Settling into Catan

Note: I’m going to blog about a series of games I consider to be “gateway” games.  That’s defined as a game that changes the dynamics somewhat between chance and skill,  that is not as mainstream as Risk or Monopoly, but enough people play it that it is more than niche.  I’ve identified 6 games.  Originally this was going to be one post but I’m too lazy to write that much in one spell, so a series it is!

Note 2: If you’ve seen this before, apologies.  It disappeared last night.

Settlers of Catan is probably the best known of the classics.  It is one of the “Holy Trinity,” consisting of itself, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne.  We’ll get to those in a second.  What makes Catan so immensely cool is that – despite its reputation as a “Eurogame” 1 – it is really more Risk than Chess. Your lives are ruled by the dice. Here’s the scoop: You need to build cities and settlements to win. To build those, you roll the dice. If you (or anyone else) happen to have a city/settlement next to the area which contains the number you rolled, then that city/settlement produces that resource. Obviously, there is some strategy – you need to know odds that you are more likely to get a 6,7, or 8 than a 2 or 12 when rolling 2 dice. So you know which ones are more valuable. But what if you’ve got a lot of iron ore (one type of resource) but no wood? What then? Well, you trade with other players (or seaports, but let’s ignore that dynamic for simplicity sake)

Catan Board

And that’s the other similarity to Risk. When one player gets ahead in Risk, what happens? The other players gang up to take him down. In Catan, this is achieved by not trading with the leading player. If you’re close to victory, you’ll suddenly find yourself frozen out from resources others have.

Look, this game is fun. Frustrating? Yes, if the dice aren’t kind, but fun nontheless. It had sold 15M copies by 2009 and has spun a host of line extensions and expansions. It’s perfect for families with kids older than 8. It can be played with at least three people and can be set up quickly. As an aside, I highly recommend these officially sanctioned Settlers of Catan boards.  They represent the best of what Kickstarter is about 2 and enhance the playing of this great game. You can see it up above in the picture. It eliminates that scourge of games known as board shift.


  1. Eurogames is a term for games that mostly have originated in Germany, are more abstract in nature, and have fairly simple rules. They generally change the dynamic from chance to skill or strategy as the pertinent factor for success. 
  2. Which means of course that I’ve also experienced the worst of Kickstarter. But that’s another post. 

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