Settlers of Catan: A Review

Note: Settlers of Catan is more than 20 years old. There are multiple expansions and additions you can add to game to change the flavor, player count, and strategies. In this review I’m only going to write about the base game, Settlers of Catan.  

Settlers of Catan is a classic 3-4 player resource management game in which players settle the wild lands of Catan which are rich in natural resources like sheep, wood, ore, brick, and wheat. The game board is made up of individual hexagon-shaped tiles, each representing a different land type, each producing one of the aforementioned resources. Each land hex is assigned a number (2-12) and when that number is rolled players who have built on the intersections of that number receive one or more matching resources, regardless of who’s turn it is. Players can then use these resources to expand their holdings, building roads and new settlements, upgrading settlements to cities, building armies…

Settlers of Catan has seen the success of multiple reprints; each version is different in style and appearance. I have the 3rd or 4th edition, in which the components (similar across all editions) are good, not great. All land hexes, number tiles, and frame pieces are all made of relatively thin cardboard. My frame pieces are bent and have crease lines; these don’t affect game play, but it doesn’t look very nice. The player pieces are of high quality and are thick cardboard for the references and wood for the pieces. The cards aren’t the best or the worst, but they do sell replacement cards, if yours get that bad (I’ve had my copy for more than 5 years and haven’t had to replace my (unsleeved) cards yet). The box has held up well over the years and the insert is actually helpful (I hate it when a great game comes in packaging that’s less than ideal – this one doesn’t!).                  

The rules detail basic set-up for new players, but because of the layered modular board players can assemble an infinite number of varying set-ups ensuring you will never experience the same game twice. Some of the most interesting games I’ve played have come out of ideas like “What if we set up the board like this?” or “Let’s make the island shaped like a crescent.” or “What would happen if we created two islands connected by a narrow land bridge?” My point is – you can build your island of Catan however you like, and each set up will change the game and affect the way you play.  

The ability to create such diverse setups stems from the many interchangeable pieces and while this lends the game one of its greatest strengths it also adds a bit of time to the setup/cleanup process. More pieces = more set up, more clean up. Inexperienced players, or players attempting a particular setup, will spend at least 15 minutes setting up the game. Expect to play for at least an hour and as long as 3 (though most games I’ve played take about 2 hours).          

Settlers of Catan supports for 3-4 players and I think it’s at its best with 3. As players expand their territories the board will fill up with pieces and with 4 players the space disappears quickly and things become cramped – not just spatially but mechanically too. There may be some advantage for trading in a 4-player game; more players and more resources are available for trading. However, this can also lead to some players working together to the disadvantage of another (king-making). No matter the player count this game has little to no down time between turns; players can remain engaged even when it’s not their turn – they must watch the die roll results of other players and collect their resources when numbers they’ve built on are rolled. Additionally, its advantageous to be available for trading and to pay attention to which resources are collected and which cards are played.           

I love this game. The rules are simple and easy-to-learn and the strategies are plentiful but not overwhelmingly so. The design is fun and flexible and allows endless possibilities for new and interesting gameplay. These traits make Settlers of Catan a good fit for both experienced players and players who have never played anything more complex than Monopoly. In fact, Settlers of Catan is largely recognized as the “gateway game” from simple games to more complex Euro games.

Settlers of Catan is a fun, mid-weight game with tons of replayability and lots of room for expansion. I have hundreds of games in my personal collection and this one is my favorite. Thanks for reading my review; I hope you enjoyed it! S

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