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It’s Time to Become a Settler of Catan

“No, I don’t think you understand. I’m obsessed.”

– Nicki Minaj, but also me, explaining my love of Catan to every person I encounter

The best-selling board game Catan is a pandemic essential. Requiring 3-4 players and lasting 45-60 minutes, it’s the perfect way to spend a casual night in, whether with roommates or family. If your parents are at all like mine, though, it may take a while before they catch on…

The premise of the game is simple. You discovered an island abundant with natural resources and your objective is to develop as many settlements and cities as possible. This is done by spending the resources you accumulate through dice rolls. Settlements and cities are worth points, but there are other ways to accumulate points in the game by purchasing development cards and building roads. Be the first player to achieve 10 points and you win! Easy, right?

Bay Beach Brazil City
Florencia Potter / Pexels

Well, it might not seem so easy upon unboxing. Setting up the board might intimidate you, but believe me, that’s where the value of Catan lies. I believe that Catan is the superior board game because the board is completely different every time you play. This provides the variety and unpredictability necessary for a fair match between even the most experienced players. I still haven’t been able to beat my oldest brother, but matchups between me, my middle brother, and my parents are usually fair fights; it depends on how many rules my parents forget, which can really destroy any strategy they had.

The design of the game strikes the ideal balance between luck and strategy. To set up the board, you connect the cardboard pieces to form the water surrounding the island of Catan. Then, it’s up to you to place the 18 resource hexes in whatever format you desire. After laying out the hexes, you assign a numbered tile to each of the hexes on the board. The number on the resource hex corresponds to a dice roll; when that number is rolled, anyone who has a settlement touching that hex gets one card of that specific resource. Since you determine how the resources are arranged and what number lies on each resource, you leave much of the fate to the rolls of the dice. There’s the luck.

Strategy enters the picture before the game begins when players choose starting points for two settlements. You might get to place yours first, giving you the chance to select the best possible spot on the board. It could be, for example, the intersection of three hexes with the numbers 8, 9, and 5. Why is this a good place to start? Because the numbers have a higher probability of being rolled than, say, two, three, or eleven. So, the overarching strategy of the game is to place your initial settlements where they’re most likely to accumulate resources, as well as where you are most likely to expand your territory with ease. Once the game begins, the strategy becomes more complex. With every turn, you must consider your own motives as well as your opponents’. As you build, you have to keep track of what others build, in case they encroach upon your territory and threaten your ability to progress your civilization. If you aren’t too careful, it’s easy for someone to snatch the win from you at the last second (I’ve been there and it stings).

outdoors hc 1
Original photo by Lily Borror

I’ll end by saying that Catan single-handedly improved my life considerably during a time of uncertainty. Sure, it’s caused some heated arguments at the dinner table over the past year, but it’s nothing my family can’t move past. For real though, it’s an incredible game that brings out the competitive thrill we all seek from time to time. It’s the perfect way to meaningfully connect with friends and family while engaging the mind, too. As my oldest brother once said to me, “Catan is like a religion where, once you are indoctrinated, you need to spread the word so others can be saved.” 

If you’re ready to become a Settler of Catan, buy it wherever games are sold.

Grace Bertagna

U Mass Amherst '23

Grace Bertagna is a sophomore at UMass Amherst studying Spanish and Sociology. She enjoys painting, practicing yoga, cooking, and playing ice hockey.
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