Your experience with board games can be boiled down to what comes to mind when someone asks if you want to play one. If your go-to is Cluedo or Monopoly, you're yet to start your journey. Chances are you're probably eight years old. Anything else probably puts you on a scale from Carcassonne to Twilight Imperium. But that's absolutely fine! Everyone has to start somewhere, and for most people, it's with a gateway game. I'd be confident in thinking most people's journey down the road of board gaming started with The Settlers of Catan, but it's now on the cusp of modern games. It's now 25 years old! And with this birthday, a Catan 25th Anniversary edition has been released! It includes with 5-6 player expansion, some unique components and the Helpers of Catan scenario to keep it spicy!
Catan 25th Anniversary Edition is a newer edition of the classic Settlers of Catan. It integrates the 5-6 player expansion into the box insert for quicker modulation. What's more, is that it also includes a scenario-based play; the Helpers of Catan. Both can be integrated as necessary (based on player count and complexity required) and both fit in the box easily.
The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as it's more regularly known) as a core game is a 3-4 player economic negotiation game. Players compete to earn victory points, with the first to 10 being declared the winner. Players earn points by building towns and cities, purchasing development cards and earning in-game awards.
To set up, the board is constructed with the ocean border and then hexes are placed randomly to locations within the board. Then number discs, from 2-12, are placed on the board. These correspond to die rolls with six and eight being the easiest to achieve, and two and twelve being the hardest. Players can then build two towns each, in turn, order, and gain starting resources based on where their last one is placed. All settlements must be two edges away and new settlements of the same colour must be connected by a road to a previous one.
On a turn, a player rolls the dice and activates associated resource tiles. Players with settlements adjacent to these tiles gain the respective resources, which in turn will enable them to build roads and more settlements. Should a seven be rolled, they move the Robber to a new hex and steal resource cards from players with settlements at this location. The active player can then build a new structure, negotiate resource trades with other players or can trade cards as a port (should they be in proximity). As soon as any player has accumulated 10 points, the game ends and they are the victor!
5-6 Player Variant
Catan plays identically with the 5-6 player expansion included, with the exception that all players can build after every turn. This expansion includes more player pieces, cards, hexes and borders. With a higher player count, the new hexes and border tiles expand the playing surface. This way, the game board isn't too cramped and players can still easily expand their settlements. It also increases the number of resource and development cards to accommodate a much larger number of players.
Helpers of Catan Scenario Variant
The Helpers of Catan Scenario adds a level of asymmetry to Catan without making anything overpowered. There are 10 helpers in total and players receive one when they build their second initial settlement. These characters have an A and a B side, indicating how many times they have been used.
These helpers give the owner a bonus to use. This may be oriented around discounted building costs, stealing cards or rerolling dice. Once used once, players flip the card to the B side where they can swap it for another, or keep it for one last use. If it is used on its B side, the player must turn it in and receive a new one. This scenario can be used in conjunction with any other scenarios and with the 5-6 player expansion.
How It Handles
I'm a fan of Catan. It's a nice game that's superb as an introduction to a lot of the mechanics used in modern board games that other gateway games lack. It's not a game tabletop enthusiasts will play often, but one you're going to have in your collection for games nights with non-gamers, families or just as something more casual but still fun!
Catan 25th Anniversary Edition's board is identical to that of Catan's as a core game, as are its mechanics. Rather than go over the core game with an in-depth review of the core game, I'll instead talk about some of the things I enjoy in Catan, then the 25th stuff exclusively.
Get Settled In
Catan is a game I was introduced to midway through my gaming experience. I'd had my gateway game, played a few modern games and was then shown this. And, despite its gateway feel, I really enjoyed it! There's a great amount of negotiation to be had and tactics to be utilised. You've got to have a certain level of finesse to manage what everyone else is willing to trade and how much you're willing to give. You've also got to be able to manage the board. Roads give you distance and reach, but only settlements will allow you to cash in on hexes. And, with hexes ranging in dice values from 2-12, some will be far more desirable than others! No one wants their Sheep imports to rely on a 3 dice roll. But it happens!
Wood Prices are Skyrocketing!
There are no guidelines for negotiation, and you've got to be clever. Trading four wood for a sheep sounds like lunacy, but it may be the fastest way to snatch a win! Or it may be your undoing. Managing your resources comes down to your settlement positions and how frequently your numbers come up. Choosing to go for 6s and 8s will ensure you get a plethora of those resources, but won't guarantee you get those numbers. Dice run on chaos, not a guaranteed statistical trend. We've had games without a single 5 come out but more 2s than you can shake a wood at. Madness, right? But how you manage those resources you do have will shake up the economy one way or another.
If trading with your competitors isn't your jam, there's always the maritime options of course. You can innately perform a 4:1 trade to get any resource, but that's a lot of waste. Getting to a port will enable you to utilise either a 3:1 trade or a 2:1 specific resource trade. Don't doubt how important these are, as people aren't daft. If they can see you need one ore to get a city and will win in doing so, you can guarantee there isn't enough wheat in the world to conduct that trade.
Developing a Sheep Into a Knight
Development cards are either going to be highly overlooked or abused in a game, depending on experience. You can win without buying any, but it'll be a longer game. These enable you to get cards that manipulate things outside your control! From building roads for free to gaining resources, they're powerful and can be saved for when needed. How an ore, a sheep and some wheat result in a Knight is another question, but moving the robber freely is a massive help nonetheless!
Bring ALL Your Friends!
Catan 25th Anniversary Edition solves the biggest problem I had with Catan: the player count. 3-4 is that awkward player count. You can't duo it, and you can't get it out at a bigger games night. 3-6 means you've now got room for the whole family, the whole squad or your favourite frenemies. These may be the same people, but so long as there's 3-6 of them, you're in for a good game!
What's more, is the changes the expansion includes. It increases the number of hexes on the map and the number of desert tiles. Adding one more desert means adding another bum tile, but more hexes mean more locations to round up sheep and reap wheat! So long as they're on strong numbers, that is. For me personally, the larger map means a less cramped game generally. Even with six, we never felt boxed in or closed off, and our settlements were vast and felt powerful.
The final change is potentially the best game-changer possible. And, believe it or not, it speeds up playtime regardless of player count! It's not forbidden sheep based magic, but it's close. After EVERY player turn, all players can build. This means trades are important to both players there and then. It does put more emphasis on the need to manage your resources wisely, but it means you're not risking the robber stealing your recently earned payments. You cash in immediately, as does the distributor of the goods. You may get that ore you wanted, but the trader will then build a full settlement. Who's the real winner?
Give Me A Hand Would Ya!?
The Helpers Scenario can be added into a game of any player count and enables some level of asymmetry. Not tonnes, but enough to keep things interesting. You get a helper initially and can trigger their ability as indicated. When you've done so, you can either flip them the B side or trade them in for a new one. Keep them, and the next time you use them you have to swap them out. You're never without, but some are definitely more valuable than others.
This scenario doesn't necessarily revolutionise the game, but it definitely makes certain elements easier to contend with. Vincent in particular is amazing as he reduces the costs of building settlements. Nazir is also pretty handy if someone's reluctant to trade!
The thing I love most about this module is that you're never without. Someone uses Vincent twice and then he's up for grabs. Everyone wants him, he's the talk of the town, but only once you've used your helper can you claim another. And the individual silly enough to let him go will have last dibs on him as they'll need to bin off whomever they just got. I think this is asymmetry done right for this game, but I'd probably say this scenario is best for newer players as a boosting element. More experienced players may prefer the hardcore feel of dry Catan... but I for one love the help the Helpers hand out!
Polishing a Brick
Catan 25th Anniversary Edition includes some minor aesthetic changes, but not many. The most notable ones are the iridescent looking roads, settlements and cities for each player colour. They have a beautiful sheen to them that, as much as it isn't thematic to the game, are stunning and make them really pop on the board. The box also contains a superbly sensible insert to contain everything within. The cards even have card trays for easy distribution and collection! And finally, to ensure your Catan can last another 25 years, the game includes enough sleeves for every card in the game. Never a necessity, but for me, it was that extra touch to really make the set shine.
Catan is a gateway game that every gamer will experience at some point. The Catan 25th Anniversary Edition is the perfect set to ensure it's a real hit. It boosts player counts and changes minor mechanics to streamline gameplay and time, and includes an asymmetrical module to support players. The box is no-nonsense organised and makes for speedy set up and pack away. I think this edition makes some superb alterations and additions to the core set, and would highly recommend this over the original if you're looking for a new game to get your friends gaming.