in the order that they should be utilized, based on personal experience. Let’s begin!

Use the Odds in Your Favor

If you look at the numbered tiles, you’ll notice dots under each number. These dots correspond with the odds of that number being rolled. More dots means that number is going to be rolled more frequently. You can apply this to your gameplay by actively seeking out locations where resources are going to be given out more frequently. It is particularly helpful to look at these numbers at the start of the game when you are first laying down your pieces.

I also only trade with players near the start of the game. Any player that is trading when they are close to winning is a red flag, and I try to 

Realize that Players Trade for a Reason

Whenever someone makes a trade proposal, an opportunity arises to step into their shoes. Think about why they may be wanting that particular item, and what their general strategy may be. People always make trades when they think they are the ones coming out on top. Thus, whenever someone proposes a trade, I’ll bargain it down a bit to make it fair. Never trade simply to “be nice,” unless you are inevitably trying to butter a player up to make trades with them later on if they have a resource you may need.

Build Settlements Fast

The faster you can get Settlements up and running, the better your growth will be. Each sequential turn is exponential for your resource production. It appears that early in the game Bricks/Wood seem to be in high demand as roads are created, but as the game moves along grain and ore become more popular as Cities start to emerge. Sheep generally maintain their value throughout the game. Keep these points in mind as you build and plan.

Go For Longest Road or Block It

Either way, you need to keep an eye on the length road, because it leads to two Victory Points at the end. I almost always attempt to go for the road, because it inevitably leads to more Settlements, which lead to more resources. I like to think of it as a byproduct of building fast. If, however, you choose not to go for it, make sure to block it if at all possible. 

Don’t Forget About Development Cards

Later in the game, once I have a strong hand on resource production, I like to shift my focus to Development Cards. In terms of mental strategies, Development Cards are a key component of demoralizing your opponents. Since they are often kept hidden for large portions of the game, it will keep your opponents guessing as to what can be in your hand as the game gets closer to the edge. 

Development Cards also force the resources in your favor, as it is most likely that you’ll draw a Knight card, which allows you to move the “robber” pawn. Each turn you miss out on resources adds up fast, so having the ability to get the robber off your resources is a big deal.

Products

There are over 30 different items under the brand “Settlers of Catan,” but they all fall into one of three categories. Base Games, Expansions, and Scenarios. There are also third-party products that can be purchased as well, but they mainly act as fan-fare merchandise or organizers. Let’s dive into the products!

Base Games

Base Games are essentially the “starting point” for Settlers of Catan. If you’re new to the brand and want to get started, simply choose a base that’s themed in a way you enjoy. The most popular Base is the original Settlers of Catan, as it allows for the most expansions and scenarios. I would recommend this one first.

Some other popular Bases include Starfarers (which involves Catan in space,) Game of Thrones Catan (which is themed like the TV show and books,) and Rise of the Inkas (which is themed like a different ancient civilization.)

In addition to different themed Bases, Settlers of Catan also comes in various formats aimed to different types of people. For example, you can get Rivals for Catan which is designed for two players, Junior Catan which is aimed at a younger audience, and Catan on the Go games, which are formated for travel.

As I said, there are lots of ways to get involved with Catan based on your interests and desired experience. Don’t get overwhelmed! I always recommend starting with the original Settlers of Catan first, and moving into different Base Games if you like it.

Expansions

Once you’ve learned Settlers of Catan and are looking to take your gameplay experience to the next level, I would start looking at its expansion packs. Expansion packs are divided into two categories: Player Expansion Packs and Gameplay Expansion Packs.

Player Expansion Packs allow for Settlers of Catan to expand from 3-4 players to 5-6 players. This is ideal if you’re into having big game nights, or want to try out the game with more opponents. 

Gameplay Expansion Packs alter the course of the game, and/or add new rules. Right now Settlers of Catan has four Gameplay Expansion packs. These include Seafarers (which adds more water pieces to the board,) Explorers and Pirates (which adds islands to the board,) Cities and Knights (which adds new strategies to the board,) and Traders and Barbarians (which is a pack of pick and choose mini-expansion packs.)

Keep in mind that if you want to play the Gameplay Expansion Packs with more players, you also need to buy the corresponding Player Expansion Pack for the Gameplay Expansion pack, and have the Player Expansion pack for the Base Game. 

Scenarios

Scenarios are essentially mini-expansion packs. They add new rules and components to the gameplay to make it even more interesting. In terms of progression, I’d say these are the last products I’d pick up after you’ve gone through most of the Expansion Packs. Right now there are 6 different Scenarios you can add to your game.

Third-Party Add Ons

There are a variety of fan-made products that can be added to your mix to add a little flair. There are alternate boards, card organizers, and even merch.

Where Can I Buy Settlers of Catan?

Settlers of Catan is available almost anywhere that you can buy board games. If you’re trying to find it quickly, I’d recommend hopping over to Target or Walmart, where it should be featured in their board game section. If you’re looking to get the Expansion Packs and Scenarios for the game, they are a little more difficult to find.

I’d start by checking online to see if you can get them delivered, as they are available on Amazon and on the manufacturer’s website. If you’re looking for a more personalized experience, however, try to find your local board game store. They’re usually hidden away in the strip malls on the outskirts of cities, but you’ll most likely be able to talk to the owners about their favorite add-on. Many of these stores also host “board game nights,” where you can meet other players and friends to play Catan with.

My Recommendations

Now that you’ve seen everything Catan has to offer, you’re probably wondering what products I would recommend. Out of over 30 different branded products, here are my top five choices:

Settlers of Catan Base Game

Of course, the original Settlers of Catan game is going to be on the top of my list. It’s the best game to start with if you’re new to the brand. Once you have the original game, you can get almost all the expansion packs with it, so it allows for the most variety in your gameplay choices. It’s also the classic!

Seafarers Expansion Pack

The most basic of the Expansion Packs is Seafarers. This pack adds new waters into the game, allowing you to now travel across the board via ship. It also allows you to build additional “roads” over the water, which creates a new method of Victory. I’d recommend this as your first Expansion pack, as it can be applied to all the other ones.

Cities and Knights Expansion Pack

Out of all the Expansion Packs, the Cities and Knights one adds the most gameplay mechanics. It adds new commodities, new dices, new tokens, and more progress cards. In effect, it basically makes Settlers of Catan a completely new game. I would highly recommend this Expansion for those looking to take their gameplay a little bit deeper.

Starfarers Base Game

If you know and love the original Settlers of Catan but are looking to add a little spice to the game, I couldn’t recommend the Starfarers game more. It takes the original game and turns it into a space theme, where you are now competing against other players to build and upgrade your personal starship.

The mechanics of the game are similar enough that it’s not too foreign of a game, but it improves upon one major flaw in the original game. Starfarers has a new built-in system to allow players who fall behind to catch up, which is great for newcomers. It also makes the game more competitive because “behind” players can come up and win out of nowhere.

Rivals for Catan

If you’re like me and have tried to play Settlers of Catan with only two players and found it difficult, look no further. Rivals for Catan is a standalone game designed specifically for two players. The great thing about this game is that it is also made up entirely of cards, which makes it a perfect travel game. Whenever I go on road trips, I’m quick to pack Rivals for Catan for me and my partner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Why is Setters of Catan so popular?

Answer: “Catan,” short for “Settlers of Catan,” is a popular Eurogame board game. It became popular because it essentially brought “niche” tabletop gaming to the mainstream, in a way that was easily accessible but difficult to master. Settlers of Catan also isn’t a very long board game. Setup is relatively fast, and the entire game can be played in about an hour and a half.

Question: How long does it take to play Settlers of Catan?

Answer: Assuming you are playing the original game with 3-4 players, gameplay generally lasts 1-2 hours. However, if you add more players and rules to the game with Expansion Packs, gameplay time can easily extend to 3 hours. If you’re looking for a quicker way to play Settlers of Catan, I’d look into the travel version of the game.

Question: Is Settlers of Catan hard?

Answer: In terms of Eurogames, Settlers of Catan is one of the easiest to learn. Its gameplay mechanics involve basic economics and resource management, as well as trading with other players. I would say it could take about 20 minutes to learn the game from start to finish.

Question: Are there Settlers of Catan competitions?

Answer: Yes, Settlers of Catan can be played professionally in tournaments. There are five different categories of competition. Start in your National tournaments, and then work your way up to Masters Invitational, Europen, American, and World championships. 

Question: How do you explain Settlers of Catan?

Answer: If I were to describe Settlers of Catan in an elevator pitch, I would say it’s a fun, entry-level resource management game that relies on strategic trading and building in a farming atmosphere. It’s a solid game for people of all ages and is fairly social in nature.

Conclusion

Whether you’re simply looking to get started with Settlers of Catan at a basic level or dive all the way into the culture head first, I hope this guide has been helpful in illuminating the colorful world of Catan. The game is built to last for years on your shelf, and I hope that you and your friends can get as much enjoyment out of the game as I have. Long time Catan!

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