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Mastering Catan: A Beginner's Guide to the Popular Board Game

Author: Gather Together GamesTime: 2024-01-26 02:15:01

Table of Contents

Introducing The Popular Catan Board Game

Catan, originally released as The Settlers of Catan in 1995, has grown to become one of the most popular modern board games in the world. The game combines elements of strategy, luck, and social interaction as players collect resources to build settlements, cities, and roads on the island of Catan.

The objective is to be the first player to reach 10 victory points by strategically placing buildings and infrastructure. Players earn points by constructing new settlements and cities, collecting development cards, and gaining special achievement cards like Longest Road or Largest Army.

Brief History of Catan

Klaus Teuber, a dental technician from Germany, created Catan as a passion project in the early 1990s. Inspired by the Viking age, he aimed to develop a game centered around building and trade rather than conflict. The Settlers of Catan was first published in 1995 by Franckh-Kosmos Verlag. The game soon attracted a cult following in Germany and won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres prize. Its innovative mechanics and social dynamics helped popularize Euro-style board games focused on strategy over luck. As the game's fame spread globally through the 2000s, over 32 million copies have now been sold.

Objective of Catan Gameplay

The goal of Catan is to be the first player to reach 10 victory points. Players earn points primarily by building settlements (worth 1 point each) and cities (2 points each) on intersections between hexes on the modular board. Additional points can be earned through largest army and longest road achievement cards (2 points each), or by collecting victory point development cards. Simplicity of objective combined with depth of strategy is part of what makes Catan so appealing.

Assembling the Modular Catan Board

A key aspect that makes Catan unique is its modular hexagonal tile board, which allows for near-infinite replayability. Before starting a game, players must assemble the board, which includes placing terrain tiles, numbering tokens, ports, and other pieces in their starting positions.

Constructing the Board Frame

The first step is to assemble the plastic frame that holds the hexagonal tile pieces together into the island shape. The frame consists of rigid but movable plastic pieces that interlock through numbered guides. Simply match up the numbers and press the frame pieces gently together.

Randomly Arranging Terrain Hexes

Next, shuffle the 19 cardboard terrain hexes tiles together face down. These tiles depict one of 5 terrain types: hills, forests, mountains, fields, and pastures. Then one by one place the tiles face up into the frame, arranging them in a floral pattern to complete the island. The specific combination and placement of the terrains creates variability between games. Make sure the tiles fit snuly within the frame as you build the board outline.

Placing Number Tokens

Now take the 18 numbered tokens marked with letters A through R on the back sides. First arrange them in sequential order from A to R. Then place a token on each terrain hex, except the central desert hex. Going clockwise from token A in the top left corner, continue circling the outer rim of hexes first and gradually work your way inwards until all tokens are positioned. This numbered sequence drives resource production.

Adding Ports and Pieces

To complete setup, add the sea frame extensions to create harbors along the shoreline. Place a port piece on each harbor, either a generic 3:1 port or a 2:1 commodity-specific one. Finally, put the robber pawn on the numberless desert hex in the center.

Starting a New Game of Catan

Once the island of Catan board is built, a group of 3-4 players choose player pieces and prepare to populate the land. Gameplay officially starts with placing initial settlements and roads to gain those critical footholds and access resources.

Selecting Colors and Resources

Each player begins by selecting colored playing pieces - these consist of 5 settlements, 4 cities, and 15 roads. Players will also reference the building cost card anytime construction occurs. This outlines resource requirements for roads, settlements, etc. Lastly, the resource card decks are sorted into 5 stacks by type: wood, brick, ore, wheat, and sheep. Shuffle just the development cards and place them draw pile face down.

Placing Starting Pieces

The opening phase involves each player taking turns placing an initial pair of settlements and roads. The first settlement can go on any unoccupied intersection or corner point on the board edge. Each earns you one victory point! A beginning road must extend from one of your settlements. Order of placement alternates back and forth until all players have two settlements scorerd. You also gain starting resource cards from tiles touching newest settlement.

Playing a Single Turn in Catan

Gameplay occurs in a series of turns going clockwise. Each full turn comprises 3 sequential phases: Resource Production, Trade, and Building. First resources are produced based on dice rolls, then trading can occur, followed by spending resources on construction and development.

Resource Production Phase

Every turn starts with the active player rolling both 6-sided dice, resulting in totals between 2 to 12. For each terrain hex matching that number, a resource card matching that tile is awarded to any players with buildings bordering it. Settlements produce 1 resource from an adjacent tile, while cities produce 2. Resources are represented by brick, lumber, wool, grain, and ore cards. If a 7 is rolled, a special "robber" move triggers first.

Trading Resources Phase

Next comes the trading phase, where players can buy, sell, or trade resource cards amongst each other to build missing resources. Trades can involve multiple parties and even complete swaps. Players can also trade their resource cards in to "port" spaces for generic or specific commodities at more favorable rates. Having settlements/cities near ports unlocks these. The current player must be involved in any trades that occur.

Building and Development Phase

In the third phase, players spend accumulated resource cards on constructing new roads, settlements, upgrading from settlements to cities, or buying development cards. As you build across Catan you expand territory, gain points, access more resources, and work towards milestones like Longest Road and Largest Army.

Using Development Cards in Catan

Development cards offer alternative strategies beyond building settlements and roads. These cards give you special abilities including extra resources, quicker expansion, hindering opponents, or more victory points.

Types of Development Cards

There are 3 categories: Victory Point cards are held secretly and add 1 point each. Knight cards allow you to stymie opponents by moving the robber and stealing a card. Progress card power-ups have special one-time effects.

Playing Development Cards

On your turn, you can play any development once before or after resource production. Simply show the card, follow its instructions, then place Knights face-up in front of you as they work towards the Largest Army award.

Earning Major Achievement Cards

Two special achievements offer alternative ways to quickly gain points: Longest Road and Largest Army. These give significant bonuses but opponents can steal them from you!

Largest Army Card

The first player to play 3 Knight development cards earns this achievement which awards 2 extra victory points. If another player surpasses their Knight total, they immediately steal the Largest Army card.

Longest Road Card

A player who builds an unbroken road of at least 5 segments claims Longest Road, gaining 2 more points. As soon as another creates a longer road, they take over the award instead. Roads don't all need to be built in one turn, but do require careful planning as opponents will undermine your path to block longest road bonuses.

Winning the Game of Settlers of Catan

The first player to reach 10 total victory points from any combination of points sources immediately wins the game of Catan! Points predominantly come from settlements (1 point), cities (2 points), and development cards (1 point).

Alternate points can stem from the Longest Road (2 points) and Largest Army (2 points) special achievements. Once you cross the 10 point threshold by incrementally building up your civilization, that next turn you can declare victory!

Additional Rules and Variants

While the standard rules form the canonical way to play Settlers of Catan, the game offers engaging additional rules and scenarios to add more variety and choices into the mix.

Strategic Robber Placement

Normally the robber's starting point and landing location when displaced is random. A popular variant makes its placement a contested action only by the player who rolled a 7. This allows targeted blocking of opponents resource generation by covering high-probability tiles they connect to. Introduction of bad blood makes for a more competitive game!

Flexible Harbor Trading Ratios

Standard rules specify which ports connect to which specific commodities at 2:1 rates or generic 3:1 rates. However, trying assigning random commodities to the 2:1 harbors during setup. This occlusion of which ports produce what results in interesting discovery and adaptation turn-by-turn rather than hardcoded advantage. You could even optionally make all harbors generic 3:1 to force trade dependence on other players.

Random Board Configurations

Varying resource layout and access changes development pacing and viability of strategies. Try handling all board pieces face down when setting up Catan and only reveal layout incrementally. Alternative pre-designed board patterns also available. This injects more discovery and randomness into the game session.

Catan: An Engaging and Ever-Changing Board Game

For over 25 years Catan or Settlers of Catan has enthralled gamers globally with its innovative combination of hand management mechanics, route-building strategy, and player interaction in a race to establish domain over the island.

Accessible core rules combined with immense replayability through randomization and expansion content has cemented its status as a modern classic gateway into Euro board gaming.

If you enjoy strategic resource management games that emphasize skill over luck, Catan is a perfect introduction that endures the tests of time.


Q: How many players can play Catan?
A: Catan supports 3-4 players.

Q: What are victory points in Catan?
A: Victory points are earned by building settlements, cities, playing development cards, and acquiring special Longest Road/Largest Army cards. First to 10 points wins.

Q: Can you trade with the bank in Catan?
A: No, you can only trade resource cards with other players or at harbor locations.

Q: Can you build two settlements next to each other in Catan?
A: No, you must place settlements at least two vertices away from each other.

Q: What happens when you run out of resource cards?
A: If the supply of a resource card runs out, no one receives that resource when it's rolled.

Q: Can you buy multiple development cards in one turn?
A: Yes, you can buy as many development cards as you can afford on your turn.

Q: When can you play a development card in Catan?
A: You can play a development card anytime on your turn, unless you just purchased it that turn.

Q: Can you trade development cards in Catan?
A: No, development cards cannot be traded.

Q: What happens if someone builds on your longest road?
A: Your longest road is broken, and the longest road card goes to the new longest road owner.

Q: How do you win Catan?
A: By being the first player to reach 10 victory points.