How to play: Settlers of Catan

Bradley Mahoney
May 3, 2017 · 11 min read

The Settlers of Catan is a resource gathering euro-style game.

The way to win Settlers of Catan is to be the first one gain 10 Victory points.

There are three ways to get Victory points:

The first is from building settlements and cities. Each settlement is worth one victory point while each city is worth two victory points.

Settlements (left) are worth 1 victory point while cities (right) are worth 2 victory points

The second is from having the longest road or largest army out of all the players. Having the longest road of five or greater or largest army of three or greater are each worth 2 victories points.

Each of these are worth 2 victory points as long as you hold them. They will be explained later on in the article.

The third is from Development Cards. There are 5 victory point cards in the Development Card deck that may be drawn when you build a development card.

Despite their different names they all give 1 victory point.

Settlements, cities, roads, and development cards are each built by gathering resources when the dice are rolled.

There are five types of resources:

Wood: dark green

Brick: red/brown

Sheep: light green

Wheat: yellow/gold

Ore: grey

There is also a desert tile that doesn’t produce any resources

This tile won’t have a number on it.

If you have a settlement touching a space where the number equals the die roll, you get one of that space’s resource. If you have a city there you get two of that resource.

Since a 4 was rolled and red has a settlement on that hex, the red player gets an ore resource card.

The prices for the different things you can build are as follows:

Road: One wood, one brick

Settlement: One wood, one brick, one wheat, one sheep

City: Three ore, two wheat

Development card: One ore, one sheep, one wheat

As mentioned before settlements and cities are used to generate resources from nearby tiles while also being worth victory points (1 for settlements and 2 for cities.)

Roads are used to build more settlements away from your original starting position. If you want to build a new settlement after the game starts you have to have continuous roads leading to the spot where you want to build your new settlement.

Settlements and roads are built along the edges in between the hexagonal tiles on the board. When a city is built it replaces an already existing settlement.

Settlements, roads, and cities are all built upon the edges of the hexagonal tiles. In this example if a six is rolled then the red player would receive two wheat resources due to having a city touching that tile.

The final thing you can build are Development Cards (or devo cards as many call them). Devo cards always have a positive effect for the player who uses them, though they can often do different things from each other. When you pay the resources to build a devo card you then take the top devo card from the deck and look at it while keeping it hidden from the other players until you decide to play it. You can play one devo card during your turn, either before or after your roll. The different types of devo cards are:

Knight: these are the most common devo cards. When played they allow you to move the robber and blindly steal a resource from one of the players who has a settlement on the new robber space. The other thing knights do is contribute to your army.

Year of Plenty: When played this card lets you take two resources from the bank for free. They don’t need to be the same resource but they can be if you want.

Road Builder: When played this card lets you play two roads immediately for free. They still need to be connected to one of your roads or settlements or cities. These roads can count towards the longest road victory points.

Monopoly: When you play this card you name a resource type (brick, sheep, etc.) and all other players must give you all of that type of resource that they have in their hand.

Victory point: This development card is never flipped over unless you have just won the game. It does not need to be played to count towards your total VPs. It counts as a single victory point. The cards names are Market, University, Library, Chapel, and Great Hall.

You can only play a single devo card during your turn and you cannot play them during other players turns.

The Largest Army comes into effect once any player has three or more flipped up (played) knights. Once this happens for the rest of the game whoever has the most flipped up knights at a given time has two extra victory points. If two players have the same amount of played knights than whoever had that amount of knights first is the one with the extra points. For example, let’s say I was the first one to get to three knights. Another player would have to get to four knights in order to take those two points away from me. Use the largest army token to keep track who has the two points at any moment.

If you have at least three knights as well as the most amount of knights you have the “Largest Army” points

The Longest Road works very similarly. Once a player has at least five roads connected in a single path then for the rest of the game whoever has the longest continuous road has two extra victory points. Similarly to the Largest Army ties go to whoever had that length of road of first. A road of length five would need to be surpassed by a road of length six in order for the extra points to change to another player. Remember that even if you already have the longest road you can continue to extend it in order to protect those points from being stolen. Each road can only be counted once for the longest road (so no doubling back and no infinite roads due to a circle.) Use the longest road token to keep track who has the two points at any moment.

If you have at least five continuous roads as well as the longest road of all players you get the “Longest Road” points.

You may notice that there is no seven token to be put onto the board. That’s because when a seven is rolled something special happens. The first thing that happens is that anyone who has eight or more cards must discard half of their hand, rounded down. So if you had nine cards in your hand when a seven is rolled you would have to discard four cards. You get to choose what cards you discard. Once everyone who needed to has discarded then the player who rolled the seven moves the robber token to a space. Whichever space the robber is placed on will not generate resources until the robber is moved from it. The roller gets to now blindly steal one resource from one of the players who has a settlement or city taking that tile. Then their turn continues as normal where they can build and trade until they pass their turn to the next person. The Robber starts the game on the desert tile.

If a six is rolled, the red player will NOT receive any resources because the robber is there!

A key rule to take note of is that any settlement that you place cannot be less than two “edges” away from another settlement or city. Essentially, you cannot have a settlement next to another settlement. This will make the positioning of your settlements more limited and interesting as you have to avoid spaces too close to others.

This is illegal because the right red settlement is too close to the blue settlement. They can’t be closer than two “edges” away.
Here this is legal because the red settlements are two “edges” away so they are not too close.

This rule applies for both your own settlements and other players’ settlements.

One thing that can be useful if you simply cannot get a certain resource is that you can trade four of one resource to get one of any resource you want. This is not a particularly good deal but if don’t have access to a resource it could be your only access to building something that requires it. There are also ways to get a favorable deal from the bank instead of the 4:1 baseline.

On the water tiles surrounding all of the tiles you will see some rocks next to symbols. These are all ports. If you have a settlement on one of the two spots that touches a port, you have access to that port. If the port has a question mark with a 3:1 symbol, that means you can now trade in 3 of any one resource to get one of any resource you want. If the port has a 2:1 with the symbol of a resource on it, that means you can trade in two of that resource to get one of any resource you want.

If you have a settlement on this port it allows you to exchange 2 ore resources for one of any resource from the bank.
With a settlement on this port you can exchange 3 of any one resource for 1 of any resource of your choice from the bank.

You can also trade with other players. On your turn you can ask the other players if they’re willing to trade a resource that you need. You can ask things like “Anybody have a brick to trade?” or “I’m trading a wood for a sheep” and see if anyone will take you up on your offer. A trade always has to include the player whose turn it is. You can trade multiple resources at once, such as a brick and a wood for two wheat, and you can also trade for different amounts of resources, such as trading one brick for two wheat. Whatever the deal is, both sides need to agree and then they can trade resources.

Two ore are being traded for a brick and a wood. This trade happens to have an even balance of cards being traded, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The player can play a development card if they want to. Once they decide and that card is resolved if it’s played, the player then rolls the dice.

The roll is then resolved as players are given their relevant resources or the robber is moved and a resource is stolen.

After everything related to the roll is resolved the player can now build and trade to their hearts desire. If they haven’t played a development card yet they can do that as well, in whatever order suits them. Their turn isn’t over until they say it is.

Rinse and repeat.

Take all of the edge pieces with the water and ports on them and look for the numbers that are on either end. Connect the pieces together by matching the numbers on the ends with each other.

Match the numbers up to have evenly spaced ports on your board.

Now, take all of the hexagonal game pieces and shuffle them together. Put them random on the board, starting with the edges, until all the board pieces are put down and the board is filled.

Now, take all of the number pieces and shuffle those up randomly. Start putting them down on the board, one number assigned to each hexagon. A key rule to remember is that red number pieces cannot be next to other red number pieces. When putting these down randomly if that happens move that piece to another spot where it won’t be touching another red, switching it with a black number if necessary.

Once that is done put the Robber on the desert piece as that is where he will start the game.

Now, roll the dice to see who will place their starting settlement first. Once the first player has been determined, they may place their settlement anywhere on the board. Once that is done they then place a road attached to the settlement. Now the second player does the same thing and so on until we get to the last player. They will place their settlement and road somewhere on the board that is at least two edges away from the nearest settlement then they will place a second settlement and road somewhere else as well. Then we go back up the list with the second-to-last player next and so on until we reach the first player again who will be the last person to place his second settlement and road onto the board.

Now everyone gets the resources touching the second settlement they placed down as their starting resources and the game begins with the first player’s turn. You’re ready to play Catan!

Once all of the starting positions have been chosen you are ready to play!

The Settlers of Catan is the game that got me (and eventually my friends) into board games beyond Monopoly and Risk. It is by far one of the most widely known and culturally celebrated board games out there right now. Part of this is because of how easy it is to pick up even without a lot of board game experience.

You might be scrolling up and wondering how I can say that when there are so many rules and parts but the core of the game comes down to a very simple concept: you gain resources via the dice roll, you trade resources with other players to get exactly what you need, and you build things to gain victory points. Everything else is either window dressing or follows intuitively from this concept.

The other nice thing about Catan is that it is very possible for a new player to end up winning their first game. I have seen it happen before more than once.

Overall Catan is definitely a “gateway game” into the whole new world of board gaming and, since one of my brothers taught it to me, it’s definitely a game I would have no trouble getting my brothers to play.

Both brothers, 100% on the teachability scale.

Settlers of Catan is a great game with a lot of strategic depth and a healthy amount of luck added in. It has a huge amount of replayability due to the fact that the board is different every time that you play. For a euro-style game it has a good amount of other player interaction through trading and blocking other people’s road routes.

My only real issue with SoC is that there is no real comeback mechanic. If you fall behind early in the game there is no good way to really come back and be a challenger for the victory.

Overall, a very good game especially for less hardcore tabletop players in your group. 5/5 stars

Board Game Brother

How-to-Play tutorials and other commentary about tabletop…

Bradley Mahoney

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Writer, traveler, creator, and board game enthusiast.

Board Game Brother

How-to-Play tutorials and other commentary about tabletop games

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