Everyone should own this cult-favorite board game—here’s why
It will be the best $40 you ever spend
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My job involves researching and writing about all sorts of products—everything from dog toys to kitchen appliances—and I have to admit that I occasionally (okay, fine, regularly) end up purchasing some of the items I write about. That’s exactly how I came to own the board game Catan, and let me tell you: It was an impulse purchase that changed my life.
Am I being dramatic? Sure, but Catan is undoubtedly one of the best items I’ve discovered through work, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve turned dozens of people onto this board game, creating quite a few intense rivalries (and lots of memories, of course), and I regret absolutely nothing.
Editor's Note: Camryn convinced me to play Catan in 2018 and it's been my favorite board game since.
What is Catan?
Catan was first released in 1995, and it was originally called “Settlers of Catan.” The game was rebranded simply as Catan on its 20th anniversary in 2015, and today, the cult-favorite game is available in more than 40 languages and has sold over 32 million copies. So yeah, I’m not the only one who’s obsessed.
Statistics aside, Catan is a multiplayer “German-style” board game designed for three or four people. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, German-style games or Eurogames are generally focused on gathering resources rather than direct conflict between players.) It’s recommended for players aged 10 and up, and one game typically takes between 45 and 90 minutes to complete.
How do you play Catan?
To give you an idea of how Catan works, I’m going to give you the same spiel that I use to teach new players. (I’m not kidding when I say I’ve taught the game to dozens of people, so I kind of have the speech down pat—not to brag, or anything.)
The basic premise of the game is that you’re settlers on the island of Catan, and you’re competing against each other to see who can build their civilization the fastest. As you build your settlement and unlock achievements, you’ll earn victory points, and the first player to reach 10 victory points is the winner.
There are three ways to earn victory points in Catan. First, you can build settlements and/or cities on the board, but you have to collect the necessary resources to do so. Second, you can earn accomplishments such as the “Longest Road” and “Biggest Army,” but these accolades change hands throughout the game if someone overtakes your record. Finally, you have the option to purchase “development cards,” which may also award you victory points.
As you might have figured out by now, resources are the key to winning Catan—the more resources you have, the more you can build and/or buy. How do you get resources, exactly? Every tile of the board has a number on it, and at the beginning of every turn, the player rolls the dice. Everyone who has a settlement on a tile with the number rolled is awarded the resource depicted by the tile.
For this reason, it’s important to place your settlements strategically—you’ll want to be on tiles with varied resources, as you’ll need all five types to progress, but it’s also beneficial to build on numbers that have a higher probability of being rolled (ie. 8 comes up significantly more often than 12).
After resources are given out, the active player can then build settlements or roads, buy development cards, and even trade resources with other players, if desired. There are lots of other rules that I won’t get into—for instance, there’s a “robber” who can be used to block resource collection, as well as docks that give you better trade deals—and while it may sound confusing, it usually only takes two or three turns for new players to figure out the gameplay.
I absolutely love this game—and you will, too
Catan might not sound groundbreaking, but I promise you that it’s extremely fun and quite addicting. I introduced it to my close group of friends, and it’s become a ritual for us to play every time we get together.
We’re not the only ones who can’t get enough, either. Here’s one of the game’s 14,000+ Amazon reviews: “Beware! Don't try this unless you plan on getting addicted. Your life will forever be altered. You'll find yourself begging strangers to come over to play. Watching youtube videos to improve your game, bribing your children. Your spouse will become a tricky, sneaky person you hardly recognize.”
What makes it so special? For one, the board, which is made up of hexagon-shaped tiles, is arranged in a different layout every time you play. (The manual provides a few “easy” layouts for beginners, but as you get more confident with the game and want a challenge, the board can be laid out randomly.) The number tokens get placed randomly, as well, which can make it quite challenging to get certain resources. When this happens, you’re forced to rely heavily on alliances and trading—or find alternate routes to victory.
Speaking of which, there are numerous ways that you can earn the 10 victory points needed to win, which keeps things interesting. Some strategies, such as building settlements and cities, can be tracked by your opponents, so they know exactly how many victory points you have. However, if you choose to buy development cards, you can keep them hidden, stashing away secret victory points that can allow you to silently overtake other players. It keeps everyone on their toes, because you never really know who’s in the lead.
Of course, no board game is complete without a little bit of rivalry. Things can get intense fairly quickly in Catan, with players ganging up on each other to sabotage whoever they believe to be winning. This can be done by refusing trade deals, repositioning the robber, and cutting off their settlements from expansion—and I speak from experience when I say that grudges often carry over from previous games.
Oh, and did I mention there are expansion packs?
The base game of Catan has near endless replay value, but if you want to add even more complexity to the game, there are a number of expansion packs you can buy. Personally, I invested in the Catan Extension that lets you play with five or six people by making the game board larger. Obviously, this is great for playing with a bigger crowd, but it does extend gameplay significantly.
I’ve also purchased the Catan Seafarers expansion, which introduces boats into the game! With it, you can sail to and settle new islands—a new way to earn yourself those sweet victory points. It’s definitely fun when we want to switch things up, but I’ll admit that we still often stick with the base game alone—it’s that fun.
That’s not all, either. There are several other Catan expansion packs I have yet to purchase (“yet” being the operative word). They include:
Certain expansion packs can be layered for even more complexity, but keep in mind that if you want to play with more than four people, you’re going to need the extension pack for each expansion pack. (Got that?)
There are also other spin-offs on the game, including a Game of Thrones version, as well as Catan Starfarers, which takes place in outer space. There’s even Rivals for Catan, a two-player card game that’s perfect for date night. Basically, if you can’t get enough Catan in your life, there are plenty of ways to get your fix.
In summation: Buy Catan if you haven’t already
Basically, I think everyone needs to own a copy of Catan—while it might not have the same name recognition quite yet, it’s well on its way to becoming an all-time classic board game in the same league with Monopoly and Scrabble.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the game’s thousands of reviews—it was a 4.8-star rating on Amazon, and the vast majority of negative reviews are due to counterfeit products, not the game itself. Virtually everyone agrees it’s ridiculously fun, and unlike a lot of board games, it can be replayed again and again without getting old. Really, what’s not to love?
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