Catan, also known as Settlers of Catan, is a beloved eurogame created by the late Klaus Teuber. In this game, players strive to establish dominance on the small island of Catan. By blending strategy, resource management, and trading, Catan has become a quintessential example of a classic modern board game. Its tremendous success has ushered in a new era of board games as a whole, earning it a prominent place in the collections of many enthusiasts.
Whether you are playing the game for the first time or brushing up on forgotten knowledge, you are in the right place if you are looking to learn how to play Catan.
Catan is a game for three to four players, though there are expansions that allow for two-player duels or up to six players per game. In this article, our focus will be solely on the base game.
The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach 10 victory points on their turn, but to do so, you’ll have to gather resources, build, and trade. Resources act as the exclusive in-game “currency” and consist of five distinct types: wood, brick, ore, sheep, and wheat. Skillful resource management is paramount to success in Catan and plays a vital role in securing a path to victory. The average playtime is around an hour.
Setting Up the Game
First, you convince three of your friends to come to your house for a pizza party. Once they arrive, lock the house and don’t let them out until you play a round of Catan. You should still order pizza and provide beverages to your guests. After all, you are the one organizing the game night.
Joking aside, if your friends just really aren’t into it, there are numerous online communities available that can help you connect with fellow board game enthusiasts and find new people to play with.
Once you have organized the party and explained the game rules to your friends, it’s time to set up the board, and this is where we come to one of the best parts of the game. The Catan game board is fully modular, which allows for almost unlimited replayability.
First, find the border edges, the long blue shapes that represent the sea, and assemble them to form a large hexagon shape with the honeycomb pattern in the middle, where we’ll place the actual playing tiles. Now, there are two ways how we can do that. There is a suggested beginner’s tile placement, and there is an experienced tile placement.
We’ll explain how both are set, but for your first game, we would advise you to follow the beginner’s tile placement as outlined in the rulebook.
Catan Set-up for Beginners
The beginner’s setup, as outlined on page three of the rulebook, provides a well-balanced match for all players. Set the board and the players starting settlements as indicated in the rulebook.
Each player receives resources from the hexes surrounding a town that has been marked with a star.
- The red player gets a wheat, sheep, and wood resource card.
- The blue player gets a brick, ore, and sheep resource card.
- The orange player gets a sheep, wheat, and wood resource card.
- The white player gets a wood, sheep, and ore resource card.
If you are playing a three-player game then remove the red player tokens from the game.
Experienced Player Set-up
Once you get a couple of games under your belt, you are ready for a more advanced placement. Get all of the hex tiles, shuffle them, and place them on the board face up. Take nine harbor pieces with the ship on them and place them randomly on the harbor frames. Now take the number tokens and arrange them beside the board with the letter side face-up.
You have two options for how you can arrange them:
- Truly random: Just start placing them on the playing hexes, except on the desert tile. Just make sure that no red number tokens are next to each other.
- Alphabetically: Starting with the top left corner of the map, start placing tokens in alphabetical order, going counter-clockwise. Just make sure to skip the desert tile.
Once the tokens are placed, flip them up to reveal their number side and give each player two settlements and two roads. Pick the first player, and going clockwise, each player places their first settlement and one adjacent road. When placing the second settlement and road, the order is reversed, with the person who initially placed their settlement first going last.
There are two things to consider when placing a second settlement. First, the settlements have to be at least two intersections apart from any other settlement, including other players’ settlements. This is known as the distance rule, and it’s in effect during the whole game. Intersections are places where hexes meet.
Second, when you place your second settlement, you get to collect the resources from adjacent hexes. In the example above, the blue player places its 2nd settlement on an intersection and gains two sheep and one wheat.
Once every player has acquired their starting resources, place the robber pawn on a desert tile. Give each player a corresponding building cost card, and distribute the remaining buildings to each player. Now the game can begin.
Each player’s turn can be split into three phases.
- Resource production
This order is recommended for beginner setup, but as soon as you have a solid grasp of the game, the trading resources and building phases can be combined into a single phase, allowing you to trade and build as long as you have resources.
At the beginning of each player’s turn, the player in question will roll two dice. The rolled result marks the province that produces resource cards. Each player who has a settlement or a city bordering such a province collects one resource for each settlement and two resources for each city. You should keep your resource cards hidden from other players.
For example, It’s the red player’s turn, and they roll a five. The red player has a settlement, and the white player has a city bordering a hexagon tile marked with the number five. As a result, the red player receives one wood resource, while the white player receives two wood resources. There is no limit to the number of resource cards a player can hold, but you have to watch out for robber activation. So how does the robber work in Catan?
Once somebody rolls a seven, a robber is activated, and all players who have more than seven resource cards in their hands have to return half of them, rounded down, to the resource deck. The players can choose which cards to return and which to keep. The worst part about it is that this is only half of the activation.
The player who rolled a seven must move the robber to a new location. Until someone rolls a seven or uses a knight development card (we’ll get to that in a moment), the robber stays on that resource tile and blocks any resource collection by any adjacent settlements. On top of it, the player who moved a robber can now steal a card from a player who has an adjacent settlement or a city bordering the hex tile. If there is more than one player, the current player gets to pick a fellow player from whom they will steal a random card.
After completing the resource production or robber placement, you can begin trading. Trading can be done between players (domestic trade) or between the player and the bank (maritime trade).
The current player can trade with other players as much as they want during domestic trading, but the other players cannot trade with each other. They must wait for their turn before making their own deals with other players. Players can’t give away resources for free, and they can’t trade for the same resource. For example, you can’t trade one ore for two ore or one wood for one wood and one sheep. It has to be completely different resources.
Often, players will be hard to negotiate with or will outright refuse to trade with you. In such cases, you can turn to maritime trade. There are three different maritime trades: 4:1, 3:1, and 2:1.
Any player can trade at a ratio of 4:1, allowing them to exchange four identical resources for a card of their choice from the resource deck. However, to benefit from the more advantageous ratios of 3:1 and 2:1, players must construct a settlement on one of the nine harbor spaces on the map. Each harbor space clearly indicates the resource ratio or any unique goods required for a trade. Generic harbors (3:1) will trade with any resource, just like the bank, but special harbors (2:1) will require a specific type of good.
The current player can trade with both the bank and the players during their turn.
A player can build as much as they want, as long as they have the resources to pay for it. Keep in mind that with an experienced player set-up, you can build and trade interchangeably as much as you like. So if you are missing a brick, you don’t have to wait for the next turn but can try to initiate a domestic trade or a maritime trade if you are missing it, even if you built something this turn.
There are three main types of buildings you can purchase: roads, settlements, and cities. Additionally, during this phase, players get the opportunity to buy development cards.
Roads cost one wood and one brick and are the only way to expand your kingdom beyond the initial two settlements because each new settlement must be built two intersections apart from any other settlement and must be linked to the existing roads.
The player with the longest continuous road, with at least five linked sections, takes the longest road card and scores two victory points. Important to note: If the road branches, only the single longest branch is counted as the longest road.
Road connections are not broken as a result of your settlements, but if another player builds a settlement on an intersection where your longest road passes through, the connection is severed. If you still have more than five segments connected and another player has the same, you will keep the longest road card. You would lose it if that player had a longer road. The same is true even if nobody breaks your road connection.
Once you build a road connection to a free intersection, you can build a new settlement for one wheat, a brick, a sheep, and a wood. Each settlement allows you to collect one resource from each adjacent terrain tile. You can gather more resources if there are more settlements adjacent to the tile. Remember that there are only five settlements per player, which translates to only five victory points, or just half of the necessary ten VPs.
To get closer to winning, you may need to invest in some cities. Each city costs two wheat and three ore, and instead of placing it on the map like any other settlement, you replace the existing settlement with the city. They are a great way to earn victory points because each of them is worth two, and they give you two resources from the adjacent terrain tile instead of the original one for the settlement. In total, you have access to four cities, which amount to eight victory points.
Buying development cards is also done in the build phase. Each card costs one sheep, one wheat, and one ore. There are 25 development cards in play, of which 14 are knight cards, 6 are progress cards, and 5 are victory point cards. Once you buy a development card, keep it hidden from other players. You can buy as many as you want, but you can only play one per turn as long as that isn’t the card you just bought.
Knight cards allow players to move a robber from a resource tile, place it somewhere else, and steal a card from any players bordering the new tile. The players don’t have to discard the cards even if they have more than seven in hand.
Whoever plays three knight cards gets two victory points for having the largest army. Just like with the largest road, the largest army can be won by another player if they have more knight cards than the original holder of the largest army card.
Progress cards provide three options: construct two roads without spending resources, acquire two resource cards of your choosing from the bank, or steal a single type of resource from all other players. What exactly you can do will be clearly stated on the card once you buy it.
Victory Point Cards
Victory points cards give you one victory point each, and unlike the rest of the cards, they’re the only development cards that can be played during the turn they were purchased, but only if you have 10 victory points and the purchased card will allow you to win the game. As soon as you purchase it, you can tell your fellow players about it and show them all of your cards with victory points. If that’s not the case, you should keep them hidden until the game ends.
Winning the Game
To win the game of Catan, you have to collect 10 victory points before anyone else. To summarize: You get one victory point for each settlement you place, two victory points for each existing settlement you upgrade to a city, two for having the longest road, two for having the most knights, and you also have development cards that can give you one victory point each. As you can see, there’s a wide array of options at your disposal when it comes to accomplishing your goals.
And this is how you play the Catan board game. Now that you know the basic rules of Catan, it’s time to roll the dice, trade wisely, and build your path to victory.
Catan is a classic game with straightforward rules that can be explained in as little as 10 minutes to your friends who have never played a board game in their lives. For players already familiar with the basics of board gaming, the explanation can be done in under five minutes.
The goal of Catan is to be the first player to collect 10 victory points.
Not only is it fun, but it’s also an excellent choice for a family board game night.