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Board Game Review: The Settlers of Catan

February 17, 2009

by Charlie Sprague
Board Game Review: The Settlers of Catan

Let me first say something about myself that many of you might not know: I am a board game geek. Yes, I have happily spent an obscene number of hours during my years at CMC playing a board game called The Settlers of Catan. I’m here to spread the word and explain why all of you should consider playing this marvelous game. The object of the game is to build a village economy by acquiring and using five distinct resources. All of these resources are necessary to build the components of your village economy: settlements, roads, cities, soldiers, etc. Victory points are assigned to players based on different criteria of a “strong” economy. Three or four players are competing to see who can reach ten victory points first.

What is so special about this game is the complex interactions with other players. Everyone is competing for these same resources and so a giant race is occurring to reach the most valuable resource access points. Additionally, trading resources with other players and the bank is inevitably a crucial part of the game. For a school with such a large number of econ majors, I suspect many will appreciate the game’s manifestation of the laws of supply and demand. As econ majors might suspect, acquiring a monopoly with respect to one of the five resources is often a winning strategy. As a further note to professors, my friend who I often play with successfully applied the lessons of Catan to our study of international negotiations in a recent session of my IR class. Occasionally, players also have the opportunity to steal resources from one another, which always provides an entertaining session of lobbying the robber for mercy and tests the players’ persuasive skills.

For experienced players, the game takes a little over an hour to play and can be enjoyed either sober or not so much. New players will find that it takes a few games to internalize the rules and I recommend that they first play with a clear frame of mind before turning Catan into a drinking event. For a competitive group of friends, the game does have a tendency to excite the passions and may result in heated negotiating. This I consider an indication of the game’s strength, however, for it shows that people become sufficiently excited by the game to care deeply about winning. Look at monopoly; the game rarely leads to arguments because nobody really cares about the outcome since there is basically no strategy involved.

In addition to the standard Settlers of Catan, experienced players looking for more of a challenge can try the expansion packs, such as the Seafarers of Catan and/or Catan: Cities and Knights. These expansion packs preserve the solid gameplay dynamics of the original version while introducing new variables and strategies that add strategic complexity.

At the end of the day, the Settlers of Catan provides a challenging and exciting gameplay experience that will keep players coming back for more. For anyone willing to admit they enjoy strategic board games, Catan is a solid investment.

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