Review: Settlers of Catan

I was talking to Chris the other day and I had realized that it had been some time since I did a game review. Unfortunately my video game budget has suffered a bit recently. However, I can usually find a good reason to pick up a board game since they are more widely popular.

A month or two ago, a friend of mine brought over Settlers of Catan because he so loves it, and we played a game or two that night. I now hate his guts. Not only have I purchased the $42 main game, and a $20 5-6 player expansion set, I’ve also purchased the $5 game from the Apple App Store on the iPad. I’ll likely be buying the various campaigns available in both forms as well. This game is that addicting.

The game is reminiscent of Monopoly, in that there is a “strategic real estate” aspect to it. The normal board consists of 18 hexagons with pictures indicating which of the five resources it will give to players. Each hexagon will have a number tile between 2 and 12, which indicates which dice roll will cause the settlers on that tile to receive that given resource. Players who roll the stastically most probable roll, 7, get to move the “robber” token, which prevents resource production on the tile it is placed on.

Players are encouraged to trade their resources with each other. This is important because as hard as you might try, it is nearly impossible to get all the resources you want on your own. It is also incredibly annoying in the iPad version of the game as it is impossible to trade for any brick early in the game, or for ore and wheat late in the game. But you get those repetitive AI trade requests anyway.

At times when players are unwilling to trade, you can opt for “maritime trade” which allows a player to trade 4 of any resource for 1 of another. Or, if you have settled at a port, you might have a better maritime trade rate, such as 3 to 1, or even 2 to 1.

The standard goal is to achieve 10 victory points, which are awarded to owners of settlements, cities, large armies, and long roads. There are also “development cards” (similar to Monopoly’s chance cards, without the bad effects) which can award points. All of these require players to spend their resources to attain, so it is up to the player to determine the best way to spend their resources.

Despite there being a strong strategy aspect to the game, I’ve found that there is very infrequently a bad move to make. Based on probabilities some moves are better, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t played a game where someone won because 2 was rolled more often than perhaps 4 or 5. There is a frustrating luck aspect to the game but it only endears me to the game more. This game is as close to a gambling addiction I ever will be.

The board game points out tiles that are more probable rolls with dots on the tile, where one dot means the roll is one of the two least likely, and five meaning it is the most likely. To make the valuable five dot tiles more obvious they are also in red letters. A decent general strategy would be to try to place your settlements on vertices with the highest concentration of dots.

That being said, that isn’t necessarily the best strategy sometimes. One game I played, by chance I found myself in a position where I could quite nearly monopolize ore and wheat, and get a steady influx of sheep as well. I only had three settlements (of which I upgraded two to cities). Those familiar with the game probably realize that I would have no problem getting a ton of development cards, which netted me three victory points and the largest army, good for an additional two points.

The game board changes every time you play, so the winner in one game will have to change their strategy to win the next game. Yet another level of addictiveness: I’ve repetitively caught myself thinking that I’ll have a better situation the next game. The truth is that there can only be one winner every game, so on average four people will win 25% of the time each. If you are smart and develop great strategies, you might be able to up your average by 5%.

Replay Value
This is so important that I gave it its own section. There are so many ways you can play and the board changes every time, so the replay value is exceedingly great.

Another fun way to play is when you mess with the rules a bit. For example, instead of starting with two settlements, start with 1 settlement and 1 city. Or you don’t have to discard half your cards if you have too many when the robber is played. Just last night I invented a way to play while bowling: get a spare and draw one resource card, a strike and draw two. Player with the most points at the end of ten frames wins.

On one occasion I played on a 5-6 player expansion board with only two people. We increased the winning point total to 20 and played until we were drawing six resources each turn. It was a game just for fun. It was easy to enjoy ourselves; there was no competing over resource spots, so it was all the joys of playing without the frustrations.

I love this game.

Even though I’m (usually) frustrated with it, I love it. I would recommend it to anyone. Go buy it and invite me over for game night.

One thought on “Review: Settlers of Catan

  1. I gotta say, the game definitely doesn’t lend itself to long-term strategies. Every time I’ve had a particular goal in mind, I’ve failed because the plan got dozed by another player or I wasn’t maximizing my resources for other things. Love this game, can’t wait to play the expansions.

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