I recently began my review of the top 10 board games every family should play. This is the list so far:
Top 10 Board Games for Families:
5. Puerto Rico
2. The Settlers of Catan
Designer: Klaus Teuber
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Players: 3 – 4 (up to 6 with expansions)
Time: 60 to 90 min.
Fun to Age Ratio: 10
Type: Civilization Building and Trading
The Settlers of Catan is THE modern classic board game. It has probably done more to draw attention to German board games than any other since its introduction in 1995. Settlers of Catan provides for a highly interactive board game experience, since one of its primary mechanisms is trading between players. And since resources can be earned by any player on any turn, players are always engaged.
The basic game consists of multiple hex tiles, each depicting a land type which produces a specific resource (wood, brick, wool, grain and ore). These tiles, plus the non-productive desert tile and surrounding water tiles, are used to create the game board representing the island of Catan. Number tiles, each with a number from 2 through 12 excluding 7, are then randomly placed on the land tiles.
Each player grows his colony by building settlements and roads. Settlements are built at the corners of the land hexes and roads are built along the edges. A settlement may therefore touch up to three different land hexes. A player may start at two different locations on the board but subsequent constructions must connect with those already on the board. Each dice roll produces resources for any player who has a settlement touching a land hex which has the corresponding number tile on it. Settlements may be upgraded to cities, which produce double. Resources are then used to build more roads, settlements and city upgrades. There are also development cards for purchase which allow for a variety of actions, provide soldiers for a player’s army or simply give the player victory points. Settlements and cities are worth 1 and 2 victory points respectively. The first player to earn 10 victory points wins.
There are punitive mechanisms in the game as well. There is a robber token which stops the resource production of any land tile it sits on. The robber may be moved by any player who rolls a 7. The 7 roll also forces all players holding more than 7 resource cards to discard half of them.
Multiple expansions and scenario variants of the game are available. Most notable are the Seafarers and Cities and Knights expansions. Seafarers adds more land and water hexes, as well as boat production. Boats essentially function as roads built on water. Cities and Knights adds many new components to the game, increasing complexity and game time.
I have described the basic game of Settlers of Catan. The truth is Settlers of Catan is highly customizable and a variety of different game board suggestions are provided by the publisher. As you become more familiar with the game, you will find experimenting with various game board set ups to be half the fun. I like to set up multiple smaller islands separated by water and discoverable face-down land and water tiles. The rules can also easily be modified. For example, I don’t like the negative effect of the robber, so we don’t use it. Players still lose half their cards when a 7 is rolled but the stifled resource production does not occur. (That sound you heard is the collective gasps of Settlers of Catan purists.) I also don’t care much for the arbitrary effects of the development cards, so I set up the game board so colony expansion carries more of a premium.
Settlers of Catan is commonly criticized for one primary reason: the random resource production from the dice roll. This can get frustrating at times especially when you’re behind. Event cards have even been created which are drawn instead of rolling the dice, eliminating some of the randomness by distributing the dice roll numbers according to probability. We’ve tinkered with these as well as combinations giving players the option of rolling the dice or drawing an event card, and have ultimately decided we like the simplicity of the dice roll better. I have come up with a way for players to improve their luck, however, by creating a new construction item: the aqueduct. This costs the same as a development card and is represented by a road piece extending from a settlement (or city, which can support two aqueducts) toward the number tile in the center of an adjacent land hex. The aqueduct changes the number on the land tile by one towards the number 7 for that settlement or city; so for example, if the number tile is a 4, that settlement now produces that resource when a 5 is rolled. This is just another example of how the game can be changed or enhanced to suit your preferences.
Settlers of Catan is sold as a basic set for 3 or 4 people. An expansion adds the necessary pieces for 5 or 6 players. If you find that you like the game, don’t hesitate to get the Seafarers expansion with its 5 or 6 player expansion as necessary. I consider Seafarers almost essential and rarely play without it. The Cities and Knights expansion will change the game more drastically, but it’s a very worthy addition if you want to add depth to the game. The requirement to buy the 5 or 6 player expansion for the basic game and each new expansion is another criticism of the game, but that’s just the way it is. Don’t let it stop you from trying this fabulous game, though.
It really is a great family gaming experience.