The Settlers of Catan

Mayfair Games, 1996, 3-4 players, ages 12 and up. Another popular game from Germany, in The Settlers of Catan players attempt to settle the newly discovered land of (wait for it...) "Catan". This is accomplished by building settlements, cities and roads. The goal is to earn 10 "victory points". Two points are awarded for each city you own and one point for each settlement. Additional victory points can be earned by building the longest road, mustering the largest army and purchasing "development cards".

Each turn consists of three simple phases. First, the player rolls two dice to determine which hexes on the map produce raw materials this turn. Any player who has a city or settlement adjacent to the specified hexes earns a resource card of the type produced by said hexes. Next, the player may trade resource cards. Finally, the player may purchase cities, settlements, roads or development cards - each of which costs a slightly different combination of the 5 different resource card types (iron, brick, grain, wood, and sheep). If a player rolls a seven when rolling for resource production, it means that "the robber" has struck. No resources are produced that turn and the player who's turn it is must move the robber piece to a new hex. He may elect to steal a resource card from any player who has a city or settlement adjacent to that hex and that hex no longer produces resources until such time as the robber is moved again. One of the development card types that you can purchase is a "soldier" card, which can be used to chase the robber away from hexes where you have a city or a settlement (and in turn, earn you the "largest army" card). That's pretty much it.

This game is hugely popular, which I guess you can mainly trace to its crossover appeal between hardcore gamers and more casual gamers. It's very simple to get started playing (going through the rules will take maybe 5 minutes), and once you get going there is very little need to ever rereference them. Game play is entertaining enough, I suppose, but for some reason this game (and it's many expansions) just never took hold in my group. For whatever reason, we tried this game (and the expansions) out a couple of times and then it just sat, like, for years. I'm not sure why, but it does feel like it's caught between two gaming worlds - it's not an aggressive wargame (other than the passive-aggressive robber, there isn't any interplayer conflict) so it doesn't have that going for it, and at the same time it's too simplistic for a non-wargame. Not a bad game by any means, but not one that is unique or compelling enough to have found a permanant home with us.

There are numerous expansions for this game. The "Cities & Knights" expansion is built around "barbarians" that gradually amass and attack the weakest player (or the one that has contributed the least to the collective defense). I don't know that we ever got around to trying out the "Seafarers" expanion, but basically it looks like it breaks the land up into a series of islands and adds shipping to the mix. Each of the sets has its own corresponding "5-6 player" add-on (allowing you to play with up to 6 players instead of just 4).

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