Trade. Build. Settle. End Friendships.

A simple concept

Trade. Build. Settle. Settlers of Catan is a popular dice rolling resource management game with opportunities for negotiation and banter. Two to six (ideally three to four) players compete for about an hour as they collect five resources in the form of cards representing. These resources are brick, lumber, grain, wool, and ore. They can be traded with opponents or exchanged to build or obtain valuable cards but be careful; hoarding too many resources at once can spell doom with a roll of the dice. Even your roll.

The point of the game is to get 10 victory points — VPs for short. There are several ways to get points:

  • Build a settlement (1 VP)
  • Upgrade to a city (2 VPs)
  • Longest road (first to five connected roads — 2 VPs)
  • Largest army (first to three knight cards — 2 VPs)
  • Development card (certain cards are worth 1 VP)

Easy, right? Now let’s explore what all of this means.

The setup and play

Unlike the games we grew up with (Monopoly, Sorry, Scrabble, etc), the Settlers’ board is built rather than unfolded. Hexagonal tiles are arranged to form a larger map, then surrounded by water tiles complete the layout.

Each tile serves as a resource which can be collected, exchanged, and traded. Atop each tile sits a number, representing a potential dice roll. Below the numbers are a row of dots, which correspond to the probability of digit being rolled. For those of us who struggled with statistics growing up, they even made the text of the two highest probable outcomes (6 and 8) red instead of black.

Rolling a 7 sets off a series of events which make this game such a gem. More on this later.

To start the game, each player rolls the die to determine who places the first settlement. The highest roller places a settlement and one adjacent road. This continues clockwise until it gets to the last player.

Whoever goes last has the added benefit of placing both settlements and two roads.This can be a huge boost towards getting a head start.

Once the last player has finished, the direction reverses, going counter-clockwise back to player 1. Pickings are typically slim when it comes back to the highest roller, but that’s the price you pay for nabbing the number 1 spot.

Each player picks up one resource card for every corresponding tile that their 2nd placed settlement is touching, up to a total of 3 cards. Best case scenario, your two little houses give you access to each of the five resources. Worst case scenario, you’ve got two sheep tiles, a nearby forest and a ton of dishonor for your family.

After everyone has settled in, the high roller throws the die. If one of your settlements is touching a tile with the rolled number, you grab one of that resource. Otherwise, you get nothing. Sorry.

Sevens are a gift and a curse, depending on which side of the die you’re sitting on.

If you are holding more than seven cards in your hand, you must immediately discard half of them, rounding down for odd numbers. The player who rolled the 7 gets to move the robber (AKA pirate, AKA little gray piece, AKA the bad guy) to any tile, effectively blocking that resource from being collected by any player, including herself.

As if this wasn’t enough, the roller gets to choose one player who’s settlement/city is touching the now-blocked resource and take one resource card at random. Queue the drama.

On any turn, a player will roll first, then has the option to trade resources and/or build. It’s pretty common to see early teams forming as players negotiate their way to the necessary cards. It’s even more common to watch friends embargo one another to block key builds.

There’s quite a bit of manipulation in this game as well. If one player is talking a lot and trying to “help you”, it’s likely that there is an alternative agenda there. Negotiations also involve mind games as each player tries to demand as much as possible for his resources.

At the end of the day, all that matters is how many victory points you finish with. There’s only one winner, but you never want to be the person with four measly VPs after an hour of play.

[briefly explain the objective, set up, and a turn. explain where the fun comes in with trading, teaming up, making decision on what to build or to trade in for cards]

A handful of expansions

If the base game doesn’t give you enough variety, there have been four official expansions released to add new objectives and options for gameplay. In chronological order they are:

  • Seafarers (1997) – Expands the board’s map giving you an option to create island while adding a boat mechanic.
  • Cities & Knights (1998) – Sticks to the core objective most closely while granting more strategic options through commodities and barbarians.
  • Traders & Barbarians (2007) – Offers five unique (unable to be combined) gameplay options including an official two player variant and event cards.
  • Explorers & Pirates (2013) – Like T&B, offers five gameplay options but are compatible and encouraged to be combined. Many similarities to Seafarers but with improvements across the board.

As a cherry on top, these expansions can be combined with one another. For example, Seafarers can be played with Cities & Knights and Traders & Barbarians. This takes the already extreme level of replayability to an entire new level. As long as you can keep the rules in check.

For a more in-depth review of each expansion check out this article.

Both of the Average Gamers own Settlers of Catan and keep it in their regular rotation of table top gameplay. Julian owns the Traders & Barbarians expansion while Fred has created an aesthetically pleasing three dimensional board.



Fred: “It’s great that players have a strong influence over blocking people from getting points. I’ve seen people stuck at 9 victory points for upwards of 30 minutes and you never know if one of the underdogs are going to have a 4-point swing to take the W. The more you play with people, the better understanding you get of their negotiating abilities. I’m not saying I’ve done it before, but it can be a solid strategy to prey on the weak as you trade your way to victory. At it’s core, Settlers is a simple game, but the nuances that you pick up open a lot of options. I give this game a 9 out of 10.”

Julian: “I love this game. I find myself playing it officially or unofficially in two player variants but it really excels as a four player game. Once my pocket can handle it, I want to dive further into the expansions, especially with Cities & Knights. It’s a fabulous strategic game with one of its only shortcomings being if you fall behind early or are unfortunate enough to not have a solid foundation of resource tiles/numbers its very difficult to recover. For what I’ve experienced so far, I give this game an 8.25 out of 10.”

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5 years ago

Sounds fun! I’d like to try it!

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