The Settlers of Catan to give this deeply strategic game its classic title is one of the most well-known board games out there. So when Chris mentioned recently that a version was going to be released on the Switch, I knew I had to get him to play the classic board game version before losing him to the Switch.
Having played Catan a couple of times previously with friends, I picked up my own copy and arranged a session with Chris and two other Catan newcomers. For what is a decidedly simple game once you’ve started to play, it is extremely intimidating when a new box is being unpacked.
Yes, you have the joys of assembling the board, setting the ocean perimeter and slotting in the land hexes before distributing settlement and road pieces, along with the requisite resource cards. But for those who are new to this level of board gaming, the sheer amount of stuff is quite an eye opener. That’s before you start working your way through the rulebook.
The game has evolved somewhat since it first came out in the mid-90s, the edition I bought came with a beginner’s layout for the board. A recommended layout of hexes to form the island of Catan, along with starting points for the three to four players provides a straightforward entry point.
Experienced players, or even those feeling bold in their second attempt, might well take things into their own hands and arrange the hexes, cities and roads as they see fit. But for beginners, following the suggested setup is a must.
Reading through the rule book without having the game flowing is a recipe for disaster. I saw the blood drain from Chris’ face as I explained the rules, but once he took the first roll of the dice, he was hooked.
It is of course a game of great depth and strategy, one that you can’t expect everyone to fully understand during their first playthrough. The goal is straightforward, gain ten victory points, but there is such a variety of approaches that you can take to acquire those points that you need a few games to fully appreciate the depths of the strategic play.
Following the recommended layout and starting points, Chris immediately set off on a plan to build a handful of settlements and upgrade them to cities while one of my friends built roads upon roads, all the while earning vast quantities of resources. However, with the luck of the dice-rolls not with them, they never acquired the resources they needed to make a strike towards victory.
A combined arms approach was my path to victory. A healthy number of settlements and cities, aligned with an ever expanding road empire granted me the bonus points for the longest road card. Judicious purchases of development cards handed me enough knights to pick up the large army card, while secretly gaining victory point development cards put me over the top for the win.
Yes, it’s an intimidating game to start with, but everyone quickly picked up the basics and were intently playing throughout without any question of a break in proceedings being required. Their faces at the end betrayed both their disappointment at losing, and also their eagerness to play again.
That counts as a good board game session for me.