Ranking: 5 stars


We've been playing this game since 1999. This is the best game we've seen in at least a decade. Some of the things we like best about it are: (1) The layout of the "board" is different every time you play, which keeps things interesting. (2) There are a variety of goals, so that you can mix and match different strategies each time you play. (3) Unlike other games we've played and enjoyed over the years (Merchant of Venus, Rail Baron, and Empire Builder, for example), even when it's not your turn, you still have cards to draw--which means everyone is doing something on every turn, so you don't get bored waiting while the other players take their turns. (4) You can make up your own, endless variants.

Buy this, play this.



First, a note. You'll see that we don't refer to the terrain tiles by their proper names (pasture, fields, forest, mountain, hills); we refer to them by the resources they produce--and even those resource names are idiosyncratic, based on the pictures on the resource cards: sheep (not wool), wheat (not grain), wood (not lumber), ore, and bricks. That's just the way we think.

Delayed Thief

The first seven times that seven is rolled, the thief doesn't enter the game and players don't discard cards.

Mini World
Give each player the following seven tiles: one wheat, one sheep, two brick, two wood, one ore. The player lays these out in any order he or she chooses, to form a concentric world separate from the other players's worlds. Give each player the following numbers: 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10. The player places these numbers on any tiles he or she chooses. Each player places two settlements and two roads on their layout, anywhere he or she chooses. Play proceeds as usual, except that players are limited to playing in their own mini world as they build roads, settlements, and cities, buy development cards, and try to earn the longest road or largest army. You can either set a certain number of points as win condition, or you can just play until you've drained the development deck.

Before placement of the tiles and numbers and settlements, decide whether all players will either (1) build everything in secret, then reveal their completed layout of tiles, number, settlements, and roads to each other all at once, (2) build each stage in secret and reveal what's been built at the end of each stage, or (3) build nothing in secret so everyone sees what everyone else is doing and gets to talk about potential strategies.

Maxi World (random)
If you have purchased several versions of Catan, as well as purchased the expansion set of cards, settlements, and cities, you can play this variant.

Take all the resource, desert, and and ocean tiles (including the ones containing ports) from all the versions of Settlers that you own and lay them out randomly on the table, to make a large world. Take all the numbers that you own and distribute them randomly on the resource tiles. (We like to lay out the tiles upside down, then turn them over to discover what pattern we've made.) Each player places three settlements and roads, using the usual method for placement. Along with roads, settlements, and cities, use any or all of the following: city walls, development cards, longest road card, largest army card, thief, barbarian, knight pieces, volcano tiles, jungle tiles, gold tiles, progress cards, commodity cards, metropolises, merchant, ships, and island victory points. (Volcano tiles and jungle tiles come from the online scenarios created by Klaus Tauber, listed at Mayfair Games, Inc.)

Maxi World (designed)
Instead of laying out tiles and numbers randomly, let one of the players design a world using any and all the stuff from all the versions of Settlers that you own. You can have fun designing themed worlds--a world shaped like a dragon, a world full of three-tile island, a world with resources in horizontal bands, a ringworld, or whatever.

Fertilizer World
Make a fertilizer tile and include it in your layout. (We took a photo of our cat's litter box and pasted it on an empty tile.) Don't put a number on that tile; it doesn't produce resources that you can draw. Instead, if you meet the following three conditions, you receive double production of wheat: (1) you have a settlement or city on the fertilizer tile, (2) you have a settlement or city on a sheep tile, and (3) you have a settlement or city on a wheat tile. Example, you have a settlement on the fertilizer tile, a settlement on a sheep tile, and two settlements on a wheat tile covered by a five. When a five is rolled on the dice, you receive double production in each settlement on that wheat tile: two times two settlements, for a total of four.

Weird Development Cards
You can add any of the following cards to the development card deck. If you don't have blank development cards to write on, use cards from the expansion deck: write a different number or code on the face of each of the extra cards, create a separate list of what each number or code refers to, and when one of the extra cards is drawn, treat the card as if it says what's on the list rather than what's on the original card. We usually don't add weird development cards unless we are playing our Maxi World variant, or when one of us have designed a themed world (in which case, we use development cards created to fit the theme). All players can collaborate to decide what the extra cards will be, or each player can create cards in secret, which adds to the suspense for everyone.

Ride the Dragon: Build four roads or ships (or some combination of roads and ships totaling four) for free.

Chinese Brick Firewall: If you have four bricks, spend them to upgrade an existing city wall to build a volcano-proof wall. That wall will permanently protect the city from the effects of the volcano. You can trade this card to another player instead of using it.

Hawaiian Dragon: When you play this card, all the volcanoes erupt without harming anyone, and magma flows into the sea. Turn over two water tiles adjacent to any volcano and make those tiles into any resource tiles you choose with number tokens of 5 or 9. You can trade this card to another player instead of using it.

Golden Lava: Convert a volcano tile to a gold field, then draw a number token at random and place that token on the gold field tile.

Resettlers of Catan: You may remove one of your settlements from the board and relocate it to any legal position along your roads or shipping routes.

Three's a Winner: Take any three resources from the resource piles. They don't all have to be the same type of resource.

Three Choices: Do any one of the following. (1) Place a 3:1 port anywhere you want. (2) Take any three resources from the resource piles. (3) Swap a number 3 token with any other number token on a tile where you have a city or settlement.

Fertilizer Sale: Sell your sheep poop as fertilizer. If you have a settlement or city on a sheep tile, collect one resource card of any type for every settlement or city your opponents have on wheat tiles. (We usually collect the resources from the resource piles, but if you like an aggressive game, you could collect from your opponents.)

Desert Blooms: Convert a desert tile to a wheat tile, then draw a number token at random and place that token on the wheat tile.

The Forty-Niners of Catan: Gold is discovered in the mountains. Convert an ore tile to a gold field tile. Retain the existing number token.

Landfill: Convert any ocean tile to a sheep tile, then draw a number token at random and place that token on the sheep tile.

Shipwright: Build four ships now, for free.

The Tardis: Heal a city that's been sabotaged, or add two active knights.

Free Port: Place a combination brick and sheep port anywhere you want.

Green Man: Draw any four green-colored resources from the resource or commodities piles.



The Jungle, by Klaus Tauber

from Mayfair Games website

The discovery counters produced by the jungle tile bring the development cards into play more frequently than in the original Settlers of Catan, which makes competition for the largest army more intense and makes the thief move around more. Overall, the variant doesn't much change the original game, but it's an interesting and amusing option.

The Volcano, by Klaus Tauber

from Mayfair Games website

For risk-averse players, the volcano is nothing but a nuisance--worse than a desert hex, because your city or settlement might be destroyed when the volcano erupts. But if you enjoy risk and you play the gold-producing version of this variant, you'll enjoy building on the volcano and being able to choose from among any of the resources when the volcano's production number is rolled.

The Desert Raiders, by Klaus Tauber

from Mayfair Games website

Now, this one is really different! The raiders come sweeping in early in the game, obliterating production, so players are highly motivated to get off the mainland and out to the islands, where the raiders cannot go. But it's not easy to get to the islands, because building a settlement or city causes more raiders to attack the mainland, which means you end up with fewer resources. The tension between needing to escape and causing more problems when you do is both maddening and interesting. The early portion of the game feels like you're being pecked to death by ducks! The key is to buy development cards so that you get soldiers, which you then use to remove the raiders from your tiles. Near the end of the game, once all the raiders have been removed from the board, there's an explosion of building, both in the islands and on the now-safe mainland--and, because there's no thief in this scenario, you're guaranteed resources on all your tiles, which seems like a reward for all the earlier paranoia and lost resources. The raiders and the inclusion of jungle, volcano, and gold tiles in the islands means that this variant requires exceptionally careful thought during the initial placement phase and throughout the raider-invading midgame. Try this variant: it's worth testing--even if you decide you never ever want to play it again. (One big problem: the instructions for this variant on Mayfair Games as of June 2006 lack the illustration of the board layout that you need in order to play the variant. We got our instructions from Mayfair Games in August 2000, and those instructions include the illustration.)

The Wonders of Catan, by Klaus Tauber

from Mayfair Games website

We've played this twice. Both times, the Wonder-building didn't play much of a role in the game, despite the fact that it's necessary to build at least part of a Wonder to win. Both times, the same player won, and she did that by getting ten points and building the first part of her Wonder before the other players had even built one part of their Wonders. The first time she won, she built one settlement on a gold-producing island. The second time, she didn't bother to build to an island. We like the concept of building Wonders, but with only three players, perhaps the land doesn't get conjested enough for the Wonder-competition to kick in.