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Catan Review

catan (1)

Catan is the board game that started me on this wonderful path of cardboard counters and wooden meeples. It has and always will hold a special place in me as one of the greatest games. Let me share with you why.

How Was I Introduced?

I was first introduced to this game in 2000 by someone who was hugely in to Games Workshop games and other wargames in general. It was somewhat a surprise to see this game coming out and onto the table over our more typical games such as Necromunda, Blood Bowl or Battletech. We all gave it a go and I loved it. I found it so much fun and can still vividly remember the day. It’s hard to believe really as I cannot remember the first time I played most games, there are some I can and this is one of them because it was that good. I cannot remember if I won, I think I did and that may have influenced me, but it was just so cool and fun.

A Rules Overview

For those that have no idea what Settlers of Catan is I will provide you with a quick explanation. Catan is a fictional Island made from Hexagonal tiles. These tiles are your resources and consist of Wheat, Sheep (I know it’s pasture but in my home it is sheep), Ore, Brick and Wood with every tile containing a number (2-6 or 8-12). Everyone starts with 2 settlements and a road piece adjoins each of your starting settlement. Settlements are placed in turn by each player and then you go. Roll 2 dice and gather resources to then trade and build more settlements, roads, cities or purchase development cards. The first to 10 victory points is the winner. There is a little more to it with multiple strategies available to achieve your 10VP’s, but this in essence is it.

There are also expansions to the base game, I love the oil expansion. Such a cleaver addition. There are also standalone settlers games that are Game of Thrones themed and Star Trek themed to name a couple. Not to mention the countless rereleases of the great game, now up to this 2015 edition.

The Critics

I’ve read some blogs that have been highly critical of this pioneering board game. The game was made in 1995 and some recent articles have slammed it for being dated with limited opportunity that can keep some players out of the game. The expansions also offering no improvement to what has been described as a poor game with nothing to see after a couple of games. I couldn’t disagree more with this as I love the familiarity with the game and the nostalgia for me and the fun memories evoked whilst still being a challenge to win each time it comes out. The board starting layout is never the same, the random dice roll for resource draws is never then the same and player approach is then influenced by the circumstances presented.

Our Love Of Catan

I have introduced this game to people more than any other game. Why? It is a perfect gateway game in my mind and incredibly easy for me to teach. I know my friends have then gone on to buy the game for themselves and that is testament to the positive gaming experience Catan still supplies. I always try and demonstrate some basic strategy early on in the learning. This is so the new players have an idea of what to do. After the first game where they have fully grasped the rules they immediately want another game because they recognise how to better the start. That’s how quick this game is to understand and then it really gets fun and competitive.

My wife, brother and I had the game out just over this Christmas in 2022 and it was as fun now as it had been the first time I played, except we all know the game inside out and there is no deceiving anyone about what is happening (or so I thought). I had the opportunity to place the first settlement in the game and I actually never like this, don’t know why but it doesn’t sit well. However, I identified a strategy whereby I got good numbers on starting resources and close to the wood port. My opposition played their pieces leaving me the last settlement to place which actually left me with another opportunity of good numbers on resources near another 2 for 1 port, but no wheat. I thought this should do nicely and work well, especially as my brother and wife missed what I was looking to do. With the way the numbers came out I fell behind on the VP’s and I was being severely mocked. It wasn’t looking good. I then got my foothold on the game, I got my ports and all of a sudden, I was steaming back into contention. What worked in my favour is my wife and brother had got locked into a battle over competing for the longest road (and the 2VP’s attached to that). This allowed me a little time and I came back enough to take the victory. What was more incredible was my wife who played her turn after me had a winning play for her next turn, then my brother also had a winning play after that if he had got one more turn. It was that close! You cannot beat that level of excitement and intensity, it doesn’t always go this way. Sometimes 1 player will totally dominate purely from the chance of the dice rolls as they come up each turn. But isn’t this what makes a game, that random chance element? I’ve also seen games where someone appears to dominate early and then just stagnate and almost stop because their numbers stop appearing. It’s unfortunate but isn’t that the same for any game with dice, the dice can go against you?

It’s also been a brilliant game in our house for providing some wonderful one lines and innuendo. The classic line from my wife as I was explaining the rules to friends “Don’t trade with him (me), he’s up to something”. You would think that obvious in a game where I am trying to trade resource to better my position. We had long cottoned on to the sheep and wood jokes way before The Big Bang Theory featured the game on their show. How wonderful was this to see also for all us board gamers. The Big Bang guys had long focused on either console games or Dungeons and Dragons. I couldn’t believe how much of a feature they made of Catan, I was equally stunned and falling about with laughter in the same moment. It was wonderful to see and also highlight how popular the game is as well as our hobby of board games.

Final Thoughts

Catan always has been and always will be one of the greatest board games within my collection. It’s a perfect game to introduce new players to the hobby and also a wonderfully familiar game that provides much enjoyment every time it is opened up. The basic game is wonderful and the expansion only enhance the experience, or a theme makes for a wonderful adaptation. It is simple to learn and just the best introduction to our wonderful hobby of board gaming.

This blog was written by David Ireland.

Editors note: This post was originally published on 21st April 2023. Updated on 11th April 2024 to improve the information available.

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