Review: Settlers of Catan (Board Games)

Reviewed by Taleweaver, posted Feb 27, 2018, last updated Feb 27, 2018
My second boardgame review. And considering retro video games can get reviews, this should be okay as well...
Feb 27, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): January 1, 1995
  • Release Date (EU): January 1, 1995
  • Publisher: Kosmos (and many others)
  • Developer: Klaus Teuber
  • Genres: Economic, engine building
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Also For: Android, Computer
In Settlers of Catan (hereafter abbreviated to 'Catan') you and your adversaries are civilizations eager to expand. You start out with two villages but during the game you'll harvest or trade resources you can spend on upgrading your civilization. This lets you gain resources faster as well as gives you victory points. The game goes on until the first person reaches ten victory points. The main feature in this game is the trade mechanic. There are five resources in the game, but it's usually hard or even impossible to come by them yourself. But while you can (and sometimes will) trade with the bank, the game is mostly about making the best trades with your opponents.
How it's played (quick rundown)

One of the unique features of catan is the randomized board. You start by randomly laying a bunch of hexagons (these are the fields or resources) in a larger hexagon shape. In an equally random setup, the sea and harbors are placed around this land. After that, the smaller hexagons get assigned numbers between 2 and 12 (okay: the desert's an exception). Then players pick and place two villages at the edges of two or three of these hexagons. It's after this that the actual game commences.

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In turn, players will throw two dice. The corresponding outcome will tell what fields will become active. All players bordering these fields will receive these resources. As an example: if a forest has a nine on it and it has two of my villages next to it and one of an opponent, rolling a nine will reward me with 2 wood resources and said opponent one. After this harvest, players can (attempt to) trade these resources. If they have the correct resources, they can buy roads, villages, cities or cards. The former three put extra structures on the board that help your civilization collect more resources, and/or help them generate them faster. The cards provide similar benefits, though typically more a one-shot advantage. Both kinds are usually needed to score a number of victory points (10 is default) to win the game.

Throwing a seven doesn't generate anything, though. This is the cue that players have to discard a surplus of their cards. In addition, a robber pawn may be placed on a field, blocking it from producing anything until the robber is moved again. And in addition to the addition, the player who has thrown the seven may steal a resource from anyone bordering this occupied field.


Impressions, thoughts and expansions

First things first: the above is far from a complete rundown of the rules. I initially wrote these all down, but either you already know Catan and you can skip it, or you don't know the game and the details will confuse you until you've played your first few games. I'll leave that text underneath, but IMHO the above should be sufficient to give a broad overview.

The reason Catan has become a million dollar franchise is IMHO mostly because of its accessibility and diversity. The random board and dice rolls means things will play out different each time. It wasn't the first "Euro style" game, but it was the first successful one, and it introduced the world to a bunch of mechanics that later became staples in other board games. I even dare say that it was a milestone in board games. Since then, board games have blossomed into all sorts of directions, reusing and refining things.

Like many successful franchises, Catan has generated a slew of expansions, extra additions and re imaginings (heck...there's even a star trek version :P ). I've only really played one of those (Seafarers), but all in all, I think it depends on how much you like the base game. I've also played it on android, but I would personally advise against it. It's certainly functional and might be a great learning tool or helps to practice, but trading with a bot just isn't the same.

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In retrospect, settlers of Catan certainly is still a fun game. It has its flaws, though. Compared to more modern games, it has a bunch of quirks that were needed for balance, but can lead to arguments (e.g. "hey! You can't play a knight BEFORE you should roll first!" "No I don't." "Yes, you do!" ...). Your starting position is also the most crucial, but new players usually have a hard time figuring out which resources they need in comparison to the numbers thereon.My main gripe is also one that the game can't help: it's just good at three players. You can't play with two as it basically eliminates any chance for trading, and with four players you quickly find yourself unable to expand to where you want to.

But that said: I've given this game to my girlfriend for her birthday (upon her request), and it really opened her to the hobby. And for all the flaws I can think of, it remains a fun and balanced game that can be tense until the end.

Extended rules
(for those with too much time on their hands)
Warning: Spoilers inside!
+ Fun for everyone
+ Trading is implemented well
+ Great introduction for board games
- Rules are a bit clunky by today's standards
- Base game only really plays well with 3 players
6 Presentation
It's functional. There' an anniversary edition that has cooler looking houses and robber, but even then the art is just "okay"-ish.
8 Gameplay
Once the game is in full swing, it can still boggle your mind in a very good way (where and how do I expand? How will I make these resources into something good? Will I accept that proposed trade?). Due to its nature, I was at first inclined to think that it mostly rewarded the players better, but having more resources means they'll also need to be managed better. All in all, games are usually rather close.
7 Lasting Appeal
This one's really hard to judge, as it's over ten years ago since I first played it. If I'd known and reviewed this in 1995, it would've gotten a lot higher scores on this one (probably a nine or so), but it's faded a bit over the years. Mostly because there's quite some competition in the field nowadays.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I've picked this foremost because of its legacy. I knew it wouldn't get stellar scores, and proclaiming it a "must buy" would just be unfair. In the average toy store, I can easily point at at least half the stock and proclaim these as inferior, but truth be told: quite some of these stores simply don't update their stock.


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