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The 500 Greatest Things Ever: #17 Settlers of Catan

February 13, 2010

Do board games count as pop culture? I’m not 100% sure, but I know that Settlers of Catan is one of the most enjoyable activities ever devised by man. In an age where games are largely played with an expensive console or computer and our multiplayer experiences put us together with people flung out across the world it is refreshing to gather together with an actual group of present human beings and play an old fashioned board game. And old fashioned it is. Catan doesn’t have a lot of flashy gimmickry or awkwardly worked in electronic devices; it’s just fun.

For the uninitiated the best way I can describe the game is this: it’s sort like a weird version of Risk, except the point isn’t to fight anyone. The point is to develop your own successful community on the newly discovered, titular island Catan. As you develop new settlements, expand them to cities, and build roads you gain points. Once a pre-determined number of points is reached by someone that player wins. The gameplay is based around strategizing which course of development to take while trying to stifle the development of others. However you both need to work against your opponents as well as with them, as trading resources with the other players is an integral part of the game.

I was introduced to the game sometime in the past six months by some friends and since then I played it as often as possible. I have spread the game on to other friends and watched as they’ve grown to love it and spread it amongst their friends and families. In a half a year’s time I can count over 25 people I’ve played Catan with. I doubt I’ve played Monopoly with 25 different people in my entire life. I’m not sure if the game is a huge phenomena outside my circles of friends, but I occasionally mention it on Facebook only to have several people I didn’t know play make comments that they love the game. Catan fever: catch it!

The stakes were raised when my friend Alan (whose ex is directly attributable for introducing the game into the lives of me and my friends) bought the expansion Cities and Knights of Catan. C&K takes the basic principles that worked in Catan and adds a whole bunch of intricate layers and rules that creates a much different game experience by adding several new tracks to victory. The true measure of success in Catan is how well you can develop a long term strategy and how malleable you are to change when your strategy is blocked by someone else. The beauty of Cities and Knights is the way it feels like Catan while changing so much.

I soon picked up the next expansion Traders and Barbarians of Catan which differs from C&K in that it isn’t a singular set of rule changes and new aspects of gameplay, but rather 5-6 different rule variations and scenarios you can add to the other versions of the game. By adding or subtracting these variations with the original Catan as well as Cities and Knights you can essentially play the same game with dozens of different flavors. This makes the game feel fresh constantly, even when you go back to basic game and rules. (For anyone in the know about Catan and curious what my favorite version I’d have to go with Cities and Knights while including the harbormaster card and the Fisherman of Catan set which are both from Traders and Barbarians).

There’s one more addition to the game out there: Seafarers of Catan which I will pick up soon. I’ve been holding off so I can enjoy all the versions available to me now before adding a new wrinkle.

Anyway, here’s some pictures of custom Catan boards people have made. If I were a craftier person I think I’d try to make something like one of these.



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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 1:23 pm

    This is perhaps the most honest and accurate thing I have read all year. Wait, I’m checking to make sure… Yes. Yes it is. God I love Settlers of Catan.

  2. February 15, 2010 7:19 pm

    Hi Tim.

    I had a very nice email written to you with a coupon so you could try out the Catan Online World, compliments of the website, but the mail failed 😦

    However, if you care to respond, I can forward that very same email to you and you can enjoy a month of premium service at http://www.playcatan.com absolutely free, just for having written such nice things about the game.

    Write me – jimplane@catan.com – and I’ll forward that mail to you.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Jim Plane

  3. Mike Petrucelli permalink
    February 16, 2010 10:15 am

    Seafarers gives the sheep a little more to do later in the game. We received Settlers as a wedding present many, many years ago (in the 90s, the stone age) and have enjoyed it (and many other European and Euro-style board games) ever since. One year at GenCon, my wife had the idea of getting Klaus Teuber to autograph our desert hex. It is treasured.

  4. Nik permalink
    February 16, 2010 10:49 am

    The giant board in the 3rd photo is owned by Mayfair Games (who distributes it in North America). Mayfair takes that board to all the major gaming conventions, I can’t tell which convention that photo was from but stop by during GenCon Indi for a chance to see it yourself. I also have photos of other fan-created boards (giant or otherwise) including pieces made from wood.

    Welcome to Euro-style games, there’s many more out there as good as Settlers, give them a chance!

  5. Chris Funk permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:40 am

    Nik, exactly right and I love playing on it every time I go to GenCon and Origins. And I also wanted to second your comment on the plethora of European style games that one must only look for to discover. Or spend some time on http://www.boardgamegeek.com.

    I bought the 3D treasure chest about 2 years ago and it’s one of my favorite games in my collection. Just a gorgeous set. You may consider picking it up. Yes, it is expensive but if you like Cities & Knights that much, it’s got that expansion built in. I’ve found they’re getting a bit rarer to find lately, though…

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