When I bought my game store in 1998 I found a game on the shelf with a layer of dust on it. It was created by someone I had never heard of, Klaus Teuber. It had also won an award, the Spiel des Jahres, which is the most prestigious award in the gaming community. On a whim I opened our lone copy and read through the rules. It seemed simple enough so I set it up and invited a couple of customers to play while others finished the Magic: the Gathering Booster Draft tournament. Within a month we had sold more than a dozen copies and worn out my copy by playing it at least twice a day and as many as 12-15 times. It never got old and while easy to play, had many levels of strategy that takes much time to master. It remains my favourite strategy board game and it could easily be yours as well.
Like most of my top rated games one of the key selling points is that the game is never the same twice. It is a tile based game and involves luck of the dice, communication and trading with other players, and deception to win. Provided you carefully study the board and plan what you are going to do as well as what others will likely do, you can lower the reliance on the luck aspect of the game. This makes strategy and communication as well as deception the ingredients to victory.
Unlike standard board games like Monopoly and even Chess, Settlers of Catan does not use the same board every time it is played. In Monopoly players know what the best properties are and in Chess everyone recognizes the power of the Queen. In Settlers of Catan the tiles are rearranged before each game, giving more or less power to different resources. There are five resources in Catan, Ore, Wood, Wheat, Sheep, and Clay. All of the resources are required to be successful, but sometimes the board makes early resources like Clay and Wood more valuable while other layouts can flip the game and make the usual end game resources, Ore and Wheat, powerful early instead. The player that recognizes the valuable early game resources can open a commanding lead and destroy the competition. That is, unless the competition sees the threat and communicates to find a way to slow them down.
In Monopoly trading is rare and usually lopsided as there are few ways to equalize. Catan is a game where trading is essential and for the most part, easier. Finding trades that benefit both parties is rarely hard to accomplish. As previously mentioned sometimes trades can be used to slow down an opponent that has jumped to an early lead. At this point communication is essential. Deception can also be used here to mislead your opponents into believing your position is weaker than another and use this to garner better trades. Rarely are resources traded one for one between players. First of all, the player whose turn it is has an immediate advantage of being able to use the resource they are collecting. Secondly, as the player receiving the return trade you could lose the resource before your turn through the Robber, the Monopoly development card, or if you have more than seven resources a 7 might be rolled. Typically, if it is your turn you should expect to trade two resources for one or at least three for two. If you are unable to produce a resource you must have be prepared to pay more than that if your opponents recognize your plight. Also, be wary of players making trades too good to be true. There is usually a hook with the worm.
Settlers of Catan is available in Malta Comics today. It is also available through the web store to reserve your copy. Soon we will also add a demonstration video with more strategies and game hints.