The Settlers of Catan Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • About 1 hour to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Trading
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • On the small island of Catan, you have been chosen to lead your people in creating a prosperous community!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

The small island of Catan is rich with natural resources. There is grass for the sheep, mountains for ore , deep forests for wood, hills for clay bricks, and the fertile soil makes for bountiful wheat harvests. You and your people have sailed across the waters to arrive at this small island with plans to make it your new home, but you are not alone. Others have also arrived with plans to settle this land and make use of its riches. The island is not big enough for everyone and resources go quickly with so many now populating this small land. Survival will be based on how well you lead your people, where you build, and how savvy you are at trading with your neighbors. Success is not certain, but the challenge is.

The Settlers of Catan (4th edition), published by Mayfair Games, is comprised of 19 Terrain hexes, 6 Sea frames, 9 Harbor pieces, 18 numbered tokens, 95 Resource cards, 25 Development cards, 4 Building Cost reference cards, 1 Longest Road card, 1 Largest Army card, 16 City pieces (4 of each color), 20 Settlement pieces (5 of each color), 60 Road pieces (15 of each color), 2 six-sided dice, and 1 Robber piece. The Robber, City, Settlement, and Road pieces are made of wood. All other game pieces are made of thick cardboard and very colorful.

Game Set Up

There are two ways to set up the game. The first is referred to as “Starting Set Up for Beginners” and the second is referred to as “Staring Set Up for Experienced Players”.

Starting Set Up for Beginners

The Starting Set Up for Beginners is the suggested method  of putting the many game pieces together and setting up the game board for players who might not be familiar with The Settlers of Catan or for new players. All the game components have a specific locations in the set up and a very detailed step-by-step instructions are provided in the rule book. The person responsible for the game set up will first assemble the frame for the game. This is done by connecting the 6 Sea frames together to form the outer border. Next, the 19 Terrain hexes will be placed within the Sea frame followed by placing a specific numbered token on each Terrain hex.

To ensure that no one player has an advantage over the others, the first Settlement and Road pieces for each player are also provided. When completed, the game board will look almost exactly like the following:

Each player should also receive a Building Cost reference card.

Starting Set Up for Experienced Players

The Staring Set Up for Experienced Players should only be used if everyone is already familiar with The Settlers of Catan and how it is played. This method of setting up the game provides for random Terrain and numbered token value placement. Set up the Sea Frame and then randomly place the Terrain hexes within it. Then take the 9 Harbor pieces and place them over the printed harbor information on the Sea frame. Next, set all the numbered tokens beside the board and, starting with one of the outside corners, place one token on each Terrain hex in alphabetical order, proceeding to the next counter-clockwise Terrain hex, working towards the center (in a spiral pattern), skipping the desert Terrain hex.

Initial Settlement placement is determined by each player selecting a color (that has all the player’s City, Settlement, and Road pieces) and then rolling dice to determine which player gets to place their initial Settlements and Roads first. Players take turns completing the Settlement and Road placement in two rounds, with the last player of the first round going first for the second round. This method gives the players a good deal more of control, but can also give one player a significant advantage over another.

Each player should also receive a Building Cost reference card.

Resources and Development Cards

Regardless of which method is used to set up the board, the next step to game set up is to separate the Resource deck into five different decks, each deck representing one of the five resources available on Catan. These are wool (sheep), brick, ore, wheat (grain), and wood. These decks are placed face-up (resources showing) next to the game board and referred to as the “Bank”. Then shuffle the Development cards and place them next to the Resource cards, face down. The Longest Road and Largest Army cards are also placed beside the game board until claimed by a player.

Each player now takes 1 Resource card for every resource that surrounds the player’s initial Settlement pieces. These cards are held by the player and kept hidden from their opponents.

Lastly, set the Robber piece in the desert, and pass the dice to the first player. You are now ready to play!

For detailed instructions on the game set up, refer to the game’s rule book.

Settling Catan

Each player will take one turn and then pass the dice to the next player, repeating until the game is over. On a player’s turn, they will complete the following steps:

Step 1: Roll for Resources (mandatory)

The player takes both six-sided die and rolls them, adding the values together. This value is then matched to a numbered token on the board. Any player who has a Settlement or City piece around that numbered token received one Resource card that the Terrain hex the numbered token is on provides. All players receive this, not just the player who is rolling.

If a “7” is rolled, the Robber comes into play and no resources are given to any players that round. The Robber piece, which starts in the desert Terrain hex, is placed by the player who just rolled the dice on any one Terrain hex. This Terrain hex will now no longer generate any resources for the players who surround it until the Robber is removed.

Step 2: Trade Resources (optional)

The player can now initiate a trade with the other players and use the ports on the Sea frame if their Settlement or City piece are located next to it. When making a trade with opponents, all trades are kept in the open (no hidden trades), are done verbally, and the opponents are welcome to counter. However, only the player who currently is playing their turn can trade Resource cards.

When trading with the ports on the Sea frame, a number will be given, showing a ratio, and sometimes a specific resource. For example “X:Y”, where “X” is the number of Resource cards of the same resource type the player must spend and “Y” is the number of Resource cards of the same resource type the player can get in return. By default, a player can always trade with the ratio 4:1 with the “Bank”, which means they never need to trade with their opponents if they do not want to.

Step 3: Build and Develop (optional)

The player now spends their resources to build on Catan. The cost to build roads, settlements, cities, and purchase Development cards are listed on the player’s Building Cost reference card. The player need only turn in the required number and resource types to the “Bank”. Spent Resource Cards are placed back on their respective decks. Any Development cards purchased are drawn from the face-down Development deck and kept in the player’s hand, hidden until played. Roads and Settlements are placed on the board were allowed. City pieces replace Settlement pieces on the board.

Ending the Game

The game immediately ends as soon as a player has earned 10 or more victory points. Player’s earn victory points for the following:

  • 1 victory point per Settlement piece
  • 2 victory points per City piece
  • 2 victory points for having the Longest Road card
  • 2 victory points for having the Largest Army card
  • 1 victory point provided by various Development cards

There is, of course, more to this game. To learn more about The Settlers of Catan and read the full rule book (which goes into a lot more detail then we did), see the game’s web site.

Prediction

There is little need to try this game with my Gamer Geek group. They have played The Settlers of Catan many times and I know where they stand on the game. A few Parent Geeks have also played the game before, making it unnecessary to play more than a game or two to get their level of endorsement. The big mystery is the little geeks. I have held off from playing this game with them, wanting their first experience with a game that many consider a perennial favorite and a classic, to be a positive one. Honestly, it has also been avoided because of all the other new games we have available to us. The Settlers of Catan is considered “old” by now and is only something new to those just now entering into the world of hobby board game playing.

For my little geek, he was already aware of how to play it but had not yet had a chance. This happens often in my household as my little geeks have full access to all the games. They look through the pieces, flip through the rule book, and only bring to me a game they really want to play. The Settlers of Catan certainly provides visual interest, but my little geeks lean towards dice games and fantasy themed games. It was with delight that my oldest brought me The Settlers of Catan and asked to play it. At long last, it would see the table.

The game itself is actually very straight forward in its game play. The complexity comes in selecting the best locations to build settlements to reduces the amount of luck needed to claim resources. This also determines the level of dependency a player will have on their opponents for trades. I made sure my little geek understood these two important points, putting lesser emphasis on resource management. While resource management is a necessary and important part of the game, I find it to be a given and automatically part of the players’ focus of area control and worker placement (building first in the best places possible).

After demoing a few important points to my little geek, I reset the board for our first play. We used the game set up for beginners to make sure a higher level of balance for all players. While I did not give myself a handicap, I did award my little geek 2 Resource cards of his choice in addition to what he already was provided. I wanted him to start big and see how fast his resources were spent, allowing him to start building as soon as possible. While he thought about his two additional resources, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“It’s about time we played this game. I like how you get to build the island and you get to trade with the other players. What I don’t like is that I have to share the island.” ~ Liam (age 7)

I reminded him that this was a game about trade and expansion and not combat and conquering. His response: “We’ll see.” And so we shall! Let’s get the game started and see how it goes.

Final Word

My little geek struggled at first in the game. His initial focus was to build like crazy and he made a few mistakes on where to place his settlements. He very quickly learned that The Settlers of Catan requires its players to be dependent on the other players for goods, but not all the time. He started to dominate Wheat and Sheep, and preferred to trade at a 4:1 ratio then trade with me! What a stinker! But this only got him so far and he eventually started to deal with me at the trading table. He came very close to winning several times, but never once was able to claim victory. This he found terribly frustrating and he wanted the game to continue. We did this and played the game to 20 points. There was enough room on the board to do so and he was overjoyed to continue the game session. It speaks rather highly of a game when it is over but the players want to continue playing it.

Parent Geeks looked  at The Settlers of Catan as a slightly more intense game to play with friends and family. There is never a lot going on in the game, nor is it a fast-paced experience, except when haggling during trades. The game does demand more time from the players. It is a light game and casual, but with screaming kids in the house running around, Parent Geeks tend to focus more on the faster games. When the stars do align, fun is had by all and there is a great deal of friendly banter as the game progresses. For the record, my wife hates trading with me.

Gamer Geeks have a soft spot for this game, but have stopped playing it. As I mentioned before, it is an older game and is often one of the first stops on the path to Gamer Geek elitness. Once played, it prepares the player for more intense Euro-style games that require much more attention and strategy. For this reason, I found that most Gamer Geeks roll their eyes when I suggest we play The Settlers of Catan. One good friend of mine hates the game with such a passion that I bring it up from time to time just to see his face get red. But his “hate”, according to him, is based more on his level of complete and total disinterest in it. Having played the game many, many times, it is no longer exciting for him. That being said, the game is still is respected, admired for its simplicity, and intelligent design.

My little geek shows me the dice the he knows will win him BIG resources, maybe

Gamer Geeks, I am frankly surprised if you have not yet played this game. I would be dumbfounded if you have not heard of it and strongly encourage you to drop what you are doing and give this game a try. It is almost seen as a right of passage and is a game that just about every Gamer Geek has played. In a hobby where there are thousands of games, it speaks very highly of The Settlers of Catan that the vast majority of board game hobbyists have played it many times. Gamer Geeks continue to approve of this game, but seldom play it. Its time has come and gone, but it still gets the occasional play. On the road to gaming education, it remains an important checkpoint and is seen as a classic.

Parent Geeks, this is an excellent game to bring out on Family Game Night or when you want to play a more Euro-style game with other Parent Geeks. For those playing with family, it provides for an excellent experience to be social and the need to work together. For those who are just looking for a deeper game without  a strong level of difficulty, this game will hit the spot. Non-gamers also enjoy this game as the turn order sequence and game play are simple enough to understand and there is plenty of opportunity for player interaction.

Child Geeks, this game is a right of passage. If you can sit down and play this game, you have come a significant distance on your path to becoming a Gamer Geek. While not the hardest game or the most complex you will play, it provides the bedrock of all your future Euro-style games to come. By learning how to play this game, you are strengthening key geek skills that will be used again and again. Do expect to be highly frustrated by the dice rolls and know that the game mechanisms that use random value are fickle friends and foes. You’ll be rolling in resources in one instant and scrounging for scraps the next. Never be bashful with your trades, focus on your goals, and the island will be yours!

I would not consider myself a “lover” of The Settlers of Catan. I own a copy, of course, because I believe it to be an important game, but I no longer seek it out. This all changed when my oldest little geek wanted to play it. Seeing the game through my little geek’s eyes has rekindle my love of it. For those who have never played the game, it is a remarkable experience. The give and take and seemingly impossible windfalls and painful draughts of resource gathering make the game feel much bigger than what it is and much more personal. Hearing my little geek’s shouts of excitement when he was able to upgrade his Settlement piece to a City piece warmed my heart in only a way a Parent and Gamer Geek would understand.

It is strange to have this game back in my life and at my gaming table. Strange but not unwelcome. It is like seeing an old friend after many years. Is some ways, the game and I have changed a great deal. In others, not so much. Watching my son  play this game has brought back many happy memories and I am excited to add to them with my little geeks.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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17 Responses to The Settlers of Catan Game Review

  1. Peter Schott says:

    I appreciate the review, but I’ll admit this one will likely never make it into my collection. Even watching Mr. Wheaton & gang play it I could tell that the game wasn’t really my type of game. The luck factor for resources was a little too prevalent for my tastes. I can deal with luck, but that seemed to be a pretty overwhelming part of the game and several bad rolls can just be crippling. I’d be willing to play once or twice, but would much rather play something else.

    • Cyrus says:

      Yep, couldn’t agree more. This is a game “classic” in every sense of the word. The Settlers of Catan is a very recognized game and has long since established its value to the gaming hobby. But is it the most exciting game? Hardly. It has, however, aged well. For the newbies coming up, it’ll be a game well loved and played. For the old guard, it will be a game respected, but seldom played.

    • sultrysteve says:

      Have you heard of Terra Mystica? Seems settlers inspired but without any chance elements at all but a lot more complicated, great game but learning curve is steeeeeppp.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m assuming I’m the one that “hates” the game. But my complete lack of interest in the game stems more closely to what Peter said. Part of it is always playing with 5+ people, making for extremely long games, and the other part is the trading aspect. We play with some cutthroat people sometimes, and while I like trading elements in other games, I can’t stand how much you have to depend on it in this game. Ad Astra, for instance, makes it a bit harder for someone to try and hold out on you, or make a one-sided trade deal when you need something, because you can always trade to the resource piles at a 2-to-1 ratio. The times I’ve played Catan I’ve usually tried to steer away from the trades, because people were asking for 3-4+ of something to give me 1 of something else; which would have put me back and square one on other resources.

    I can appreciate the game itself for getting people in to the Euro side of gaming, and I can appreciate other people loving it like they do. But for me, there are far greater games that don’t bore me 45 minutes in, where I suddenly find a new sub-objective; who’s closest to winning and how can I assist them so we can move on to a new game?

    • Cyrus says:

      Oh, you’ve played this game before, Jeff? I was unaware of that.

    • Jeff says:

      Let it go, man. Let it go. ;-}

    • Peter Schott says:

      Sounds a bit like me & Milles Bournes. I’ll play because others want to, but look for ways to just be done with the game. Nothing worse than getting stuck with just drawing cards that do nothing to help over and over again while watching others keep playing. Once again – too much luck.

      I respect Settlers and appreciate that it’s made a big inroad to get people out of the “board games == Monopoly” mindset. It just doesn’t look like a game that would appeal much to me.

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  7. Matt says:

    It’s well-designed but I hate the game’s diplomacy, resource starvation and slowness of play. YUKKKKKK!!

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