Each issue, mathematics teacher Sean Keller reviews a board game found in the Boyden Library. Check out his reviews and then head on over to the gaming section to play for yourself.
“I’ll trade you three sheep for one ore, one lumber, and two grain.”
Just as Henry Ford launched an invasion of massed-produced automobiles into the American middle-class market, and the Beatles launched the invasion of British music onto the stateside scene, the board game The Settlers of Catan launched its own US invasion in 1995. Before that year, the board game market in the US had been dominated by games featuring dice rolling, attacking one’s opponents, and/or utilizing luck as a strong factor in determining the winner. Examples of this “American-style” board game would include Monopoly, The Game of Life, and Risk.
German-style games, or “Euro games,” instead focus on strategic play rather than luck, indirect player interaction rather than face-to-face conflict, and an end-game goal of attaining the most money, fame, or “victory points.” The Settlers of Catan was the first Euro game to be widely distributed in the USA. It has sold tens of millions of copies, and has been published in thirty languages. Is this Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award winner for you?
Ages: 10 and up.
Time: About 90 minutes.
Players: 2-4, but much better with 3 or 4.
Simplified game play summary:
1. The island of Catan comprises 19 hexagonal terrain tiles. Each player places his two initial settlements and roads on nodes and sides of the hexagonal tiles.
2. On a player’s turn, she
a). rolls two standard dice, the sum of which determines which terrain tiles generate the game’s resources: bricks (from hills), wool (from pastures), ore (from mountains), grain (from fields), and lumber (from forests).
b). offers trade deals to other players as she attempts to gain the resources which she is lacking.
c). can spend her resources to build new roads, settlements, and cities, or purchase Development Cards which provide attractive building options or even Victory Points. There are bonuses for the player with the longest road or the largest army of knights.
3. Watch out for the robber, who steals resources and can stifle a terrain’s production.
4. The first player to reach 10 Victory Points wins.
For me, the allure of The Settlers of Catan follows from its adaptability and flexibility. There are many different strategies one can employ, and thus many meaningful decisions to be made on almost every turn. Should you:
expand your road system and then build settlements, or vice versa?
quickly upgrade your settlements into cities, or wait?
strive to produce a variety of resources, or specialize?
settle remote coastal regions, which may be located on the fringes of the action, but enjoy favorable trade rates with the bank?
try to box in your opponents as they attempt to expand their influence?
spend resources on Development Cards?
A player might start by focusing on a particular strategy, and then need to change once or twice during the game. Despite simple rules, players possess the freedom to adapt their tactics. I see this as a huge plus.
Nobody likes to idly spectate while other players labor over their next moves. Fortunately, in Settlers there is little/no “down time” in the game. Even when it is not your turn, you will be watching what choices your opponents are employing, as well as negotiating potential trades. There is both consistent and considerable player interaction woven into the fabric of the game play.
Third, because the initial game set-up, dice rolls, and building decisions are never the same, Settlers can be played dozens of times without the game becoming boring. Each game is a completely new experience.
Lastly, the success of Settlers has spawned no less than ten English-language expansions and scenarios. Vast options exist for those who yearn for heightened complexity and subtlety in their Settlers game. There is even a version of Settlers based on a Star Trek theme!
It would be hard to overstate the impact Settlers has had on the modern world of board gaming. In the words of Wired Magazine: “Settlers manages to be effortlessly fun, intuitively enjoyable, and still intellectually rewarding, a combination that’s changing the American idea of what a board game can be.”
The Boyden Library offers three-day loans for Settlers of Catan, and the many other top-notch board games in their collection. If you need assistance with playing The Settlers of Catan, first check out some of the excellent video tutorials on youtube.com. If you still have questions, I would be delighted to help. Happy gaming!