Attention board game geeks: Settlers of Catan

Every month at my apartment complex there is a “game night”. It’s hosted by this couple who work for a group called “Cares”, a non-profit that tries to build community in large apartment complexes. The idea behind Cares is that if you make the complex feel more like home the tenants will want to take better care of things and stay longer. That saves the landlord money.

We have a young married couple on site who run all the events. They’re very nice. My guess is the complex gives them a free or sharply discounted apartment in return for their services. I can see the point behind trying to build community in a 300 unit complex, although every time I go to a Cares event there are usually fewer than eight people and most of them are regulars like me who can only be coaxed from their apartments to play board games. The last couple times I’ve gone it’s been a total sausage party, 4-5 guys and occasionally a couple women playing Scrabble. Out of the three times I’ve gone in the last three months, we’ve played Risk once and Settlers of Catan twice. I’m new to Settlers of Catan, but it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s Chess meets Risk. Although there is no combat, it is very strategic and competitive. The basic idea is to get to ten victory points before anyone else. You start out building roads and villages and each village gives you one point and helps you to collect resources like ore, wood, sheep, timber, and clay every time the dice are rolled. These resources help you build or buy development cards. Like Chess, there are several ways to win, and as you play you will see the most popular strategic gambits: the race for the longest road (2 victory points), the race for the largest army (2 victory points), etc. Many people go all out for the development cards, which like Chance cards in Monopoly can often throw you some sort of bonus. For example, there is a card called “Monopoly” that allows you to strip all of one resource out of every player’s hand. The game itself is relatively new as board games go, having been created in 1997 by a small publisher, so many people have not heard of it. It will become one of those classic games, if it hasn’t already. It’s that good.

Poking around online, I stumbled across a free knock-off of Settlers of Catan called Sea3D that you can play over the Internet. It’s a direct translation of the game into digital form produced by Jason Fugate, a programmer at EA in Chicago. It even just looks like a board game on your computer since it uses 3D representations of the game pieces complete with wood grain. In addition to a fantastic iteration of Settlers, Fugate created a ladder ranking and online game matching system, so you can actually compete against players from all over the world. The game application allows you to host your own Settlers matches as well as join games hosted by other players. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t found this because I’ve spent several hours playing since last week. Last night I laid awake at two in the morning trying to figure out why my strategy using the sheep port didn’t pan out. I think I’m coming out too strong in the beginning which results in unwanted attention from my opponents who check me with the Robber and slow me down. The Robber is placed on a tile whenever someone rolls a 7 or plays a Soldier card. If the Robber is on one of your tiles he can keep you from producing resources until the piece is moved.

If you’re interested in playing The Settlers of Catan Sea3D is be a good way to start. It’s still more fun to play in person since you can enjoy the petty little rivalries and arguments that inevitably take place as players become frustrated watching their fortunes change.


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