I was introduced to this game on maybe not the best of terms and maybe the truest of terms. It was the morning of December 26th and my Ivy League younger brother was in full Ivy League mode (a mode I never knew he had). Trying to explain the game's seemingly complex rules to our bath robed parents and my recently graduated and recently employed self, he was speaking at a rate that was driving us all nuts. But it was more than the speed of his words.
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I would later realize there was something familiar to his crazed, drug-addict-in-withdrawal, Jesse Isenberg-in-Social Network explanations. Then it hit me: he was speaking in that specific tongue associated with deep ruminations, hours of dedication, and late nights of playing - all tinged with a nerdy reverence. This was how poker players spoke of poker, how stat heads spoke of sports, how college kids spoke, and how I spoke of left handedness.
After just one play, Settlers of Catan is an easily understandable game with an infinite amount of possibilities and strategies. For this reason, it is the most perfect board game ever created.
The basic idea: In the original version (which is this version), 3-4 players compete to see who can most quickly reach a certain number of victory points. Victory points are most easily obtained by building settlements and cities. Settlements and cities are built by using a combination of five different types of resource cards. Resource cards (yes, this is the same top down approach I use to explain the game to new players as I try not to derive too much pleasure from explaining the game's genius) are earned by dice rolls.
Now that you have the definitions, here's the setup: Players begin the game by placing two settlements on a board composed of hexagonal cardboard pieces representing one of the five resources (rock, clay, sheep, wood, brick). On each hexagon is a number from 2-12 representing a value after two dices are rolled. Depending on which resources your settlements touch (you place them at the corner where hexagons meet, meaning they can touch up to three different hexagonal resources) and which number is on the hexagon, that's the resource you get when that particular number is rolled. Throughout the game, you use the cards you gain to build roads (must build two before you build a settlement) and settlements throughout the playing board. When to build, where to build, when to buy resource cards (essentially "chance" cards from monopoly) become the pressing strategic questions as you navigate the precious real estate allotted by the Catan makers and accumulate victory points.
Of course, there are a few more wrinkles that you’ll discover as you play and others that maybe you’ll never discover (I told you this game is deep!). In a way, it reminds me of the old adage associated with poker: “A day to learn and a lifetime to master.”
What’s also great about Settlers of Catan is how it manages the very complex line between mainstream and nerdy obsession. Games like World Of War Craft and Yugio go too far. Risk, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon also may be a little too horn-rimmed for the North Facers of society. Basketball, too mainstream. Harry Potter, just right. Hunger Games? I’m just not sold. While Catan probably brings out some form of the nerd in all of us, its quick gameplay, easy rules, and European influences ensure that its players usually possess the rare quality of a solid baseball throwing motion (or at least the ability for a sharp futbol pass) and an interest in young adult/adult reading.
When it’s time to expand (a different time for every group of players and perhaps never a time for some), start with Seafarers, which serves as more of a field stretcher than a game changer (think Devery Henderson, New Orleans Saints). Then, pick up Barbarians, which definitely changes the game (one mini game in Barbarians creates a particularly interesting choice for strategists). If you’re still not satisfied (I was after Barbarians) and more of the aforementioned nerd than long-tosser, try Knights and Cities. This sequel, while retaining the basics of Catan, is unCatan-like in all of its complex rules.
Last thing I can say about Catan is its packaging. I love how you can reset the board every time you play it. I love how easy it is to pack up. Small problem: When you have all four versions and their expansions (allowing you to play with six players), you’re looking at about seven boxes and a brick-ton of pieces just waiting to get mixed up and mixed in. Big solution: pick up a bait and tackle box from one of those commercial bait and tackle stores. My $9 purchase fits every piece from all four versions of the game, expansions included (save for a few bulky pieces).
Oh, and I don’t really know if females like playing this game. Maybe some.
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Amount Paid (US$): 40
Type of Toy: Game
Age Range of Child: Whole Family