Settlers of Catan: Practically Perfect in Every Way

I have a confession to make. I am a Settlers of Catan junkie. I realized this only the other day, when I found myself playing an online version of Settlers at 5:15 a.m., cup of coffee gripped in my left hand.

For those who don’t already know (and if you do, you will understand my addiction) Settlers of Catan is a board game designed by Klaus Teuber. It was a winner of Germany’s Spiele des Jahres (Game of the Year) award, and even now, more than ten years later, it still stands as one of the most engaging and playable board games ever invented.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that to win at Settlers necessitates both skill and luck. Players must build villages and cities, which may be connected by segments of road, at the intersections of the hexagonal tiles that comprise the playing board. These hexes represent different raw materials, and are laid down randomly but in a pre-ordained pattern that represents the island of Catan. The small round number tiles representing the dice roll results are then placed randomly on each of the land mass hex tiles (except that which represents the desert.) The board is, then, different each and every time you play the game. Upon each roll of the dice, any player whose settlement or city touches a hex whose number is rolled harvests one (for a village) or two (for a city) of the appropriate resource.

Some numbers are statistically more likely to be generated (six and eight); some resources are inherently more rare and more useful (ore, which is needed for building more cities). Trading, either between players or between players and the bank, is almost always necessary in order to acquire the resources that one needs in a timely manner. The standard rate of exchange demanded by the bank is a punishing four-to-one; players are free to negotiate any rate they choose in trading between themselves. There are also “port” hexes to be found on the perimeter of Catan, where goods may be traded to the bank at rates of three-to-one or better.

Further, there is a devilish wrinkle to the game, in that when a seven is rolled, each player in whose hand there are more than seven cards must surrender half of them back to the bank. The person who rolled the seven then may deploy the figure known as the “robber” to the hex of his choice; it renders the hex unproductive for the duration of its stay. Placed right, it can rob a front-runner of his lead and force him to watch helplessly as his opponent scores a come-from-behind victory.

Settlers of Catan is a game that can be played over and over again without players losing interest. When you are ready for more challenge, however, there are both player expansions, to allow five or six players, and thematic expansions such as Cities and Knights of Catan and Seafarers of Catan. Each of these subtly changes the game, adding extra depth and complexity when you are ready for it.

And soon, we’ll have the Settlers Card Game for two players back in stock after a lengthy period out-of-print…..

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