Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

The Settlers of Catan: Explore the Possibilities

The Settlers of Catan: Explore the Possibilities

Welcome to Catan. For those of you who have never been, prepare yourselves for a land of new possibilities. For those of you returning, I trust that you will find this place to be comforting and familiar and will remind you of your very first voyage. For Catan is a place of new ideas which can show you how vast and unexplored the realm of board gaming really is.
The Settlers of Catan is nothing less than a phenomenon in the board game world. Over the last few years this Eurogame has risen in popularity so much that it can now often be found on mass market shelves with the likes of such gaming giants as Monopoly, Clue, and Battleship. It has legitimized board games again for those who may have previously dismissed them as childish. Catan has also been clearing a path for other similar games, such as Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride to find their way into the mainstream as well.
The funny thing about Settlers of Catan is that a brief description of what the game is about makes it sound incredibly dull and boring. A game where you collect resources like wheat and use them to build roads and settlements? Yet the moment new players begin to play they understand the enthusiasm of those who introduced it to them. Not since Monopoly in the thirties has one game captured the attention of both serious and casual gamers alike.

The mechanics of Catan revolve around growing your colony by building roads, settlements and cities. You are able to build these by collecting and spending resources such as wheat, wood, rock, etc. The location of your settlements determines which resources you will collect. Different areas of land on the island will produce different resources. These resources can be spent or traded among players, providing a negotiating and interactive element to the game.
Catan uses the mathematical probabilities of dice pairs here to nice effect as each area of the island is assigned a number between two and twelve. Throughout the game players roll a pair of dice to determine which of these areas of land will produce resources on that turn. This allows different areas to be more productive than others as a 6 or an 8 is more likely to be rolled than a 2 or a 3.
The game is regulated by a point system which will eventually determine the winner of the game. Points can be won in a number of ways, including building more settlements and cities, having the longest road, or collecting cards which give you free points. The first person to reach ten points is declared the winner. This point system allows for a game where no one is eliminated, like in Risk, and reduces the possibility of one player running away with victory without being caught, like in Monopoly.

The most obvious feature of Catan are the terrain hexes which make up the island board. Nineteen of these six-sided pieces are shuffled and pieced together in circular fashion to create the island, allowing for a different board each time you play. These terrain hexes denote forests, pastures, hills, mountains, etc. which correspond to the different resources. These hexes allow to unique settlement placements and high variability in the playing surface.
The settlements, cities and roads are represented by tiny wooden pieces which are beautiful in their simplicity. The wood gives them a different feel than plastic would and seems to give more weight and credibility to the game. The resources are denoted with cards which players can hold and trade and allow for easy interactions.

I believe that there are three reasons for Catan’s success and which explain why people everywhere flock towards it. Catan is easy-to-learn despite having mechanics which are different than most people have seen. These mechanics also allow for high interaction between players through resource trading. The land hexes also allow for variability so that you never have to play with the same board twice, a prospect which is refreshing and attractive to many people. The third reason is the quick gameplay based on the point system, which frees the game from a long-drawn out ending and player elimination. With games usually taking 45 minutes, several different games can be played in one evening.
The Settlers of Catan gives a whole new experience to casual gamers and allows more seasoned gamers a chance to reflect and look back on Catan as a turning point or board games. Catan is a familiar friend which I consider my favourite board game of all time. It has captured the imaginations for gamers everywhere, both old and new. The unique elements of Catan make it the perfect candidate to be the new standard bearer for board game world.


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