Catan is one of the most important games, if not the most important, for bringing board gaming to greater prominence in the United States. It is a streamlined game with a lot of player interaction but limited inherent player conflict. This game has been so successful and played so much that parts of the “gaming community” are starting to get a bit tired of it, even though it does what it sets out to do exceedingly well.
How To Play
The goal of the game is to gather resources to build roads, settlements, cities, and developments to reach a set level of prominence before any other player.
At the start of each game, players create the game-board by randomly filling in the island of Catan with hexagon tiles representing 6 different kinds of terrain: hills, forests, mountains, fields, pastures, and desert. Then, on every tile except the desert randomly place one of the numbers ranging from 2-12. (There is no 7 and only one of each 2 and 12.) Finally, around the board are ports that specialize in trading. To randomize these, put a ship marker on each printed ship.
Start of the Game
To start, the first player places one of their wooden houses (settlements) on the vertex of one of the hexagon tiles. Then, that player places one of their wooden roads on one of the edges adjacent to that vertex. Each player does this once, then starting with the last player to place and going backwards, each player does it again. For example, if I have Mary, Frank, Tom, and Jane it would go: Mary->Frank->Tom->Jane->Jane->Tom->Frank->Mary.
When you place your second settlement, you collect resources from all tiles touched by that settlement. Forests produce lumber, hills produce brick, fields produce grain, pastures produce sheep, mountains produce ore, and deserts produce nothing. So if I place my second city touching a hill, pasture, and forest, I would collect brick, sheep, and lumber.
Each turn consists of 4 parts: Roll the Dice, Collect Resources -or- Activate the Robber, Trade, and Build. It may seem like a lot of text below, but it is really intuitive, and you will pick it up quickly. I promise.
- Roll the Dice
At the start of each turn, the current player rolls two dice and adds the number.
- Collect Resources -or- Activate the Robber
Each tile with the rolled number will produce one resource for a player for each settlement they have touching it.
If a 7 is rolled, the robber is activated. Each player with 8 or more resource cards in hand must discard half, rounded down. If you have 9, you would discard 4. Then, the current player must move the robber from its current tile and place it on a different tile. While the robber is there, that tile will not produce resources when its number is rolled. In addition, the current player gets to randomly take one card from one player with a settlement (or city) touching that tile. If there are 2 or more players available, the current player picks one.
After rolling, the current player may trade their resources with any other player. For instance, if you have 2 lumber you could offer to trade 1 of your lumber for 1 of another player’s brick. Then that player or any other player could make you a counteroffer. This can last as long as the current player wants.
You can also trade with the bank at a rate of 4 of one resource for 1 of any other resource. If you have a settlement touching a 3:1 port, you can instead trade 3 of one resource for 1 of any other. There are also 2:1 ports for each resource. So if you had the sheep 2:1 port, you could trade 2 sheep for 1 of any other resource.
Once you have finished trading, you may build any number of roads, settlements, cities, and/or development cards that you can afford and legally place. (The cost of each is shown on each player’s reference sheet.)
Each player is also restricted to 5 settlements, 4 cities, and 15 roads. For instance, if you have all 5 settlement pieces out, you will not have any left to build. If you turn one into a city though, you take back the replaced settlement piece, and then you can build the settlement again somewhere else later. In addition to the limited number, there are restrictions on placement.
1. Roads can only be placed adjacent to another road you have on the board, but only 1 road can be on each edge.
2. Settlements must be adjacent to one of your roads and must be at least 2 edges away from all other settlements and cities.
3. Cities replace a settlement you control. Cities collect 2 resources from a tile they touch when that tile is rolled instead of 1.
There are multiple benefits of building, and it is the only way to gain Victory Points (VP), 10 of which are needed to win the game. Roads let you build more settlements, and the player with the longest road, at least 5 long, gets 2VP (this changes hands whenever another player’s road exceeds the length of the current holder). Settlements are worth 1VP each, cities are worth 2VP each, building them increases the amount of resources you collect, and they can give you access to ports.
Development cards are either knights, 1VP, or a one-time-use effect. Knights let you move the robber, this does not trigger discarding, but you will steal a resource. In addition, the player with the most knights, at least 3, gets 2VP (this changes hands whenever another player’s knight count exceeds the current holder). 1VP cards are the only cards that can be played the turn you build them, but they remain hidden until you have at least 10VP (including your 1VP cards). At the end of the turn you reach 10VP, reveal them all . The other cards all have interesting effects explained on the cards. Aside from the 1VP cards, only one development card may be played on your turn, but you can play it at any time on your turn.
End of Game
The game ends immediately at the end of any turn when someone has 10 or more VP. That player wins the game.
This game has seen a ridiculous amount of play around the world. It is certainly one of my most played board games (due to the online version at www.playcatan.com). The reasons for this are plenty: it is a good time length, there is enough luck that even a beginner can beat a seasoned player, the variable set up makes it interesting to play repeatedly (it has good replay value), the player conflict is not too harsh and, by targeting the player with the most points on the board, you can keep it from getting personal, and it is simply fun.
Its fun to get resources and build things. There are plenty of viable strategies: diversifying the resources you touch or focusing on one resource and relying on the related port, diversifying your numbers so you are more likely to get something every turn or focusing and relying on getting a lot of resources at once, or any number of other strategies that I do not want to spoil here.
This is a game that every “gamer” knows about, but some may have played it so much they have burnt out on it. If you are looking to get into “today’s board games” this is a good introductory “euro-game” with which to begin.