Settlers of Catan – So Long, And Thanks For All The Wood

I’d heard about Settlers of Catan a hundred billion times, at least, as it’s widely called “The Fazzer Of Ze Euroz Gaming”, and I’ve heard it panned by Ameritrash folks as a gaming atrocity. Although not as widely hated, at least publicly, as renaissance farming or weenie trading games, it has been the subject of scorn and ridicule. “It doesn’t have a body count”, they said. “It doesn’t have much player interaction”, the said.


Well, don’t mind the bollocks, because “they” are invariably full of shit.

I had played Settlers of Catan all of one time up until 2 weeks ago, and it was a learning game four years ago at GenCon, with some guys I had never met. Me, being my usual self, just saw there were three guys about to play, so I sat down, and said, “What color am I?” One of them said, “Mediterranean tan?” and I figured I was at the right table. They graciously allowed me to play, although none of them had played, and by the time we were done, 2 and a half hours later, I realized that not only was I at the wrong table, but I was playing the wrong game.  They bad mouthed the game the whole time, I later learned that we were playing it wrong , and I had subconsciously written off the game as another crappy Euro game. “How could it be so popular?” was ringing in my ears. So, I went back to playing games where people get blown up, cleaved in half by energy weapons, or where demons and zombies roam freely.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, when I decided to trade for a copy of Settlers as a gift for my bestie’s wife, the one staunch proponent of all things Euro and Tikal in my little gaming legion. Now, since I always get screwed into being the game teacher, I figured I had better learn the game before I tried to teach it, so I bought in on my iPad. What a horrendous mistake that was. “Why, pray tell is that, Mr. A Pimp Named Slickback?” you might ask? First, no need for the “Mr.”, and the reason it was a mistake is that after purchasing the game, it is the only game I’ve played on my iPad since. I mean, we’re talking addiction-level playtime, in excess of 80 hours over the last 2 weeks alone.  Worse still, since I’ve learned it I’ve requested it at every game night, multiple times. Holy Mother of God, what a great game. I’m desperately hooked at this point. I’m not saying that I’d suck your dick for a sheep, but I’m not saying it’s out of the realm of possibility.

Now, the iPad game is fast, and fun, but only in a limited “I kicked the AI’s ass” kind of way. The real fun is not in the winning, but rather in convincing your friends that they ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE THAT GRAIN, and they should pay you one of each other commodity for it. It’s about the sale; the small victories along the way. It’s about the other players looking over at the person you just took for everything but their underwear, with that, “Say what, bitch? You just gave him WHAT, for WHAT?” look of amazement and disbelieving scrutiny. It’s about the “take that” moment when you put a settlement along an enemy’s road, thereby crushing their hopes of that quick 2 point score they’ve been trying to earn over the last ten turns. Anyone that says Settlers of Catan has little direct player interaction is clearly either not playing it right, or a jizznozzle.

The game’s rules are very simple, which is a boon if you’re the game teacher, and the game is actually quite simple to understand. You get commodities, you trade commodities, and you build things to earn points. On its face, you’d think that there wasn’t much there, but once you really understand it, every single turn has agonizing decisions that will affect the balance of power. This doesn’t even begin to address the fact that there’s a wild card in play, the “robber”, who is the Catan equivalent of a thermonuclear attack. You drop that bastard on a tile that has an opponent’s building adjacent to it, and you can not only steal that person’s shit, if they have too many cards, they lose half their cards. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the robber poisons the land like a cloud of radioactive fallout, so that the region doesn’t produce anything, which is the icing on the uranium cake. Best of all, he stays there until someone else rolls a seven to move him, or someone has a card that allows him to be moved. It’s brutal beyond compare. The look of consternation and hate that follows such an attack is well worth the price of admission alone. Do it to the same player twice, consecutively, or if several players do it to the same player consecutively, and it is wholly plausible that their face will crack open and hatch a Velociraptor, who will subsequently devour your gizzards in a blinding sea of blood and unabated rage. Like I said, it’s a brilliant game.

If there is one weakness to the game design, it’s that the starting position that you place your initial settlements in is so utterly important that one mistake or miscalculation can cost you the game before you even take your first turn. That said, luck plays a large role in the game as the tiles that produce commodities are activated by a die roll, so even the perfect initial settlement placement can be stymied by straight-up hateful-ass dice. The mitigating factor is that you can trade things every turn, so even if you have bad die rolls, and even if nobody will trade you anything, you can trade things back to the “bank”, at confiscatory rates, to advance your position.

In the end, it’s a really good game that I overlooked for a long time due to a group of guys who poisoned me against it, my own blatant idiocy, and a cacophonous sea of disgust released by dyed-in-the-wool Ameritrashers who decried the game based solely on the fact that it has wooden bits instead of plastic Space Marines. Hell, if this game was re-skinned with Imperial Roads, Ork Outposts, and Tyranid Hives, sort of how Talisman was re-skinned to Relic, Settlers of Catan: 40K edition would be an instant best-seller. And I’d be first in line to buy that shit, aaaaaaw yeah.

Why I’d Settle Down With A Settler:
– Simple rules but complex strategy make this game a real winner
– Player interaction is heavy, with an emphasis on negotiation and screwage
– A modular-board system makes this infinitely replayable
– With many expansions such as the wonderful Seafarers expansion, it’s a living system

Why Catan Means “You’z a Ho” in Catanese:
– Starting positions are so important that it seems almost unbalanced
– The dice-heavy commodity production adds randomness, but can ruin your fun

Overall:
It’s a bit ridiculous to call this a pure Eurogame as the genre exists today because luck and direct player interaction play such a large role in Settlers of Catan. I mean, I understand that it has light rules, and is playable by everyone, so by that standard, it could be construed as a Euro, but it shares so much more with Ameritrashy Dudes On A Map games like Axis and Allies than it does Agricola, in my opinion. The only thing missing from this game is a body count, and with the Cities and Knights expansion, a body count does exist, albeit in a very abstracted way. The long and short is that this game should be in every single gamer’s collection, either physically or digitally, since it’s available for Xbox360, iPad, and on the web.

Rating: 
4.5/5 Stars

Check out the website here to see what the game’s like and what expansions exist:





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