A Beginners Guide to Catan

Formerly known as Settlers of Catan, this icon of the board game world only seems to gain popularity with each successive year. Like any good board game, it has spawned all manner of expansion packs and spin-offs along the way, as well as a host of games emulating its style. It's hard to believe that the game is only 25 years old. And like Chess, the game is highly strategic, the range of moves innumerable but the rules are easily mastered.

Setting up

Catan is simple to set up, and you will find yourself playing almost straight away. Many games are decided within an hour of play, so it is perfect for those nights when you don't want to commit to a long session. It is possible to play with two players but three is better, and four is the optimum number to unlock the real fun of the game's more interactive charms.

There are various rule variants and expansion packs available to keep the game exciting once you have mastered the basics, the latest change being those that bring the game into line with current lockdown restrictions. Boardgame sessions are often gatherings of people from more than one household, and as noted above, the optimum number of players for Catan is three of four.

To enable you to keep enjoying the game, you will find "we stay home" rule variants available to download, which add some spice to a two-player game and make up for the reduced social interaction. There are also sites which offer the chance to play virtually, via mobile phones, zoom calls and laptops. You will still need a board to play on but your opponents can be kept at a very safe distance.

Welcome To Catan

Catan takes place on a deserted island, one which is perfect for colonisation. The Island of Catan is made up of six terrain types which generate five resources from which you can start to build your Empire. If you control an area of Hills, you get Brick, Pasture allows you to produce Wool, Mountains gives you Ore, Fields reaps Grain and Forest grants you Lumber. As might be expected, Deserts don't produce anything.

How you use the resources that you generate from your lands is up to each player. What needs to be borne in mind, however, are the Victory conditions. To win the game, you need to be the first player to generate 10 Victory Points (VP).

Generating Victory Points

One of the great aspects of Catan is that it suits all styles of play and you can get to those 10 Victory Points in a way which best suits your personality.

Building settlements requires Grain, Lumber, Wool and Brick, which generates 1 VP towards your goal. These can expand into cities, which generate more points but which also eat up more resources.

As your Empire expands, you will need to link those settlements together with roads. The player with the Longest Road gains 2 VPs. 

If you like to play more aggressively, you can use the Knight Cards to build the Largest Army, also giving you 2 VP.

There are also Development and Progress cards which bestow benefits to help you achieve Victory conditions. Think of these as random bonuses and technological break-throughs which help your empire forge ahead.

Land Grabbing

Whichever way you chose to head towards victory, you can't do it without generating plenty of resources. To do that you need to conquer and control areas of terrain. These are hexagonal tiles which are laid out to form the Island of Catan. Another aspect which makes the game different each time you play is that those hex tiles are distributed randomly. This means that Catan is a world created anew every time you play.

And nor is the number of resources generated by the terrain you control fully predictable either. Each terrain tile has a value, between 2 and 12. Every turn 2 dice are rolled and whichever tile matches the resulting number generates resources for the settlement found there. This is a crucial part of the game, causing the dynamics of play to constantly shift between the players. One might be blessed with bountiful harvests as another is paralysed by dwindling resources. 

The Art of the Deal

This then brings us the heart of the game. What if you don't have access to one much-needed resource and a rival player has a similar problem with a different resource. You do what all good colonists would do. You trade. But, of course, you have to be careful. Trading may give you what you need but it is helping an opponent move nearer victory too. 

It is at this point that Catan becomes a two-layered game. One of strategy and expansion on the ground and a charm offensive as you batter, trade, con and convince opponents that they are getting a good deal.

In A Nutshell

There are a few more twists and turns to be found in the rules but in a nutshell, the game boils down to a few simple strategies. Build settlements, harvest the adjoining lands, connect your holdings with roads, trade, fight and get your 10 VP before anyone else.

Although there are dice rolled every turn, the game is hugely strategic. Luck might play a role but skill is what is important here.

Good luck, happy trading and may your Empire thrive.