Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Joy of Settlers of Catan

Posted by Ziff

My impression is that the average Mormon plays more board games than does the average non-Mormon. I suspect that, just as we use ice cream as a substitute for alcohol, we use board games as a substitute for drinking games.

One of my favorites is Settlers of Catan. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. You might want to read more about it, or if you have a lot of faith in me, just skip right to buying it. But the simplest way to get introduced to Settlers is probably to just ask around among your Mormon friends. I suspect you will find that some of them already play it.

Why is Settlers so much fun? One reason is that the game board changes from one play to the next. Another reason is that the game rewards different strategies. For example, in Cities and Knights, you can win by building up to metropolises or by building out to get lots of settlements and the longest road.
The game also mixes skill and luck nicely. I don’t tend to enjoy games where the outcome is mostly a function of luck. I want to feel at least somewhat in control. But on the other hand, I also don’t like games where the outcome is mostly or entirely a function of skill. Chess is a perfect example. When I get beaten at chess, I have nobody to blame but myself–no dice or cards random board setups. When playing Settlers, though, I feel enough in control to enjoy the game, but there’s also enough luck involved that when I lose, I don’t have to attribute it (properly) to my failure to strategize correctly. I can delude myself and think that I played as well as could be expected, given that the dice refused to come up with my numbers.

Finally, I like Settlers because it moves slowly enough that it leaves plenty of time to chat. And what are most board games, after all, if not an excuse to enjoy the company of people we like?

So does anyone else play Settlers? Or do you have other games to recommend?

31 Responses to “The Joy of Settlers of Catan”

  1. 1.

    My wife and I love the settlers of Catan. We found a travel edition and take it with us, it’s filled a few nights when there is nothing on TV in hotel rooms. Our cribbage board also travels with us. We’ve also taught ourselves Canasta (shush…we’re history nerds) One of the neatest games I’ve played in a while I was at a ward game night, it’s called Diamate, a very simple game but a lot of fun. Just google it, it’s a diamond hunter themed game.

    I have got weird looks from mormons about card games before though, and while my family never played card games, I always thought it was due to the fact that we were always working on the farm. I’ve gotten hints over time that there is some kind of prejudice against face cards but I’ve never been that bored to plug that seach term into LDS.org. Anyone know of the source of this prejudice? It’s not a pressing concern…lol…just lazy

  2. 2.

    Good question, angrymormonliberal. I think President Kimball was adamantly opposed to the use of cards, whether for gambling or not. For example, from October Conference, 1974:

    We hope faithful Latter-day Saints will not use the playing cards which are used for gambling, either with or without the gambling.

    While the Church clearly continues to oppose gambling, the idea that playing cards themselves should be avoided seems to be dying.

  3. 3.

    Scrabble.

    But I’ve been toying with the idea of buying SoC for awhile, and I think you just pushed me over the edge.

    I also like playing Memory with 4-6 year-olds, because they always beat adults, and there’s something cool and humbling about that.

  4. 4.

    Julie,

    I’m glad to hear you’re considering buying Settlers. My wife actually had to prod me a little to get me to agree to get it. In fact, I think it was right before Lynnette came to visit us one Spring Break. Anyway, I am happy to help push you toward such a good decision. Now when I ask myself whether I have done any good in the world today, I can answer “yes.”

    I’ve played Scrabble, but not for a long time. I used to play with friends who were really good at it, and I always felt a bit down when they would beat my pants off at it. I guess I never felt like there was enough luck involved for me to attribute my losses to luck rather than lack of skill.

    Thanks for the Memory suggestion. I have a six year old; I’ll have to try it with him. I have no doubt he’ll beat me. But he’s already got me plenty humbled where games are concerned. Whenever he plays computer games, he’ll show me how to play–using the same “I’m being patient with you” voice that I use when showing him how do do something–and then beat me soundly, while making comments like “I guess kids are better than dads at computer games, right Dad?”

  5. 5.

    The newest version of the Settlers franchise uses chits instead of dice — one of the few times that is an improvement. All the numbers come up, in their proper distributions, rather than have a chance to come up.

  6. 6.

    Settlers was one of the few games we took with us when we lived overseas. We discovered that some other American friends loved the game too, but it was just before they moved.

    My husband’s family plays Rook and only Rook.

  7. 7.

    We have a ward with a very high turnover rate, so we have introduced many people to Settlers. We even joke with our friends in the ward that it is a race to “convert” the next couple–we equate it to “building a down-line” (for those familiar with MLM terminology). What is often very fun is to compare your “Settlers Geneology” with someone else: “What, Jim introduced you to the game? That’s amazing, ’cause I taught Stacy and she taught Jim.”

    As for other games, check out the rankings on boardgamegeek.com.

    Stephen, #5: One of my favorite things about Settlers is that sometimes those darn 6’s and 8’s never come up. I like the chance that a perfectly laid plan can totally fail.

  8. 8.

    I’ve only played Settlers three or four times. I did lose one of the games, but all in all enjoyed it. Anyway, I used to work in the game industry and chits vs. dice is an old debate, mostly clearly decided in favor of dice. But, after Grant’s farewell, I was talking with his dad, and he mentioned that the chits really seem to be an improvement in the new game.

    I’ll keep your thoughts in mind if I play the game again. Recently we’ve played a werewolf game (a party game where some people are the wolves, others are various other characters and villagers and it goes pretty fast) and a neat cooperative game where you play the knights of camelot. Most cooperative board games are huge failures, this one is unique in that it is fun and a success.

    Do players of Settlers branch out into other games much or not? Now I’m curious.

  9. 9.

    Forgive my ignorance, Stephen M. What are chits?

  10. 10.

    I despise SoC, sorry. Played it many times, and I still don’t like it. Just thought I’d add my “two chits” since it was turning into a Settlers lovefest. It was too much about aquisition and grabbing for me, with the resources too scarce. I like Monopoly, though, so I’m not sure exactly what I object to. I guess in Monopoly you can establish a nice little niche, say, railroads, and stick with it, but in Settlers it seems like you have to be out to RULE THE WORLD and, er, doesn’t that kinda contradict what we’re supposed to be all about?

    This leads me to think about other kinds of inversion and play, in which the true order of things is turned upside down, ritually destroyed, for the purpose of reinforcing it. In other words, don’t we play like robber barons so that we don’t act that way in our real interactions with real people? And isn’t Halloween for giving a chance to play with gender, age, and species, etc, so as to help us locate ourselves again socially, culturally?

    But as far as what games non-Settlers fans might like, to help support Ethesis’s research, at our house, we like Set and Rummikub, Scattergories, chess and Cranium. I’d be a little weirded out moving into BrianJ’s ward and trying to be converted to, or fellowshipped into, Settlers groupie-land.

  11. 11.

    In our first ward after we were married it was pretty much mandatory that you learn to play. Honest. It came up in ward council as the standard fellowshipping tool (along with golf). I always thought that was a little weird … but before we moved we bought it because we liked it so much.

    I like the luck/skill combination–it helps me feel like I always have a chance to win (and gives my husband something to rationalize with when he loses).

    If you like Settlers, try Carcassonne. It would take to long to explain here, but if you google it it should come up. Our neighbors introduced us and we’ve had to be extra friendly so we can keep getting together to play it :)

  12. 12.

    “chits” are cardboard squares with numbers on them. Just like you turn over cards in Candyland to get a move, you turn over chits to get a number.

    If you are already printing cardboard pieces for a game, assuming you haven’t used up the blank the pieces are cut from, you can also do chits for “free” while dice take money and don’t lie quite as flat.

  13. 13.

    I love playing settlers. My sister, who lives several states away, and I play online. This makes the game go a little more quickly, but we can also chat the whole time.
    I must admit, however, that I love a good card game. As long as money is not involved, and people are having a good time, I don’t see anything wrong with them. I grew up playing card games, (hearts, and spades were our favorite,) and sometimes that was the only time my family got together.
    I think games in general are a wonderful way to have a good time. It teaches my children how to take turns, understand and follow directions, and not take things too seriously. We have a rule in our family, if someone gets mad or mean, we stop playing.

  14. 14.

    Slowly but surely, I’m bringing the gospel of Settlers to the pagans of the English department here. Meanwhile, we’ve been introduced to Nerts, which is sort of like competetive Solitaire, and is best played with clipped nails.

  15. 15.

    Stephen: “Do players of Settlers branch out into other games much or not? Now I’m curious”

    For my friends and I, Settlers was the “gateway drug.” Before Settlers, we each had the requisite Pictionary, Scrabble, etc games that collected dust. Post Settlers we each own several games, most of them German. It’s a wide variety of themes and mechanics (cards, dice, voting, etc).

  16. 16.

    Ahhh, I love a good Catan lovefest. We first got into it when my roommate learned from her brother on a family vacation. Then we continued to played a lot because we had a couple friends who didn’t have the funds to enjoy more pricey entertainment. And now we get together a couple times a month to catch up on the news, eat some food, and destroy one another. Such good times.

    Also, I wholeheartedly recommend the “New Rules” from _Das Buch_ they make the game go faster, and add a new element of strategy and arbitrariness.

  17. 17.

    Hmmm … also recommend Speed Scrabble. I think there’s a rather long article on Wikipedia. Fabulous word fun with a large helping of adenaline.

  18. 18.

    Stephen: Do players of Settlers branch out into other games much or not? Now I’m curious.

    I haven’t, not into similar games. With friends, I’ve mostly played various card games, and with family, games that allow for lots of silliness. Apples to Apples, for example.

  19. 19.

    Ahh, Settlers. Yes, indeedy!

    I love the comparison to alcohol, because it is certainly true in my family of origin. Earlier in the month, one of my sisters and one of our brothers came with their families to stay for two weeks. By looking at the house, you would guess that the adults must have gone on a drinking binge or worse, but the truth is, my sis, bro, and I just decided that getting our game fix (we only see each other once a year or so) was far more important than cleanliness or nutrition.

    Some of the games we love: Caracassonne. Takes about an hour to 90 minutes. You build a map with a pile of irresistable tiles that each portray a piece of castle, road, river, or cloister. When you place a tile, you can play one of your cool little wooden “dudes” (as we call them) to either be a knight (claims a castle), a thief (claims a road), a farmer (claims countryside), or a monk (claims a cloister). You use subsequent tiles to build onto your roads, castles, etc., getting points along the way. Like Settlers, it has some expansion packs, and some of them (like the commodities addition with a carpenter and a pig) really add to the fun of it. My sis and I like to get hard core and put both of our games together in a huge game of what we call “I’ll leave your Carcass on the Road.” Heh heh heh. One of the fun things about it is that the map is different and really interesting every time you play.

    Blokus: a game for 2, 3, or 4 players (we like 3 or 4 best). Each player has these awesome little Tetris-looking pieces that you have to fit onto the playing board. The trick is, you have to place your pieces (21 different configurations) so only the corners of your own touch, and you try to block the other players from being able to place yours. We like it because it is fast, is different every time, and can be played by quite a range of ages (the most common phrase heard after playing a round is, “Let’s do one more!”).

    Ticket to Ride: A train game with a map of the US (there are now ones with Europe or Germany). You pick destination cards and have to build tracks (with these fun little colorful train pieces) between cities by getting enough track cards of the same color. Everyone vies for tracks to make it to their own destinations–it gets pretty crazy with more than 4 players. Another one that is only 45 minutes long and easy to teach to younger kids when they insist.

    Empire Builder: another train game, but takes all day and is much more complicated (specific commodities to carry, etc.). No-one but my sis, bro, and I seem to appreciate this one, but at least they leave us alone so we can play it!

  20. 20.

    Correction: On Blokus, you are trying to block other players from being able to place their own pieces. As the game progresses, it starts looking like a rainbow jigsaw puzzle. Very visually stimulating.

    You can tell from my descriptions I’m a sucka for groovy playing pieces! It carries over into being hooked into cool packaging for stuff like shampoo. Dang marketers. . .

  21. 21.

    Idahospud said

    I love the comparison to alcohol

    Perhaps we ought to change the name of the game to Alcoholics of Catan? Or maybe Keggers of Satan?

  22. 22.

    Good idea, Mark.

    Hi, my name is Ziff. I’ve been a Catanoholic for three years.

  23. 23.

    Birdie,

    I’m sorry you don’t like Settlers. I can see where you’re coming from, though. It can be hard to not enjoy an activity that your community can make almost mandatory (per Jenny’s comment #11). The one that gets me is camping. I don’t like to camp, but wards where I’ve lived have always had lots of camping activities.

  24. 24.

    Settlers is also fun, in my opinion, for a few particular structural reasons:

    -It is based on an economy, but saving much is very hard to do, and so it presses players into having to make hard choices. This also means that trading is very important. If you could just save till you got 40 resource cards, then sixes and eights would dominate. But you can’t. Your seven sheep are worthless if you don’t use them soon because someone’s bound to roll a seven.

    -The mix of different needs and different ways to get victory points means that no one can lock up all of the ways to win.

    -Related to the inability to save — the relative values of the resources fluctuate quickly and drastically. This turn you’ve got an ore, someone wants to build a city, and you’re being offered a king’s ransom for your ore. Next turn, someone rolls an 11 and suddenly there’s no more demand for your ore. Again, this creates a trade-now bias that makes the game more fluid. You _can’t_ just sit around and try to maximize the buying power of your resources.

    -Everyone’s different needs leads to fun and wacky trades. “Can I turn two lumber into a soldier? Let’s see, she wants a lumber and gives two sheep for it, he wants a sheep, and then if I trade that one for ore . . .” and so forth.

    All reasons why it’s a fun game. Plus, as you note, the nice mix of skill and luck.

    Perhaps at the next bloggersnacker, someone will bring Settlers . . .

  25. 25.

    I’m sadly late to this fine discussion, but I’ll happily bear my testimony of Settlers as the One True Game. Of course, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s always a positive thing for family relations, having once glanced up from a game to see Melyngoch going after Eve’s husband with a baseball bat (though fortunately, it was of the inflatable variety). On the other hand, I’m still quite fond of Ziff and his wife even after they creamed me again and again during my last visit.

    I think one of the other factors that makes Settlers so engaging is that you’re at least potentially involved in every turn. Games like Monopoly can get very slow while you’re waiting for everyone else to go, especially if there are a lot of people in the game. (This has led to a method of play in our family in which you grab the dice as soon as they’ve hit the board, leading to general chaos but a bit less boredom.) With Settlers, except for those awful games in which your numbers aren’t getting rolled at all, things stay more interesting.

  26. 26.

    My wife and I like SoC a lot.

    But the basic game has gotten a bit stale for us. If we add the Knights expansion, we’re good.

    In a way, the staleness of the game is good for us. It means that we can focus on socializing with our friends and family when we play it without worrying about whether we have enough cards to build a city.

    It also frees us up to size-up our company. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about people just by watching them play a couple rounds of SoC.

    But we’re increasingly moving on to different games.

    We found that the game “Lord of the Rings” by Reiner Knizia is a fun one. The unique thing about it is that it’s cooperative (the players play against the board). This probably limits its replay value, but we haven’t had enough chances to play it to get to that point yet.

    “Starfarers of Cataan” is another fun one. Just be gentle with the game pieces, as they tend to break easily.

    If you’ve got a bunch of people who are sufficiently thick-skinned and of a mercenary mindset, Diplomacy can be a rewarding game (but it is a long game).

    But our new favorite is “Puerto Rico.” The board setup and game pieces aren’t much like SoC. Neither are the rules. But the gameplay is similar. Gaming enthusiasts lump this game and SoC into the category of German Games (because the game designers are German and gameplay is similar). There is a very small amount of luck involved in the game – namely, turn order and which plantations you draw. But after that, it’s pure skill.

    If you’ve played Settlers a gazillion times, you’ll have no trouble picking up Puerto Rico. And you’ll probably actually like it better than Settlers. I do.

    I’d like to try out “Tigris and Euphrates” sometime as well…

    If you want game reviews and strategy discussion, check out “Gamegeek.com.” For die-hard gaming fanatics.

    P.S. I always liked Risk as a kid, but could never find anyone to play for the simple fact that it was TOO FREAKING LONG. And once a player got eliminated, they had to either sit there for three hours watching the slow painful process of world domination, or they’d just leave and do something else – which just killed the group dynamic. It didn’t help that games could easily take all afternoon.

    Well, FYI, the “Lord of the Rings Risk” solved these problems. Each time a player takes a turn, the Ring moves one territory closer to Mount Doom. When the Ring hits the fire, the game is over, and everyone tallies up the score to see who won.

    I still prefer other games to Risk generally, but this version is a VAST improvement. And the gameboard is really classy too, which helps.

  27. 27.

    I think my wife and I beat all of you at being Catanoholics.

    Not only do we have Cities and Knights AND Seafarers, but we also have the 5-6 player expansions for all 3.

    Plus, we have the Settlers Card Game (and 6 expansion decks), Starship of Catan (2-player), Settlers of the Stone Age and Candamir. Beat that!

    My only gripe about SoC (aside from my lousy starting position choices) is that it takes forever to set up and put away. I can’t believe someone hasn’t made a tray for all the cards and stuff to fit in. We ended up using little plastic bags that beads come in. Still takes forever.

    I almost never win, and if I do, it’s usually because of overwhelming luck. I don’t actually care if I win, as long as I have some fun playing. If someone wins and I only have like 4 VPs, though, I get grumpy.

    For the lone naysayer up there, we’ve taken some of the contention out by removing the robber from play. Also, there are lots of opportunities for goodwill with trading. “Oh, your city’s about to be stormed by the barbarians? Sure, I’ll help you build a knight.” I hear other people are a bit more ruthless. *glances accusingly at HP*

  28. 28.

    Love Settlers. Also try Guillotine. Another good one is Ticket to Ride – a sort of train related game. Also The Farming Game/The Construction Game.

    Pinochle anyone??

  29. 29.

    Wrong Guillotine!! Dang it!! The Wizards of the Coast version is the one we use….

  30. 30.

    Thanks to everyone who made game suggestions. I’m going to look into them.

    I also agree with everyone who said that once you’ve played with add-ons, plain old Settlers isn’t as entertaining. I like Cities and Knights. We have Seafarers too, but in my opinion, that doesn’t add as much to the game as Cities and Knights does. Elbereth is visiting us though, now, and she has pointed out that what we really lack is any of the expansions, so we still have to play on the small board with only one wilderness.

  31. 31.

    […] So…how ’bout a little Settlers? The night is young! […]

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