Players: 3 to 4 (up to 6 with expansion)
Game Length: 60-120 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 3-4 players who want to build up a colony, with plenty of negotiation and arguing!
If you’ve been involved in boardgaming at all in the past decade or two, chances are good you’ve heard of Catan. Released in 1995 as Settlers of Catan and rebranded in 2015, Catan is the quintessential game of the modern boardgame movement. In Catan, players are tasked with colonising an island, gathering resources to build settlements and roads while racing to beat their opponents to the most lucrative locations.
The game starts with each player placing two settlements in the intersections between the board’s hexagonal tiles. At the start of each player’s turn, two dice are rolled and the sum of these dice indicate which tiles on the board produce resources. These resources are used to build all manner of developments and grow the island’s population. Settlements and cities are worth victory points, and once a player has amassed 10 victory points, they win the game!
What has made Catan such an enduring classic is the way that it engages all players even when it’s not their turn. It does this by granting resources on almost every roll of the dice, and allowing players to trade resources freely on their turn. At the same time, everyone is thinking about the puzzle on the board – where should they next build a settlement, how many resources do they need to do it, and who might beat them to the punch? This creates an engaging atmosphere that keeps players negotiating and arguing all game long – especially when a 7 gets rolled, and the Robber makes his appearance!
While Catan certainly has wide appeal, there are some valid criticisms of the game. As resources are granted by a roll of the dice, it’s entirely possible (and indeed, common) for some players to be starved of resources while others are raking them in. This is compounded by the way that early expansion is rewarded with both victory points and income; it can be difficult to prevent a runaway leader from dominating the game if the dice happen to swing in their favour, and frustrating for those whose numbers never come up.
Catan plays best with 3 or 4 players, and a 5-6 player expansion is also available, increasing the size of the island. Be aware that with 4 or 6 players, the island can become cramped – it’s possible for a player to become completely locked in and effectively eliminated from the game. Once you can play the base game, a number of expansions are also available, opening up a range of different strategies.
Catan has stood the test of time and is certainly worth checking out if you’re just starting to discover board games. So long as your gaming crew can avoid the obvious ‘wood for sheep’ jokes, you’re sure to find a lot to enjoy on the isle of Catan!