Game Review: Settlers of Catan

Gateway Into High End Board Games

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If you are into high-end board games, odds are that your path to the hobby came through Catan. Settlers of Catan is known as a gateway game, that is a game that helps people transition from Monopoly to high-end games. As a result, many people already know about this game, and stores such as Target even carry it from time to time. That being said, Settlers is one of the must-have games if you want your friends to learn the high-end games in your collection.

The story of Settlers is pretty simple, you are a colonist settling the Island of Catan, and there are resources to be had by all. In the game, you stake claim to areas, though in a differing twist you stake claim to the regions in between the game tiles. Other than this, there is not much of a story for the game. However, simplicity can be charming in a good game. You are a settler, you settle. Simple story aside, the game gets a 6 out of 10 for the story, just because there is not much “there” there.

The Simplicity of Fun

The art of Settlers is also simple, as it is with many mass-produced games. Though it is simple, that does not mean that it is not good. The simplicity of the design allows players to understand what resource they are getting as the numbers come up, which can be challenging with new players. The cards themselves have good artwork on them. The resource cards have simple pictures of the resource you are gaining, and are separated by color to assist younger players. The development cards, cards you use resources to build, have a dark ages feel to them in the pictures (but the happy part of the dark ages). The box is intriguing. Settlers gets a 7 out of 10 for its art.

The mechanics of settlers open the door to players of high-end games. While the mechanics are not overly simple, like Monopoly- roll the dice and move, Settlers is not excessively complicated, which can chase new gamers away. The game revolves around the hex tiles and your towns (which most people call houses). You place your houses at the junction of three hex tiles. Each tile has a number on it, when someone rolls the dice, if the number comes up then you get the allotted resource. The goal of the game is the collect the resources to “build” ten victory points, which can be a combination of houses, cities (big houses) and development cards. The wild card in this game is that on a roll of seven, a robber comes into play- which takes away production from a single hex tile and also allows the person who rolled the robber to steal a card from an opponent (who has a house on the hex). Also, the robber can be killer as it makes anyone with more than seven cards discard half (rounded up). The final mechanic is the roads. Roads are small sticks of wood that connect your towns. There must be two roads between a town, and they run on the joints of the hex tiles. The mechanics are simple but fun, gaining Settlers an 8 of 10 for mechanics design.

Strategy to Gain Resources

The strategy for Settlers comes down to how you want to gain your resources. Either you can race to the red numbers (6 and 8 which come up the most), or you can build on the “ports” which allow for a better exchange rate with the board. Any player at any time can trade four of the same resource card to the board for one of any resource card they need. The generic ports reduce this ratio to 3:1. If you are lucky enough to get one of the resource ports, the rate will be 2:1 (of the given resource. The other option is to build your towns and try to build development cards. This can be successful and help you with your game also. The strategy is nuanced, but not as complex as some of the more complicated games – which results in a 7 of 10 for strategy for Settlers.

Finally, we have the question of novelty. While Settling and resource manipulation are stock and standard to most games, Settlers of Catan is the granddaddy of them all, so it was one of the first to do it effectively. This means that it was novel when it came out, netting it a score of 9 of 10 on novelty. While it is not the best resource game, nor is it the most complex, Settlers of Catan gets high marks for being a leader in the mid-range games arena.

Overall, Settlers of Catan receives a solid 37 for its overall score. While this does not rank up with the leading games in the field today, there is a nostalgia that can speak for Settlers. This is a game that you need to have in your collection if gamers are going to take you seriously. While it may not be a game that you pull out with your hard-core gaming buddies every time you play, it is a great game to dust off when you have a new person playing. This can be a great game to introduce your kids, nieces, or nephews to the hobby. Settlers is a must have, because it is a gateway to people learning how to play high-end games.

Note: I play with the 5-6 player expansion, it makes the game for of a leisure game and less cutthroat. If you play the base set, it is much more aggressive and better for more developed players.

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Christopher W Smithmyer
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