Settlers of Catan: Build, Trade, Repeat

Photo Credit: derekbruff via Compfight cc

I’m pretty sure Settlers of Catan is the main reason why I’m such an avid fan of board games. I first had the opportunity of playing Catan in 2005. It was the first time I had ever played a gateway game (as opposed to popular classics such as Monopoly, Risk, and Scrabble). I don’t remember if I won or lost my first game, but I do remember being hooked from the start.

Game Specifications

Publisher: Mayfair Games
Published: 1995
Suggested Age: 8+
Number of Players: 3-4 (or 5-6 players with the expansion)
Playing Time: 90-150 minutes


In Settlers of Catan, players find themselves an island that’s rich in resources (wood, clay, ore, wheat, and wool). But there is only so much land and resources to go around, and you must compete with your fellow colonists to gain control of the regions with higher concentrations of resources (based on the number tiles placed on top of each resource tile). Players collect and spend resources, gradually expanding their domain by building roads, settlements, and cities – all of which contribute to their total victory point score. The first person to reach 10 victory points wins the game.

One of the best parts of this game is that there’s a lot of player interaction. Everything you do (to varying degrees) will influence what your opponents can do. For example, at the beginning of your turn, you’ll roll two dice and add the rolled numbers together. Whoever owns a settlement (or city) that touches the resource tile with that total number will gain the corresponding resource. This means that players will be collecting resources even when it’s not their turn, and thereby creating a helpful incentive to pay attention to what’s happening when it’s someone else’s turn.

Another interactive feature in Catan that I absolutely love is trading. Though it’s satisfying collecting resources from dice rolls, it’s equally as satisfying when you can successfully negotiate a trade with another player. Sometimes coming up with a mutually beneficial trade can be a little tricky and you might have to sacrifice two of your resource cards in exchange for that one elusive resource card you so desperately need. But overall, I feel that trading is something that everyone can enjoy. Competitive players will appreciate the satisfaction of getting the best deal, while more easygoing players will simply enjoy the feeling of helping their neighbor.


The Pros

It’s beginner friendly and easy to learn. You roll dice, you collect and trade resources, and you build stuff. There are a few other choices you can make, but that’s essentially the game in a nutshell. I’ve even seen relatively inexperienced players explain some of the rules to new players. It’s that simple.

This game is highly replayable. Each time you play is different based on how you arrange the resource hexagon tiles during the setup of the game, as well as what number tiles are paired with said hexagon tiles. For example, in one game you might find wood and clay in abundance, but in another game find wool and wheat easiest to obtain.

It offers players the chance for come-from-behind victories. How this is made possible is the inclusion of dice, which makes the resource distribution extremely random. Even if you find yourself in last place, a few good rolls from you (or your opponents) could land you a whole heap of resources, and consequently the chance to gain more victory points. Conversely, the player who gets off to an early lead might find themselves going several turns without collecting resources simply because of bad luck!

The Cons

The element of luck. I should mention that this is more of a personal preference when it comes to me and games. Luck plays a big role in who ultimately comes out as the victor, and I tend to prefer games that rely more on strategy. Because you collect resources based on dice rolls, it’s entirely possible to go a full round (or more) without collecting a single resource. I’ve seen this happen to players in almost every game I’ve played.

Solution: Implement a house rule whereby players can gain a resource if they haven’t collected any for X number of turns.

The playing time can be too long. Whenever I’ve played this game, it’s usually lasted at least 2 hours. (If you check out my recommendations page, you’ll see that Settlers of Catan has the longest potential playing time in the Family Games category.) And I’m not a guy that despises long games – I quite enjoy the heavier Eurogames like Agricola and Puerto Rico, for instance. I just don’t like the fact that bad rolls can prolong the game. So if you want a shorter game (30-60 minutes) or you don’t think your crowd has the stamina for a 90-120 minute game, then this might not be the one for you.

Solution: Reduce the number of victory points required to win, or play for a pre-determined amount of time and whoever who has the most points when time runs out is the winner.

Final Thoughts

Settlers of Catan does a really good job combing resource management with trading, and I think that makes for a great game for families and individuals looking for a light strategy game. Though the element of luck can be frustrating at times, it also makes the game simple to pick up and play for younger players. If you’re looking for a timeless classic that can be enjoyed by all ages for years to come, then definitely pick this one up!


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