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Board Games With OB #25: The Settlers of Catan

Yes. The classic. For the 25th edition of Board Games With OB, we're talking about a legend. We're talking about the game.

If you ask any board gamer "What is the game that got you into board gaming?" it's likely a big chunk of them are going to say "Catan". The American board game hobby was pretty much dead until The Settlers of Catan made its way from Germany in 1995. It's fair to consider this game the board game George Bailey. Maybe you've played it so much you've tired of it. But, if it hadn't come along and drawn in the hordes it did, what games never would have become?

So, let's examine a true forebearer of the modern board game field: The Settlers of Catan.


Game: The Settlers of Catan
Players: 3 or 4
Gametime: 90 minutes
Designer: Klaus Teuber (Germany)
Mechanics: Set collection, civilization building, player trading

Story: A new, fertile island has been discovered. As in any new discovery, a bunch of settlers have come to this new island, called Catan. As one of these groups of settlers, you must best harvest and exchange resources with other settlers in order to be the most successful in this new land.

What do you do?: A game of Catan begins by first creating the board. The board is made up of 19 hexagonal tiles, which compose the island of Catan. Each of the tiles displays which of the game's 5 resources it will produce — wheat, wood, brick, ore or sheep. One of the tiles is the desert, which will not be producing resources during the game. On top of each tile is placed a token that designates numbers between 2 and 12 (exception: no tokens show 7), which will be used to indicate what tiles generate resources on each turn. In addition, the robber (you're going to hate this guy) is placed in the desert.


Once the board is set up, players begin the game by placing two settlements and two roads along the board. Settlements are placed on the points of the tiles, while roads are placed along the edges. When each player places their second settlement, they will receive resource cards that correspond to the tiles that touch that settlement. In other words, if a player places a settlement on a spot that is on the point of a brick, wood and wheat tile, they get a brick card, a wood card and a wheat card. OK, settlements placed? Time to play ball...er, Catan. YOU KNOW WHAT I FUCKING MEANT.


A turn of Catan proceeds as follows: On your turn, you roll two dice. See what turns up, then see what tiles on the board have tokens that are the same number as what you rolled. Anyone who has a settlement on a point of those tiles gets a corresponding resource card. You can then do a few things: You can offer trades of resource cards with other players. You can use the resource cards to build things, or buy a development card. You get to do all these things as many times as you can or want, then the turn moves on to the next player.

So, let's talk about building things and buying development cards. As the Million Dollar Man used to say, "Everyone's got a price. Everyone's going to pay.":

Road: Building a road requires a payment of one wood and one brick. You have to place your road segments adjacent to one of your other road segments or a settlement. Building roads serves two purposes: First, it's going to allow you to place more settlements, since any settlements have to be at least two spaces away from any settlements already placed, and there's also the ability to claim the Longest Road, which will be talked about later.


Settlement: In addition to the settlements you placed at the beginning of the game, you're also able to place additional settlements during the game by paying a cost of one wheat, one wood, one sheep and one brick. As mentioned previously, you have to build settlements where they connect to the roads you've built and have to be at least two spaces away from any other settlement. Good because, obviously, settlements help you obtain resources, and also are worth victory points.

City: Another option is to take you mere settlement and upgrade it to a city. This requires three grain and two ore. Pricey, yes. But, there are two rewards for a city: First, instead of getting one resource card when an adjacent tile generates resources on a dice roll, you get two cards. Also, it's worth more victory points than a settlement, which is always a good thing.


Development cards: Purchasing a development card costs one grain, one ore and one sheep. These cards could be a number of different things. It could be a knight, which is useful for a couple of different reasons we'll discuss shortly. It could be a victory points. It could be free road building. It could be a couple of other things. All of which are fucking awesome.

So, at this point, let's talk about that asshole robber. The robber comes into play whenever someone rolls a 7 for their dice roll. When that happens, the robber starts fucking with people. First off, anyone who has more than seven resource cards in their hand must immediately discard half of their hand. Next, whoever rolls the seven gets to move the robber to any tile on the board. Once that's done, the player then gets to pick one of the player who has a settlement or city touching the tile the robber has moved to and takes one of the cards from their hand for themselves. And if that's not enough, that tile can't generate resources as long as the robber is on it. Is the robber on a wood tile with a 9 token? Did someone just roll a 9? TOUGH SHIT NO WOOD FOR YOU. In addition to rolling a seven, the robber can be moved by playing a Knight card acquired from the development card deck.


Also needing to be talked about is the trading process. As was already mentioned, you're allowed to negotiate trades with other players. But if that's not proving fruitful, there's also the last-ditch option of negotiating a trade with the bank. It's last-ditch because it's fucking expensive: You have to trade in four identical resource cards to obtain one card of a different resource from a bank. But an option to alleviate that pain is through the use of ports. Some of the coastal locations are ports. By placing a settlement here, you can receive some more favorable costs in bank resource trades. Some of the ports reduce the 4-to-1 exchange rate down to a 3-to-1, while others reduce the price to 2-to-1 for a specific resource. The trade-off is that these are coastal spaces, and settlements placed there will not have the same amount of opportunity to generate resources as inland settlements.


How to taste sweet, sweet victory: The goal of Settlers of Catan is to be the first to secure 10 victory points. There are five ways points are scored:

  • Settlement: Each settlement is worth one point.
  • City: Each city is worth two points.
  • Victory Point cards: These are bought from the development card deck. Each card is worth one point.
  • Longest road: The first player to build a road five segments long receives the Longest Road card, worth two points. However, this card can be taken by another player who builds a longer road. So, say Joan has built a five-segment-long road, then Julie gets a sixth segment on her road, Joan then hands over the Longest Road card and its two points to Julie...that bitch.
  • Largest army: This works just like the Longest Road. Also worth two points, it's obtained through playing the Knight cards from the development card deck. First player to play three Knight cards gets the Largest Army card, anyone who comes along and plays more Knights gets to take the card.

So, what makes this game awesome?

  • For how much is going on in Settlers, it happens at a pace easy enough to where the game is fairly simple to grasp. That's why it's long been a popular choice for introducing people to board gaming.
  • Like any good Euro, it offers a number of different paths to victory, that can be acted on simultaneously. While a couple of players are off building the Catan Interstate System or going full-on military, another player can be establishing a sheep exportation empire to try and secure victory.
  • Social interaction is rampant and necessary. Even if you're not the one rolling the dice, you're still involved in the game through trying to decide if that brick-for-ore trade being asked for is really worth your while.
  • "Wood for sheep." Always funny.

Variety is the spice of life: Because it's been out for so long, Catan has so. Many. Expansions. Seriously, go to BoardGameGeek. Your head will explode. I can't even cover them here.


Other ways to play: I highly recommend the Catan app, available for both iOS and Android. It even offers versions utilizing expansions like Cities & Knights and Seafarers without having to pay extra for them.

What others had to say: As a special thank-you to putting up with 25 of these posts now, I asked the Hivemind for their thoughts on Catan. You had some...interesting shit to say, that's for sure. A few favorites:

  • "Ahem. My thoughts: AAAAAAAAAH I LOVE THAT GAME AAAH." -Pteridophyta
  • "Everybody loves sheep, sheep go baaaaaaaaaa* *Actually Kyosuke's HS senior quote. No one got it." -Kyosuke
  • "One night, I played a strip version of said game. (If the robber successfully steals something from you, he also steals an article of clothing.) There was a lot of wine involved and one of my sheep tiles is stained. Anyway, during the drunken debauchery, the guy that I was dating decided that they aren't ordinary sheep, they are "wide-assed sheep" and he only has wood for wide-assed sheep. And then the guy with too much clothing on started playing the soldier on himself." - Petticoat Despot

Watch it in action: For your viewing pleasure, here's Settlers of Catan being played during Season 1 of TableTop.

One last note: Again, thanks for putting up with 25 of these. I promise to get back to slightly more obscure shit next time.


Board Games With OB is a somewhat profane feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

Previous Board Games With OB:[Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter] [Can't Stop] [The Red Dragon Inn] [Dominion] [King of Tokyo] [Pandemic] [Spyrium]


Images via BoardGameGeek

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