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From the Game Room: Catan

An occasional post from Robert

First published in 1995, Catan was the game that drew me (and millions of other people) back into boardgaming. It was so different from the classic family board games of my childhood, such as Pachesi, Sorry!, Clue, or Monopoly. Yet it was not as complex or as long of a game as the Avalon Hill board games I played as a teenager. Catan ushered in a new era of modern boardgaming. Due to its popularity, multiple editions, variants, scenarios, expansions, and spin-offs have been released, including an excellent phone/tablet app. See all the options at There’s even a Catan novel!

The game’s modular board of hexagonal tiles means that even the setup of the game varies from game to game, yet the system to set it up is simple and relatively quick. On each turn, the current player rolls two dice, which determines which resources are produced that turn. Since resources are gained by all players at those locations, and since trading resources is a big part of the game, even when it is not your turn, you are still engaged in the game. You are not just sitting there idly waiting for your turn to come around again. 

As dice rolling is a core mechanic in the game, there is a bit of randomness/luck involved, yet there are various strategies to follow and multiple paths to victory. It’s a game that is suitable for family game night, yet also holds rewards for strategic or even cutthroat gamers. 

Because trading is such a key aspect of the game, the base game of Catan does not work well for fewer than three players. For a 2-player Catan experience that also adds exploration and other challenges, try the Catan: Explorers & Pirates expansion (base game required), or Rivals for Catan, a 2-player card game based on the same concepts as the original Catan, but designed for two. Because of the way resources are generated for all players at the same time, no version of Catan is really suited for asynchronous play. 

Catan board games

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