5 Rule Modifications For Catan.
I reluctantly began playing Catan four or five years ago (back when it was known as Settlers of Catan). I say reluctantly because when my wife brought it home for our family to play on Thanksgiving, I remember rolling my eyes thinking it would surely be a dumb game. After all, I was a strict Castle Risk guy and this ugly, hexagon-shaped game — comprised of little hexagons within — had “no-fun” written all over it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’ve played Catan approximately 200 times since that Thanksgiving. Some people may call me a Catan addict, but I prefer the term enthusiast.
In the past four years I’ve introduced numerous people to the game, I’ve made numerous Catan converts, I’ve researched new strategies, developed some strategies of my own, and I’ve even made a few modifications to the official game rules.
And, if I may be so presumptuous to say, I believe those modifications are an improvement to the original rules. I’m so confident in this, that I’m sharing my five modifications publicly in the hopes that others will derive as much fun employing them as I have.
So without further ado, here are the five rule modifications that have enhanced my family’s Catan gaming experience.
1). Highest Roller Faces a Choice
Rule: All players roll to see who goes first. Highest roller goes first.
Mod: The player with the highest roll gets the choice whether to go first or last. This is important because every new game presents different strategies (depending on resource layout). A player’s decision to go first or last will depend on the resource layout and the player’s strategy for that particular game.
If the highest roller decides to forfeit her turn to go first, then the player to her left goes first.
2). Red Rover, Red Rover, Send The Bandit On Over.
Rule: When a player rolls a 7, all players holding eight or more cards have to discard half their hand, and the player who rolled the 7 gets to move the robber onto the resource tile of his choice. That player then gets to steal a card (blind) from the player’s hand whose resource the robber was placed on.
Mod: After rolling a 7 and placing the robber on the resource tile of your choice, instead of stealing a card from the opponent on that tile, you take that specific resource from the bank.
In other words, if you put the robber on brick, you get to take a brick directly from the resource bank.
This modification makes rolling the robber more desirable since you get a free resource of your choosing and you don’t have to randomly steal a card from your opponent only to end up with another resource you probably have no use for.
This is one of my favorite modifications because it curbs arguments among younger players. If you’ve ever played Catan with your kids, then the following scenario will be all too familiar to you.
Kid 1: Rolls a 7 and places the bandit on one of Kid 2’s resources.
Kid 2: Holds up her cards where only she can see them and Kid 1 plays the guessing game as to which card to seize. He examines her facial expressions every time he touches a card and she tries to bluff him with her facial expressions. This goes on . . . well, forever.
Kid 1: Finally decides on a card and pinches it between his fingers to pull it from Kid 2’s hand.
Kid 2: Turns out this particular card is one that Kid 2 doesn’t want to lose so she employs a death grip on it.
Kid 1: Sensing that Kid 2 doesn’t want to let this card go, he surmises it must be a good card. So he pulls harder.
Kid 2: Grips tighter.
Kid 1: Pulls harder
Kid 2: Grips tighter.
Kid 1: Pulls harder.
Kid 1 and 2: Begin rolling on the floor as they fight over the card.
In the end, the cards get wrecked and the game becomes unnecessarily stressful.
By employing my modification, the player who rolls the 7 now places the bandit based on what resource he needs most, then he draws that resource directly from the bank.
(Note: The resource that the robber is placed on is still blocked as normal while the bandit remains there, but the “stealing a card” process is much more pleasant and the cards don’t get bent and torn.)
3). Robbers, Bandits, And Knights, Oh My.
Rule: Playing a knight card is the same as rolling a 7 except players don’t have to worry about discarding half their hand if they’re holding eight or more cards.
Mod: Just like the mod rule for rolling a seven, when someone plays a knight card, that player moves the robber to the resource tile of his choice then selects that resource from the bank, not the opponent.
4). The Best Offense Is A Good Defense
Rule: Catan is limited on its ability to employ powerful defensive moves. The few defensive tactics available include:
- Moving a bandit onto an opponent’s hexagon to block them from gathering resources.
- Building a road or settlement in an opponent’s way to block their progress and effectively prevent them from expanding.
- Building a settlement in the middle of an opponent’s road to break up their longest road.
- Stealing an opponent’s largest army card or longest road card by building a larger army or longer road.
All of these are effective defensive moves, but the granddaddy of defensive moves would be the ability to take away someone’s settlement, wouldn’t it?
Well that’s where my next modification comes in.
Mod: This is a great defensive move in which you can either remove an opponent’s settlement from the board or downgrade their city to a settlement.
To do this, a player (on his turn) must play one of every resource card (lumber, brick, wheat, sheep, ore) in addition to one knight card. He can then either knock a chosen opponent’s city down to a settlement, or remove that opponent’s settlements from the board. This defensive move effectively reduces your opponent’s victory point accumulation by one.
A limitation we apply to this defensive move is that it cannot be used unless the opponent that it’s being used against has a minimum of seven points from settlements and cities (longest road points and largest army points don’t factor into this minimum point threshold requirement).
Example: If your opponent has eight victory points and you’re able to use this defensive tactic twice, he will be down to six points and you will not be able to employ this maneuver again until he has regained at least seven points.
(Note: This downgrade of a city or removal of a settlement is not permanent. The opponent can rebuild on his next turn unless another player has since built a settlement in that newly vacated spot.)
5). Win With A Dozen
Rule: The winner is the first player to reach ten victory points.
Mod: The winner is the first player to reach twelve victory points.
My family discovered that games usually ended way too fast at only ten points. Inevitably, just as the game would start heating up, someone would reach ten points and the game would end.
Additionally, we discovered that whoever reached seven or eight points first, was unstoppable and would usually win the game.
So we began playing to eleven points. This gave other players a greater opportunity to catch up to the lead player and sometimes, even overtake her. After a while though, we felt the game was still ending too quickly. We then experimented with going to twelve points and have never looked back.
We found that going to twelve points not only increased the quality of the gameplay because more players had a chance to overtake the lead opponent, but it also increased the quality of gameplay because it forced players to diversify their point accumulation. This raises the stakes, the tension, and the fun.
Since going to twelve points, it’s no longer as common for a player to win with just one strategy as it once was.
Oftentimes players will need to seek after the longest road or largest army (or both) to accumulate enough points to win. And in some cases (like if a player gets boxed in on the board) they will have to seek additional victory points from the development cards (or as we call them, “desperation cards”).
I’ve seen more than one game end where two players are fighting for one more point and they have to resort to the development cards to obtain it. Those were the most memorable games I’ve ever played.
(Note: In a three-player game, procuring twelve points is not that difficult to accomplish. In a four-player game, however, it can get trickier, but it’s much more fun. I promise.)
We’ve been using all of the aforementioned rule modifications for at least a year and have not encountered any issues. So, try one or two of them in your next game, or try them all. The more you incorporate into your game, the better your experience will be.
And if you encounter a problem, have a question, need clarification, or if you’ve created a rule modification of your own, feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
J.L. Pattison is a husband, a father, and an author. He has a shiny new website he built out of wheat and ore, and while you were busy reading this article he stole the longest road from you.