Although online gaming has by no means dried up completely, more people are turning to face-to-face tabletop games like Settlers of Catan. Settlers of Catan, often just called Catan, is a fun strategy game that has players building settlements (hence the other nickname, Settlers). They must build up settlements, trade with others, and make their colony a success.

Game designer Klaus Teuber developed Catan in Germany in the mid-1990s, and it has since reached enormous success. Manufacturers have produced the game in over 30 languages, resulting in sales of over 22 million copies.

Box for the board game, Settlers of Catan

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The Catan Board Game Scenario

The player goal is to settle the wilds of the island of Catan. Each section of the board is laid out in hexagons that represent different types of land for settlement.

Settlers roll dice to receive land grants and spend resources to develop them. If they’re lucky, they’ve settled a hex with nearby resources such as lumber, wool, or grain. If they’re unlucky, a robber will land on their hexes. The rules dictate that players move the robber token whenever anyone rolls a 7, and while inside the hex, resources in that hex dry up until the robber moves on.

When do players win Catan?

Although Settlers of Catan is considered one of the new breed of cooperative games, a winner must be declared. And winners in Catan are decided pretty much like in any colonization scenario. Settlements become cities, and cities bring power. Players receive points for each settlement and city they develop: one for hexes and two for cities. They can also win points for other great civic accomplishments like building roads and armies. The ultimate goal is to get 10 points.

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Why is Settlers of Catan So Popular?

Game aficionados postulate a couple of reasons why Catan has grown so big in the last 20 years. One of the most significant advantages is that it’s a strategy game that empowers people to create fun and positive goals. Other similar strategy games have proven popular in video game format, with the rise of The Sims, Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and others during the late 1990s.

It’s relatively simple to play for its type. Unlike some tabletop games, most players can learn the rules relatively quickly. When compared to complicated role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, Catan is a walk in the park. Yet, it still provides a chance to exercise intellectual skills for planning, management, and long-term strategy. And there isn’t a required library of expensive manuals to buy.

Despite its simplicity, the makers of Catan have added new challenges and scenarios over the years with expansion packs. These expansion packs added new scenarios for the ever-growing society on Catan.

Settlers of Catan Expansions and Extensions

The first extension release for Catan added two extra players to the game, turning this quiet little board game into a real party game. Originally designed for only three or four players, the 1996 extension allowed up to six players.

There are four official expansions on the base game of Settlers of Catan. Each expansion has a corresponding extension that allows for two extra players.

Catan: Seafarers

Adding new scenarios to the game was a natural next step, with Seafarers of Catan seeing its debut in 1997. Added was the ability for players to cross hexes by ship and explore nearby islands. Gold was also added as a new resource.

Settlers of Catan board game expansion pack, Seafarers

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Catan: Cities & Knights

Released in 1998, the Cities & Knights expansion brought chivalry to the island of Catan. Adding a high-end warrior class to the game allowed players to defend the island from barbarians.

Catan: Traders & Barbarians

It was some years before a new expansion was added to the original Settlers of Catan. Traders & Barbarians released in 2008. Up to this point, the makers concentrated on improving the original core game. They released a special 10th-anniversary edition in 2005. And 2007 saw the fourth edition of the original Settlers game with fresh artwork and improved packaging.

Catan: Explorers & Pirates

In this expansion, players look for new lands to settle and places to catch fish. New villagers and pirates await as players explore the uncharted waters.

Fascinating Diversions for Settlers of Catan

Although not based in the same world as Setters of Catan, the same gaming principles were applied to historical versions of the game. These expansions included the building of the Pyramids and the story of Alexander the Great.

Variants on Catan

The creators really went nuts, much to the delight of Catan devotees. Variants of the main game concept were expressed in new and interesting ways, including a scenario placed in Germany, and one that focuses on the sustainability and environmental concerns. Also included are the mythical world of Atlantis and another where players were able to better cooperate with rival players.

Tie in spin-off editions popular with gamers and geek culture, in general, have made Settlers of Catan an endlessly new and interesting gaming system. Versions include Star Trek Catan and A Game of Thrones Catan. Other historical spin-offs include Settlers of America and Merchants of Europe.

Catan Star Trek board and pieces

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Catan Junior for younger settlers is one with simplified rules for faster play. Aimed at kids between the ages of 6 and 9, it allows children to play with their older family members with less struggle. With all players filling the role of marauding pirates, this version is just as much fun for grownups as the original version. Maybe even more so.

The corresponding Catan card game is called Rivals for Catan, with two card game expansions: Age of Darkness and Age of Enlightenment. In addition, other variations include a dice game version and travel editions.

The Inevitable Digital Versions of Catan

After its popularity as a board game exploded, the developers naturally took Catan into the digital age with a number of video games. Big Fish Games produced the first PC version, Catan: The Computer Game. Even Nintendo DS jumped on the Settlers wagon in 2009 with a handheld version that worked with Nintendo Wi-Fi to play against others. Unfortunately, it only worked in Europe.

Settlers of Catan Online

Catan Online has had its troubles gaining a foothold. When announced in December 2002, the technology for massive online RPGs was still pretty unstable. The game ran on Java, and released by Microsoft in 2005 through their MSN Games platform. Microsoft gave users their first taste for free, but expansions required a paid subscription.

The history of Settlers of Catan online is sad and pretty confusing. Microsoft dropped it in 2009. A few rip-offs of the game have hit the internet, including the game Java Settlers, released by Northwestern University student Robert S. Thomas under the GNU General Public License.

An Xbox Live version released in 2007 but was summarily discontinued in 2014 with no explanation. Another Catan game for the PlayStation Network hit in 2008 but was also discontinued.

In 2013, Catan: Creators Edition for PC hit Steam and includes elements from Cities & Knights and Seafarers. The year 2014 saw a short-session version of the game called Catan Anytime, but like most online version of Catan, disappeared in 2016.

Online Settlers of Catan Resources

The story of the many-failed online versions of Catan doesn’t rule out playing digitally together. The best resource for fans of the game – or those seeking to become fans – is

The Steam and Amazon version seems to be alive and kicking and lets PC gamers play with others around the world. You can also download an offline PC version or apps from the website with plenty of free content to give the game a try. The creators boast that the download version is close to the original board game, if gaming face-to-face with friends is the goal.

You can find the official Catan online portal at Play Catan.

From Catan Classic to Catan Universe

Recent changes have been made to open up the digital world of Catan for all comers. The change allows multiplatform access to Catan for all players. This means you can access your game universe through any device or game console and keep all your goodies and friends.

Close up of Catan board hex

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Tourneys for Superfans of Catan

Think you’ve mastered all the strategies of the Catan Universe? You can try your luck against other superfans and super players by engaging in national and then international championships. The world championships are held in Germany, where the game originated.

Players must succeed in qualifier tourneys held around their country of residence to make it to the nationals. Win the national, and represent your country in The Catan World Champions (CWC). American players over the age of 18 can look for the nearest regional at the Catan Studio website.

Reviews for Settlers of Catan

Another reason for Catan’s worldwide acclaim is how leaders in gaming culture have embraced it. Board Game Geek gives the core game 7.2 stars out of 10.

Gaming icon Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop Games YouTube series featured Settlers of Catan for Geek & Sundry. And of course, the Star Trek: The Next Generation actor had to include the Star Trek version on his show.

Get Playing

Settlers of Catan makes a great adventure strategy game for your entire party. If you’re looking for something a little more accessible than the days-long D&D quest, check out Catan. The game lasts about two hours for most, which makes it perfect for a weekly family game night or party diversion. Unlike some tabletop games, players can reach goals, with a winner decided, in one sitting. Despite its simplicity, it still provides opportunities for creative play that challenges the players.

If you’re looking to expand your tabletop gaming repertoire, or need a game that anyone can play easily without complicated rules and extensive setup, give Settlers of Catan a try.


Featured Image: CC by 2.0, by Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek, via Flickr