Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Settlers of Catan

Today I am covering one of the most famous boardgames of the last two decades, The Settlers of Catan. This game is considered by many to be single-handedly responsible for the uptick in boardgame play in the U.S. over the last fifteen years or so. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but I do feel that the current popularity of "euro" games would have been muted without the breakway success of Settlers, a German design. Catan is also one of only a handful of games that have successfully broken out of the "hobbyist" market that most board games are sold to, selling millions of copies around the world.

So, how is the game actually played? The basic gist of the game is that you are trying to develop the island, and are competing with the other players to develop the fastest. Every player starts out with two settlements and two road sections. Every round you collect resources and try to build more roads and settlements. You can also upgrade settlements to cities. The last thing you can do is buy special cards that will either give you special abilities or give you victory points.

The basics of play are simple, but there is a lot of strategic depth to the game. First, the playing board is made of a bunch of different hexagonal tiles, which are randomly laid out. Each tile represents a type of terrain, most of which produce resources of some kind or contain a port where you can trade resources with the bank. The non-water tiles will have a number on them (with one exception), and then on every player's turn two dice are rolled to produce a number, and all tiles with that number produce their resources. If a player has a settlement or city next to that tile, then they get to gather those resources. That is pretty simple, but it is a total race to get settlements in place around resource tiles before another player cuts you off, as there are spacing requirements around settlements. You can also use roads to cut off access to parts of the board, as new settlements must be built on your roads, and only one player can have a road in any specific section. Thus, play can get pretty intense, and the initial placement of settlements and roads is usually critical to eventual success or failure.

Settlers is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and they are currently on the 4th printing of the game. I actually have the original Mayfair version of the game, which admittedly is a bit worn, but it still works. The only real problem with the game is that it is for three or four players only. They sell an expansion that allows up to six players to play the game, but I have never played with it. I can't say that I am really good at this game, but I can usually hold my own and be competitive. If you have not played strategy games before, and are looking for a relatively inexpensive game to try out to see if you will like them or not, Settlers is a good game to try.

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