52 Family Game Nights: Settlers of Catan

The time has come in this series to mention a game that is deeper and more complicated than the others I’ve mentioned so far. But it is well worth owning and playing.

family game night settlers board game

Family Game Night #7: Settlers of Catan

Settlers fits in the Euro Games category. I asked my husband to explain that concept and why your family will want to branch out into this type of game:

Since its publication in 1995 Settlers of Catan has sold over 18 million copies, entering the cultural mainstream and ushering in a modern board game renaissance. While classic American board games such as Monopoly and RISK have been extraordinarily successful, they suffer from some notable weaknesses. Classic American games often feature long playing times, player elimination, direct confrontation, boring down-time, high doses of luck, and unfriendly, often destructive, themes.

Catan and other German-style games presented a stark difference to these older stand-bys.

family game night settlersCatan illustrates much of what the new “eurogames” have to offer. First, modern family games typically take less than an hour to play. No more endless treks around Boardwalk and Park Place. Next, they keep all the players fully engaged for the entire game. Catan achieves this by having players race to earn ten points, avoiding the need to go watch TV until the game ends. Modern games do feature competition, but it often comes in a more indirect form, such as the placement of a piece. Catan does allow for the occasional theft of a resource, but only in limited circumstances and usually from the leader.

Catan also eliminates the boring lag waiting for an opponent’s turn. Instead, players might gain resources on anyone’s turn depending on the roll of the dice. Each turn also allows for trading of resources. If you leave the table even for a minute, you will miss out. While Catan incorporates luck, it gives players some clear ways to mitigate the roll of fortune. Each space is labeled with a number from 2 to 12. Build next to an 8 or 6, and you stand a better chance of getting resources than for a 3 or 11 due to the probability of a pair of dice.

Finally, Euro games are much more interested in having players build things up rather than tear things down. Most themes center on economic pursuits or exploration as opposed to destroying your opponents’ military or causing them to go bankrupt. Catan allows all players to feel as if they have really built something grand during the game. Of course, one player is always judged to have done the best, but the other player can usually come away with a pleasant experience.

Catanis now widely available  (it’s available at Target!) and is considered a “Gateway Game” for Euro Games. (Great terminology there.) This was my first enjoyable Euro game experience, way back in the years before we had kids.

family game night settlers of catanOne big charm of this game is that the “board” is different every time. The 19 hexagonal tiles are laid out differently in each game, so it’s always fresh. Maybe you get the prime spot for brick but you aren’t on any numbers for wood. What will you do? So the price is a bit higher than many of the games I’ve recommended so far, but the variations are seemingly endless and you won’t regret the investment.

There are also expansions. For Family Game Night I most recommend getting the 5-6 player expansion so more people can play. We also have the Seafarers and Cities and Knights Expansions, and while they do add to the game, they don’t get used nearly as often as the original game. (There is a Family Editionbut it is a fixed board so the game will not have the nearly unlimited play options of the original hexagonal tiles.)

My husband’s final plea:

If you are new to the hobby games scene, you should definitely try Settlers of Catan with your family. Take a break from Monopoly and experience the joy of trading sheep for wood and building roads and cities. So many can look back on this game as their entrance into a larger world of modern games.

Summary of Settlers of Catan:

Number of Players:2-4 (but you can get an expansion for up to 6 players)

Recommended Ages: 10+ (but we have played with younger). The game is likely to frustrate extremely young family members, but we’ve had success with game loving 7 or 8 year olds.

Reading Required: yes. We have played with readers who weren’t strong readers. You don’t need to read to collect or spend your resources but the development cards have words. You can get around this by teaching your child what they mean.)

Have you played Settlers of Catan? And if so, do you call it Ca-tan or Ca-tahn?

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  1. I never knew there was a difference in American games and Euro games. This one looks interesting. My ten and thirteen year old would love it. Thanks for the detailed explanations.

  2. I love Mos Euro-Games but Catan is one of the ones that I just can’t seem to figure out how to get excited about. I even played the Star Trek version and yet still no excitement for me. But love the Euro-Games in general.

  3. Suzanne Mealey says

    We discovered Catan 5 years ago when visiting our daughter and her family at Christmas. Played it twice and went to buy the basic and expansion sets. I’ve since acquired Seafarers and Cities and Knights. We introduced our friends to it a week later at our annual New Year’s Eve board game night (yeah, we’re that exciting) and we haven’t looked back. Now we gather as often as we can to play it together. Our friends’ children now all have their own sets and it’s a rare family get together that doesn’t include at least one game.

  4. I think I might have tried this one in my pre-kid days, but we don’t own it yet. I did want to tell you that I bought Forbidden Island for my husband for Valentines and he and the older kids have been enjoying it – I’ll have to try it soon, too.

  5. My wife bought Settlers of Catan for Thanksgiving 2014. Having grown up playing Castle Risk (what I thought at the time was the gold standard), I was skeptical about Catan and reluctant to play. But once I played it, I was hooked.

    Now over a year later, I think I’ve played Castle Risk just once, and I’ve lost count of how many games of Catan I’ve played.

    Our two eldest kids learned and enjoyed it too (they were 7 and 9, now 8 and 10).

    We have modified two rules and think they enhance the game. I thought I’d share them with you (and your readers) to try.

    We allow the person moving a bandit (by a roll of 7 or a robber development card) to pull one resource of their choice from the bank instead of a player. We have found this keeps the peace better between younger players.

    The other rule we modified is we up the points required to win to 11 from the standard 10. We have found that extending the game by one point prevents it from ending too quickly and allows players who got off to slower starts to be able to provide some stiff competition toward the end of the game before the one in the lead runs away with it (and sometimes it allows other players just enough time to catch up and take the lead). Another thing that extending the score does is it requires players to diversify. They usually can’t get all the points needed in just one or two ways. You can even try going to 12 points if you’re daring.

    We just started playing Catan’s Merchants of Europe. It is a lot tougher than Catan and the jury is still out in our house.

    • I love the idea of stealing from the bank instead of another player. That does seem to frustrate young players a lot. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  6. That’s the thinking of a creative mind