The ABCs of Gaming: S is for…

We’ve reached the letter S as we trek through the ABCs of Gaming. S is for…

image by BGG user Aingeru

The Settlers of Catan was first published in 1995, designed by Klaus Teuber and published by Kosmos. Mayfair Games brought it to the US in 1996, and it’s been slowly taking over the world ever since. The 90 minute game, for 3-4 players ages 10 and up, was one of the first Eurogames to achieve popularity outside of Europe. It’s been slowly creeping up on Monopoly as one of the best known and most played games in the world…you can even find it in Walmart these days (which is really strange). It’s spawned expansions, sequels, even a novel, and maybe a movie someday (if Battleship gets a movie, Catan needs one). The basic plot of the game is that you are settlers on the island of Catan, collecting and trading resources in order to build up your community to become the most powerful. Settlers won the S category with 25.1% of the vote, as compared to 16.4% for second place Stone Age.

Initial setup – image by BGG user pigeoncamera

Settlers comes with 19 terrain hexes. six sea frame pieces, 9 harbor chits, 18 circular number tokens, 95 resource cards, 25 development cards, 4 building cost cards (cheat sheets), a longest road card, a largest army card, 16 wooden cities, 20 wooden settlements, 60 wooden roads, 2 dice, and a robber. The terrain hexes are laid out in a manner similar to what you see on the left – you can either follow a standardized setup, or you can deal out the terrain tile randomly. Number tiles are placed out, one on each hex (except the desert – that’s where the robber starts).

In player order, each player will place a settlement. You may place it on any intersection of tiles on the board, as long as there’s at least one empty intersection between settlements. You’ll also place a road coming out from the settlement. Once every player has placed a settlement and roaad, every player will place another, this time in reverse order. You’ll also get starting resource cards based on the hexes bordering your newest settlement.

On your turn, you’ll roll the dice. The number that comes up represents the hexes that will produce resources. Anyone who has a settlement or city boardering one of those hexes gets resource cards of that type – one for a settlement, two for a city. If you roll a seven, you’ll get to move the robber. The space it lands in will no longer produce (until the robber moves again), and you can steal a random card from a player who borders that hex. Also, anyone with more than seven cards in hand will have to lose half of their cards.

Once everyone has collected resources, you can go about the business of trying to develop your little civilization. You can trade in resources to build things, like new roads or settlements; or you could trade them in to turn an existing settlement into a city; or you could buy a development card that will give you a little benefit as the game goes on. If you don’t have the resources you need, there are a couple of options – you could trade four of the same resource in your hand for one that you need from the bank. You could also try to trade with other players. When you’re done with everything you’re going to do, pass the dice to the next player.

The game continues until someone gets to ten points (settlements are worth one, cities are worth two, development cards can be worth one, the largest army is worth one, the longest road is worth one). The person who got to 10 wins.

Settlers has long been hailed as one of the holy trilogy of gateway games, along with Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. However, like the term “gateway game”, it seems to be going out of style in hobby circles. A lot of people respect what Settlers has done for the hobby – it was my first Eurogame, and it is one of the few hobby games to have broken into the mainstream market – but a lot of people have said that they won’t use it to introduce people to the hobby anymore, citing its complexity and inherent randomness as significant barriers to entry. I myself hardly play it anymore – the dice hate me in that game more than in any other game I play. However, I still think it’s a good entry-level game into the hobby. I don’t know if gamers think nongamers are stupid and can’t figure it out, but I bet 50% or more of the people on BGG are there because of Settlers. And, like it or not, there are lots of people out there that are discovering it on their own just because it’s on the shelf at their local Target. I remember seeing a Facebook status update from one of my friends from high school, talking about a Settlers of Catan party they were having. The couple that introduced my wife and me to the game were not and are not gamers. As more games infiltrate the market, Settlers may get shuffled to the side, but I think it’s still as strong as it ever was, and maybe even stronger.

OK, mini rant over. Settlers was my choice in the poll, but S was a pretty strong letter and there were some good also-rans:

    • Stone Age (2008, Bernd Brunnhofer, 16.4%): After Pillars of the Earth came out as a Caylus-lite type of worker placement game, Stone Age came out as a Pillars-lite type of WP game. I’ve played it several times and like it a lot – definitely simple to understand and beautiful to look at.
    • Small World (2009, Philippe Keyaerts, 13.1%): Days of Wonder’s 2009 hit was a reimplementation of Vinci, except with a fantasy theme. Very fun game.
    • Steam (2009, Martin Wallace, 9.1%): This was a reimplementation of Wallace’s popular 2002 game Age of Steam. It’s about delivering goods via train and trying to score as many points as possible. I like it, need to play more.
    • Space Alert (2008, Vlaada Chvátil, 7.5%): A really vicious cooperative game from my favorite designer. I haven’t gotten to play this game much, but it’s incredibly well done and I’d love to pay more.
    • Space Hulk (1989, Richard Halliwell, 6.6%): A light miniatures wargame that’s humans versus aliens. This game had a popular reimplementation in 2009.
    • Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game (2010, Kevin Wilson, 5.6%): A board game reimplementation of the popular computer game. I haven’t played myself, but as a fan of the computer game, I really would like to someday.
    • Samurai (1998, Reiner Knizia, 4.4%): The obligatory Knizia nomination. It’s an area control type game set in medieval Japan. Never played.
    • Shogun (2006, Dirk Henn, 4.4%): I find it funny that this tied with Samurai. They’re really nothing alike – this was a reimplementation of Wallenstein, which is more of a wargame. Seems like there a lot of reimplementations on this list.
    • Other (4.4%): Nominees include Saboteur, Saint Petersburg, Samarkand, San Juan, Sanctuary, Scotland Yard, Scrabble, Shadows over Camelot, Shogi, Siena, Smarty Party, Snit’s Revenge, South African Railroads, Space Crusade, Space Infantry, Squad Leader, Star Commander, Star Fleet Battles, StarCraft: The Board Game, Starship Catan, Starship Troopers, Storm over Arnhem, Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Summoner Wars, Sun Sea & Sand, Survive: Escape from Atlantis, Sword of Rome, and Sylla.
    • Struggle of Empires (2004, Martin Wallace, 3.3%): I don’t really know much about this, but Wallace has his fans, and so does this game. It’s compared to Age of Renaissance…don’t know if it’s a reimplementation or not.

So, there’s the list. See you for the Ts (which you can also probably guess). Thanks for reading!

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One comment

  1. Settlers, imagine that! I would have to agree though. Small world would be my runner up. Love me some Small World! I have Small World Realms on the way and I’m very interested to see what its like.

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