Settlers of Catan: the only other board game I can stand

Photo by Nathan Jongewaard. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

(Read my earlier post about the game Carcassonne, and my dislike of most boardgames.)

The board game Settlers of Catan has been around since 1995, and has been awarded many prizes. Over 15 million copies of Settlers of Catan and other games in the series have been sold. However, I'd never heard of the game until a couple of years ago, and didn't play it until last week. Now, I'm sorry I waited so long! I love this game.

I bought the iPad version of Settlers of Catan ($4.99) and played it with my seven-year-old daughter on Saturday. My wife was running errands, so Jane and I added a computer player to the mix. I'm glad we started with the iPad version, because the software handles the scoring and other mechanics of the game, and it was a good way to understand the rules (which are pretty simple). However, the playing board is pretty small on the iPad, and because players are supposed to keep certain cards hidden from view, there is a clunkiness to the digital version of the game. (Carcassonne, on the other hand, is wonderful on the iPad.)

The object of Catan is to be the first person to get 10 Victory Points, which are earned by building settlements and cities on an island made of 30 hexagons representing different kinds of terrain), and by acquiring certain Achievement cards. In order to build roads, settlements, and cities, players need to collect resources: bricks, ore, grain, sheep, and lumber. A big part of the fun of the game is trading resources with other players.

While Jane and I enjoyed playing Settlers of Catan on on the iPad, we loved playing the large, attractive game board version. ( I bought it for $43 at an incredible gaming store in Studio City, California called Knight Ware Inc. I went there on "Boardgame Day" and enjoyed watching a dozen or so folks at two tables playing some kind of sword and sorcery game).

When we play the board game version, my wife joins Jane and me. I don't think it would be much fun with two players. (I searched online and noticed that people have come up with various sets of modified rules for two players. I haven't tried those yet, and would be interested in hearing if they make the game fun for two players.)

There's one problem with the board game: it's too easy to disturb the small wooden pieces on the board with a clumsy throw of the dice. After about the third time my seven-year-old daughter did this, I downloaded a free dice rolling application for my iPhone and now we use that instead of rolling physical dice. Problem solved.

I found out that there is a travel edition of Settlers of Catan! As I plan on doing some traveling with my family in the near future, I just ordered it.

If you're like me, and have avoided boardgames because you figured they all stink as much as Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi, and Sorry, I recommend you give Settlers of Catan (and Carcassonne) a try. I never imagined I would enjoy board games, but these two titles have changed my mind.

Settlers of Catan is available on in the US for $33.60


  1. Turn the lid of the box upside down and roll into that, if you prefer the tactile sensation of real dice. Won’t disturb the game pieces that way or have to argue about whether a die that falls off the table still counts (it does, Dave, if you’re reading this).

  2. Try “Ticket to Ride” next, Mark!

    Catan fans with the Maker gene have made some really cool art projects to enhance the board and pieces. Like hand-painted map pieces made of sculpy.

    Also, cakes and cookies decorated to look like the board!

    There are lots of pictures of these on Board Game Geek.

    1. Also, check out thingiverse. There are quite a few “things” on there for Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.

  3. Thanks to games like Settlers of Catan, my family now has a regular board game night, with friends and other families dropping by. Catan and Carcassone are favorites, as are Munchkin, Apples To Apples, and the various incarnations of Fluxx, with Zombie and Monty Python Fluxx being the leaders there. Yes, anybody who in their childhood got turned off by Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers needs to check out the Eurogames and American card games that have been coming out in the past twenty years.

  4. Dude, i’m calling it, you’re into a world of fun. Soon we’ll see Mark blogging about a new favourite game every week. He’s re-discovering boardgames! Mark, you can stand MANY board games, check out smallworld it’s nice for adults and kids

  5. Settlers and Carcassonne are both quite good, but this article series is a bit ridiculous. Being as it is the equivalent of someone saying “I used to to hate books because I thought they were all like The Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. But now I’ve read The Great Gatsby and it blew me away, I’ve decided books are great!”

    (a) The boardgames you hate are *ridiculously* old-fashioned and, (b) The boardgames you like are hardly cutting-edge any more, but rather ten-year-old modern classics. If you went to any modern boardgaming group you’d quickly be exposed to dozens, if not hundreds of new games that are even better and more interesting than Settlers of Catan.

    1. Realize that not everyone may be as into board games as you. I didn’t know about Settlers of Catan until last month. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I don’t think its a stretch to imagine the majority out there hear “board game” and think, “Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi, etc.”

    2. Ugh. You are the reason we stopped going to our regular boardgaming night. The point of a game is to be a fun. It’s a chance to hang out, spend a pleasant evening and have some lighthearted competition with friends. But once a group of hardcore types recruited from the boards came into the group, suddenly everything stopped being fun and instead became tedious. Take your bile back there, those forums miss you.

    3. Am I the only one who mostly agrees with thesunneversets? Huh.

      I’m glad you’ve found the world of Eurogames- there’s a zillion out there worthy of mention. While I don’t expect boingboing posts to always be groundbreaking, a sixteen year old game (that is not really that good compared to what’s out there) is hardly worthy of a “Eureka!” moment.

      @ciacontra- I tend to blame folks I actually played with for ruining a game.

      1. Nah, I agree with thesunneversets. To me playing games is a large part of being a geek. Even if you don’t like some of them (I don’t like RPGs), you usually have some passing knowledge of them.

        Now Mark is waxing poetic about a game that’s been out forever ago, and is totally famous in geek circles. I’m happy he’s found them, and enjoying the experience, but for some of us it’s a bit, hmmm like your crazy uncle going on about the internet or this new DnD gamie thingie. Sorta been there, done that, where have you been for the past 15 years? (The game was published in ’95)

      2. No, I agree too. The header really, seriously rubs me the wrong way. “X, the only sci-fi I can stand”, “Y, the only comic book I can stand”, “Z, the only “. It’s in other words saying that they really hate the genre you love, and then it’s the one pointing that out that is “hating”. Um… something about pot and a kettle and black.

        It’s nice that someone has found out that some genre is much more wide and deep than whatever they grew up with as a kid. Surprise! But why the hate? It really sounds like “I hate comics, comics are for kids!”. Why not just go for the “I thought I hated board games”, why insult all board game loving people?

        Pro tip: Go to a board game shop. They absolutely love recommending games suitable for you need.

        Oh, and for anybody with kids I really recommend Quoridor Kid. A very good strategy game, but family friendly.

    4. I agree with thesunneversets too. It really is like saying, “If you thought all American beer is like Schaeffer, then you should try Killians.”

      There really is a world of interesting/artistic games out there, and there has been for a long time. It is not a fearsome, overly geeky world either. No need to pile on the person who is pointing out its existence….

    5. Settlers and Carcassonne are both quite good, but this comment is a bit ridiculous. Being as it is the equivalent of someone saying “I heard of this thing a long time ago but now this intelligent and popular blogger has heard of it and I no longer feel like a precious snowflake and no one is telling me how cool I am for knowing about this first!”

      1. “it is the equivalent of someone saying “I heard of this thing a long time ago but now this intelligent and popular blogger has heard of it and I no longer feel like a precious snowflake and no one is telling me how cool I am for knowing about this first!””

        Sorry, but that remark does not make any sense at all because Catan is not an underground thing and that is exactly the reason why thesunneversets made their remark in the first place. The assumption here was, that most people have already heard of the game and that the post is unnecessary, not that the game is no longer “cool” because someone popular has heard of it. It’s one of the most popular games out there.

        I only learned of Risk two years ago, whereas I played Catan when it came out. But I do think it would have been a bit silly if I’d done a blog post about this cool game Risk I discovered and how it works and all that.
        So that’s where that objection came from and it has nothing to do with “omg Mark writes about it, it is no longer underground”
        It never was. It was game of the year and all.

        Also, when did boardgames become something geeky that people need to brag with? Cause I kind of missed that moment.

        1. You’ve convinced me. It is inexcusable that Mark posted this on Boing-Boing. Simply inexcusable. He should have known about this long ago because board games are so very popular and important. My mistake. I will correct it, I will no longer hold Mark in esteem and I will post a subsequent comment ridiculing him for posting his enthusiasm for something that he should have had enthusiasm for ten years before he heard of it. I can only hope that that will make amends.

          Again, you have my deep apologies.

    6. “If you went to any modern boardgaming group you’d quickly be exposed to dozens, if not hundreds of new games that are even better and more interesting than Settlers of Catan.”

      Doubtful. But even if true,he’d also be exposed to people like you.

    7. You took the thoughts right out of my brain. I totally agree. Seeing a person discover Settlers in 2011 is like someone asking if you’ve heard that great new band called “Green Day”. 1995 time warp! I do like reading the Bible, however. :)

      I do support more people getting into REAL boardgaming.. and look forward to the day when none of our children will EVER play the garbage that was forced upon the public by the likes of Hasbro & Milton Bradley.

      Classic American Boardgames are the new Chemtrails. :)

  6. $43!? On two different occasions I got an as-new Settlers set from my local thrift store for $3 each. (I gave one to a friend.) (Why yes, my local thrift store *is* expensive.)

    1. After a few lucky finds, I make a point of visiting a circuit of local thrift stores. I once found a copy of the German edition of Settlers for $4.00, which I sold to a co-worker.

      A month or so back I found a copy of Pirate’s Cove for $3.00! It was in perfect condition, bunched but complete and apparently unused. I sent it to a college friend as a gift for his family. They play it a lot, judging from their blog.

      Pirate’s Cove is pretty good. Not quite up there with Settlers or Ticket to Ride, but great flavorful fun. If you like pirates, or have pirate themed party, it’s just the thing. Arrr!

  7. All of those Excel spreadsheet/accounting/resource management style board games from Germany are boring as shit to me. I’d rather play cards.

    1. Seconding this. I can’t count the number of Dominion games I’ve played since I got it a few weeks back. Fantastic game. And despite its intimidating looks (lots of cards), it’s really, really easy to play.

  8. Surprised that nobody’s mentioned Acquire yet. That’s a game that I’m always for playing.

  9. My moms play two person Catan together all the time and find it quite fun and challenging. I’ve played a couple variations of two player and prefer their newest one which is that each player places 3 houses in the initial setup round before gameplay. This gets the board nice and populated right away and you just play to more victory points. Also instead of dice you can use the event cards that I think come with the expansion pack. The cards have the same odds of coming up that dice rolls do and also have extra events on them that affect gameplay.

  10. Settlers is a favorite at our house too.

    But what my kids really love is Talisman. I think it’s because it generates a loopy fantasy story as you play if you use a little imagination.

    Unfortunately, my daughter always insists on being the Prophetess … .

  11. Other modern games to try:

    I’ll second the votes for Dominion and Ticket to Ride.

    TransAmerica and TransEuropa are nice and quick.

    Hey! That’s my fish! is also quick and the deluxe version has pieces that my 3yo likes to play with.

    If you prefer more abstract games, then Blokus or Ingenious might be for you.

    Acquire, Through The Desert, and Smallworld are other modern classics.

    My wife is a big fan of Alhambra.

    Castle Panic is a light cooperative fantasy themed game.

    Note that I’m choosing these by looking at the 100+ games on my shelves and picking the ones that get played the most when I host my weekly game nights.

    There’s a lot more out there than just Settlers and Carcasonne – see for more recommendations – it really is where the boardgame geeks hang out.

  12. Nice review. I hadn’t played Settlers until this past Christmas, but now my wife and I are hooked. I like Carcassone, but Settlers is hands-down the best board game I’ve ever played.

    (Though we too have noticed that the two-person constraint is a big one so am also interested in hearing about these “two person modified rules”.

  13. Mark, this would be a great semi-regular feature on Boing Boing. Hopefully you continue to find more board games you can play!

  14. Mark, without knowing it, it sounds like you have become a fan of what are called “German-Style” Board games. There are others out there (many of the suggestions in the thread are of that genre). Congrats!

  15. Since moving to Europe, I have discovered that some people are really into their board and card games, especially the “German” style games. Here is Vienna, the city actually has a freaking BOARD GAME LIBRARY! That’s right!
    I also think you might want to check out Ticket to Ride, it sounds similar, but not entirely the same either.

    In one other side note, not all American board games are that bad. The game of LIFE is actually kind of cool: you are born, you either make or or you fail, and then you die, game over! And Scrabble is always fun,

  16. I love this game. It really gets going when you combine three sets and have a HUGE map. I also worked with a few friends to create a mashup of Settlers of Catan and Risk which we call Risky Catan. It combines the resources and economy of Catan with the war style of Risk. It is played on the Risk board. If anyone wants the rules they are here:

    1. Yes. While one Catan map is good, two or three are even better. We added a plastic dinosaur to our monster map for a rousing version of Catan Catan: Revenge of the Sea Beast! (Exclamation mark obligatory), which involves city-crushing and a cult of sheep sacrifice to appease the sea beast.

  17. Chess is * ridiculously* old fashion as well, but I hear it’s fairly popular still. Go as well :)

    1. Go is such a deep game. I’ve been playing for years, but I’m still regularly mired in new, complex situations with multiple resolutions and multiple ways to fail. I love it. My wife and I play at Starbucks (though not as often since we got Dominion).

  18. Mark: You are dissing games for all of the right reasons.
    The classic games you hate are all from the early 20th century when people had lots of free time, and there was no TV or Internet. The games that came after in the 60’s-80’s were mostly toy games made for kids.

    (There are still a few incredible games from the past. But they tend to be somewhat esoteric.)

    Germany kind of skipped the whole TV and Internet thing, and somehow managed to keep producing games made for families. Gradually, they refined design to short, simple games with clear rules which nearly anyone can play. Elements of those designs have been making it back to the US, and are turning up in mass-market games and videogames. (Videogame designers play a lot of boardgames.)

    The only downside on finding it is that you only get something as jawdropping as Settlers every 2-3 years. Dominion is the latest one of those.

  19. Yay, I’m glad you like Catan! It is totally a gateway game. There’s so much fun stuff out there. Please continue to post when you discover new stuff you like.

    By the way, there is a card version of Settlers for two players, but I don’t think it’s as good. It’s a pretty different game, although it does still have the gain resources / build stuff aspects.

    Other games that I haven’t seen mentioned: Vegas Showdown, which despite its unappealing box is a really fun game. It has nothing to do with gambling. The idea is that you are trying to build the most attractive and expensive casino, and you compete with the other players to bid on different rooms for your casino/hotel. I like that the bidding is constrained; the minimum bid for the rooms is pre-determined, as are the amounts by which you can outbid, so the pricing of the rooms is kept under control. (In some other bidding games, players can bid any amount, and this leads to weird and not-fun results.) The rules are relatively simple, but there are a variety of strategies, and it changes quite a bit depending on the number of players. It’s also one of those rare games that is actually fun for 3, 4, or 5 players.

    Set is a great game. Your 7-year-old will probably pick it up very quickly and start beating you handily.

    When I was working at Walt Disney World, I introduced Set to the character break room in Tomorrowland as a way to pass the time between our on-stage sets. They took to it immediately. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen is Buzz Lightyear, about to go on stage, staring at the Set cards and saying, “I know it’s THERE, I just don’t SEE it!”

  20. Oh. And the 2-player Settlers variants are not that great.

    The Settlers Card Game (Now known as the Rivals of Catan) is a superb game that is strictly for 2 players, and has a lot of the same elements as Settlers.

  21. Mark, here’s something you need to know about playing Settlers:
    When you have wood to trade for wool, the proper way to announce that is to say “I’ve got wood for sheep”

    But a dice roller app? Dice rollers are inherently unrandom, I suppose dice are too, but they seem less unrandom than an app. In the ios version of the game you can use a “die rolling” option of stack or stack5, which is essentially a deck of 36 cards one for each combination of 2d6, which has the benefit of ensuring that each combo comes up and you dont have a string of 7 8s in a row, and the drawback of knowing every number will come up [you reshuffle when the deck draws out], stack5 is the 36 card stack with 5 cards pulled out at random {and you dont look at them}, so make yourself a deck if you want to do away with dice (mayfair made a deck at one point, unsure if it’s still available).

    Other games to try: Fluxx (any variety, though I prefer regular and Stoner) [They’re card games where every play changes the rules or goal of the game], any icehouse pyramid game especially Zendo (made by the same folks who make Fluxx), Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati (or well, any game by steve jackson games), Lunch Money/Beer Money, Nuclear War (especially their weapons of mass destruction set)

    1. As i have no access to a laser cutter or a 3D-printer, what I want to know is; where can I buy a set of these..? WANT, heavily..

  22. Played Dixit this past weekend absolutely loved the game, not sure it entirely qualifies as a board game though. Highly recommend it. Played Carcassonne hunters and gatherers enjoyed that too.

  23. After you’ve played the standard version, add Cities & Knights — it’s little overwhelming the first time or two, but is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.

    For Android, there’s an app called Better Settlers, which generates fairer board setups (distos of numbers, ports, and resources). I’d imagine that there’s one for iPhone as well.

    The two-player version of Settlers is OK (it comes as one of the variants in the Traders & Barbarians add-on, which is a collection of smaller mods to the game). You play with a couple of phantom players who are very limited in what they can do. It is a passable game, but doesn’t have the fun and energy of playing with a group of real live players.

  24. Hi, long time lurker here…but here is a 2 player version of catan that I play with Either my wife or 7yr old. Make up the borders of your game as per normal.

    Take out one of each type of resource tile, turn them over and place them in the borders, you’ll end up with a diamond shaped space to lay out the rest of the cards. Now layout the other tiles as per usual and then use the little extra harbour tiles to fill in any 3-1 or 2-1 slots as needed.

    You’ll need to take out the corresponding high and low number tiles, 2,3,11,12, just roll a dice to take out the fifth one, odds for a 4, evens for a 10.

    If you have the 5-6 Player expansion set, use the resource cards from this to form a trading “hand”, layout 4 cards face up with the remaining in a shuffled pile. You can trade with this “player” on your turn at 3-1. Just replace the card you took as a trade from the top of the pile. When a seven is rolled take away the face up cards and layout 4 new cards from the pile. If you dont have the expansion just take a reasonable amount of each card from the ‘banks’ stash.

    When setting up roll to see who goes first, then put out 3 villages instead of the normal 2. But in this order, P1, P2, P1, P2, P2, P1. This way P2 kinda makes up for losing that first choice.

    To make things a little fairer on the young’uns, play the frindly robber rule, no robbing until 5 or 6 Victory points, also allow more cards in your hand, say 9 or 11 instead of 7. You can also reduce or increase the amount of cards that the “trading player” has face up to tweek the game also.

    We find that the reduced space, the extra village at the start and the trading hand allows for a fairly quick and intense game.

    Hope this helps!

    Troy from New Zealand

  25. Mark — if you end up really liking Settlers, put this on your Christmas list:

    A friend of mine has one. It’s AWESOME. Makes playing the game feel very much more… weighty. The thief piece alone is worthy of praise.

    Also: to the game geeks who are giving Mark crap. Shut up. I’ve been playing Settlers for 10+ years, too, and lots of other “deep” games that don’t get lots of attention. Any time someone who used to not like games finds one that opens up this door, the appropriate response is:


    So, Mark… “Welcome.”

  26. When in Toronto, drop by “Snakes and Lattes” and sample a couple of their 1,500 board games.

    I find that there actually is another problem with Settlers in that a bad initial setup can trap you right at the start of the game. There’s no way out so you just sit there for the length of the whole game, doing nothing, while the other players actually get to play.

    1. I live in Mississauga (suburb of T.O.), and I’ve wanted to go there for a long, long time but never really could muster up the entire day it would take.

      OTOH, I want to start a beer & games pub thinger called Snakes & Lagers. That would be awesome! Except that alcohol and Risk destroyed my family.

  27. Whether you really like Catan or have some fairly harsh feelings for it is often going to depend on how much you enjoy politicking.

    Catan, like Risk, is very much a political (or kingmaking) game. Creating a perception that you’re behind, or at least not ahead, is the primary strategy among people who’ve played more than 2 or 3 times (at least assuming they’re making some effort to win). Some people like politicking, some don’t. For myself, I find political games get boring quickly because the other strategic parts of the game, the parts that would make the game interesting, quite often get pushed aside.

    It’s worth defining political in a game design theory sense: a game is political to the extent that players can take actions that significantly discriminate between the other players (with teams, for this purpose, considered as a single player). In Catan, you can choose to trade with Bob but not Sally. In Risk, you can attack Joe and not Jane. In both cases, that discrimination shapes the game and to a large extent overshadows other game mechanics.

    By contrast, in – for example – Dominion, almost all your actions will affect either just yourself, or all other players. This is one of the more common mechanisms to preserve interactivity without making the game political: forced symmetry. There are other methods too; really I think this problem (how to have a dynamic, interactive game without that interaction being dominated by politics) is the most interesting thing that’s being explored in gaming right now.

  28. @ triscuit: I wasn’t offended by thesunneversets either; I just thought, “Oh, great! More games I can look for to play with my kid. Good news.” It’s all good. Even the “haters” aren’t hating all the time, people.

  29. Ok, nerdish squee here. Please be patient with me and allow me to geek out for a moment.

    I’ve been working on a high end fancy version of Catan. I made oak hexes with embedded magnets (Never will my hexes be scattered), and routered them out, sculpting clay and N-Scale model landscapes for each type. (Took me forever, but the land and port hexes are finally done.) I am molding sea hexes using plastic resin, and painting white caps, just waiting on friend to get clamps for his mill, so we can make more precise molds than the proto. I’ve cut road pieces from Popsicle sticks, settlement, city and metropolis pieces from balsa. I’ve got miniatures for knights, thief, barbarian and merchant. Finally to top it off, I will eventually house it all in a rolling chest. (I’ve only made the drawer parts so far)

    If I may brag a bit, the parts I’ve finished look pretty darn good.

  30. I don’t think thesunneversets was out of line at all, I mean Mark did title his post “the only other board game I can stand” which kinda implies that he knows board games well enough to say rather than the more accurate statement of “hey I just found an entire new class of board games and I like the first couple I tried!”. Quite funny, and glad Mark found these games finally!!! Hope he finds many more!

    And to think that Settlers only has a 7.4 rating on!!! and the ratings go as high as 8.1!

    Just got San Juan myself, published by the folks who made Puerto Rico, also designed by Andreas Seyfarth. Loving it!

  31. Yeah, we always just roll inside the box lid. Can also be turned into a drinking game for older players (or maybe that’s just how we do it…) Catan to the max!

  32. I tried the two player version recently and found it to be hilariously unbalanced. Need to try it again to see if it was just a fluke.

  33. Anon @ #41 said: “I’ve got wood for sheep”

    When I introduced the game to my sister and nieces, I find myself carefully using “timber” because it sounded just plain wrong to keep saying “I’ve got wood!”

    @evanprodromou: I invented the Orbital Mind Control Lasers card!

  34. Anon #53, you should photograph your set when you are finished and submit a report to Boing Boing!

  35. I’m casting my vote for sunneversets, too, not to diss Catan, which I think is a great game, but to acknowledge that I think it’s awfully silly to have a series of posts saying, “Hey, this is the only game I can stand,” as if Mark’s tried all the other games and can authoritatively exclude them. I love that Mark is discovering new games, but maybe he should try phrasing things in a more positive way.

  36. Wired had a great article about Catan not long ago that detailed why it and other ‘German style’ boardgames are so much better than the likes of Monopoly, Risk, and the like:

    1. Every plays until the game ends. That way people don’t slowly get knocked out until two people are left, who then go on for hours more in a virtual stalemate.

    2. Attractive, customizable game boards. Every time you play the game is just a little different.

    3. Social aspects are encouraged. For example, trading resources is a necessary part of Catan.

    Here’s the Wired article if anyone is interested.

  37. Dang, someone beat me to the wood joke. The other yuk yuk is:

    “I’ll trade you sheep for ore.”

    (All together now, “Airplane!”-style): “Or what?”

    1. The other yuk yuk is:

      But the other other yuk yuk is:

      “We built this city!
      We built this city on rock and wheat!”

  38. This game is available on xbox360 and ps3’s on their online shops.
    Since its not truely 4 player in these versions my friends and I play “Council of Catan” and we all decide on stratagies and placements.
    Its really gotten me in to the idea of having strategy board games like this on your game console and playing council games against AI or other console owners.

  39. Stefan Jones, I’ve still got quite a ways to go, but I will happily post pics when I am done.

  40. IMHO you’ve already found two of the coolest board games. If you love these you may love Domion as well.

    But Risk is OK as well, Parcheesi is OK until your kids are 6 ;-) and well Monopoly is kind of boring, tried it last week and the kids didn’t like it as well.

    Btw. I began playing Carcassone with my son when he was 5 years old with simplified rules: Just drop the rules with the farmland and concentrate on cities and roads. You can always add the farmland rules later.

  41. Two down, more to go. Welcome to the first steps of the addiction Mark!

    Another game you might enjoy:

    Complex yet faced paced!

    I wonder how the world of board games will be transform in the tablet era. Current tablets aren’t big enough to fit a big boardgame floorplan. But whole table surface screen are around the corner. And a game could already spread out the game surface over several tablets side by side. I see one big problem for that: lack of android/ipad application compatibility. Maybe webapps is the way to go.

  42. great article Mark but please don’t limit yourself to these two games before you’ve even started to discover the rest of the awesome board games out there! I second whoever already mentioned Dixit – everyone I’ve ever played it with has declared it the loveliest game in the world, and it’s brilliantly creative and social.

    There’s a new version out soon which looks even better – you can read it about it on the Little Metal Dog Show blog (they have a great podcast all about boardgames and tons of reviews for other great games) here:

  43. I figured after 79 comments, I’d stick up for Monopoly. My family has a couple giant closets full of various board games, and this is still a favorite. If the purpose of a board game is to give something fun for family and friends to do together, then this one’s a winner.

  44. On dice rolling: get a small see through plastic collectable card case. Trim and line the bottom with upside down mouse pad. Put the dice inside. Shake the box and then put it on the table. You get some tactile “using your hands” to shake the dice but there are no cocked dice, no jostled chits or minifigs, and the rubberized mouse pad bottom ensures that the dice shake well

  45. A favorite game from my childhood (the 70’s) was called “Dealer’s Choice”, where players were used car salesmen. You had to buy and sell cars (depicted on cards) based on their values from a list hidden in your hand. Every player’s car values are different, so you try to sell your worthless cars for big money, and keep your valuable cars. The player with the highest net worth at the end wins. Sounds dumb, but there is a lot of wheeling and dealing, offers bid and rejected, and multi-player bidding wars. Still available used on eBay for very reasonable prices.

  46. As others have noted, there’s a weird sense of deja vu going on here, given the previous posting about Carcassonne.

    But I have to agree with thesunneversets too. I didn’t think he was being particularly snotty; I think the novelty was finding a geeky hobby that some BB contributors weren’t already into, so it made a change being able to joke about BB being behind the curve for once!

    And yes, drop by any modern gaming group and you’ll encounter an enormous number of “post-Catan” games from the last 15 years, most of which are at least as good – although Catan still deserves praise for being the breakout game. And, after all, it’s amusing that one of the core classics of what has become known as the Eurogame genre was created forty years ago by an American (yes, Acquire broke all the rules first.) If I was feeling cheeky, I’d link to my own first contribution to the genre but since it sold out its first small print run there wouldn’t be a lot of point. But maybe one day when Mark is a fully-fledged gamer geek he may play it and then I will feel happy.

  47. If you want a travel version of Catan, get the magnetic Japanese one published by Capcom! Certainly more travel friendly than the Mayfair games version

  48. Plenty of people have backed up thesunneversets, whom I agree with, so moving on, a few more recommendations:

    Empire Builder (and the many other Rails games) involve creating a train network drawn in crayon. A simpler structure than many of the Euro-style games. The official rules make for a run, relaxed game, and the common communal-delivery-card variant turns it into a stressful, vicious cut-throat battle (which is fantastic if that’s what your group wants).

    Power Grid has been very popular for several years. The Step/Turn/Phase structure and a few details seems complex but you just need to get your head wrapped around them. The leveling mechanisms keep things balanced.

    Caylus is a different style (feels sort of like Agricola to me), again with good leveling mechanisms that keep the game fun for all players.

  49. Catan is really really great game! No wonder it’s been gathering more and more players every year.

    Hey Mark! I have vote for you to try Ticket to Ride too. It’s a very simple yet captivating and funnily tense game.


  50. My wife and I play the two player version all the time. We actually didn’t play with 3 players until about a year after we bought the game.

    We go up to 12 points, and each player gets two turns before the next player goes. It works out really well. The only thing that is lost from it is the trading. It’s kind of pointless to trade with the other person, since you know any trade with them will directly hurt you, so we mostly on trade at the ports.

  51. I’ll second Puerto Rico and Power Grid. As for Empire Builder, the whole series is good, but Iron Dragon has some extra rules that make it the best of the bunch IMNSHO.

  52. For 2 players, eliminate the robber. 7 => Draw a resource of your choice.

    Believe me, this will keep you out of the doghouse.

    Also Dominion +1

  53. One of my best friends married a great guy who is the epitome of a Maker. He made his own Catan set out of resin and hand-painted it. It looks amazing, and he even documented in his blog each step of the process in case you’d like to try it yourself:

    Also, I have to agree that Settlers of Catan is a fantastic game. It’s one of the few board games where winning isn’t so heavily dependant on random chance.

    1. Aww… those pieces are seriously cuuuute!!! Your friend did a really good job there! And the tutorial is really great too.

  54. As many many people have mentioned, there are tons of other great board games. Cataan is just one of the modern board game revival.

    The other games you mentioned, Monopoly 1903, Risk 1957, Parcheesi 500 BCE and Sorry 1929, are obviously quite dated. Not saying everything old is bad or everything new is good.
    But honestly, when was the list time you watched a Movie from 1903 and thought “Wow, this is fantastic.”

  55. Kingsburg is also a fun one. I don’t hear it mentioned often, but a couple I’m friends with — the same who introduced me to Carcassonne and Apples to Apples — introduced me to it and I’ve wanted to play it again ever since.

  56. I find it strange that so many people are recommending Puerto Rico for someone who likes Catan. Puerto Rico is much more complex and brain-burny. It would be like recommending chess to someone who likes checkers.

    For games on a similar complexity level to Catan, try Dominion, Kingsburg or Stone Age. Pay attention to the age range, and you’ll see that Catan is 8+, but PR is 12+.

  57. I love Twilight Imperium, a strategy game which uses a Catan style board to randomise (weel, sorta) the playing area. In fact, setting it up is a part of the game. It neatly circumvents the tendency of games like Risk and Axis and Allies to play out exactly the same way every time.

  58. power grid !!!!

    “carcasonne the castle” (different from carcasonne) is good for 2 players

  59. Other games you might like that also aren’t new (new classics, maybe):

    – RoboRally
    – Qwirkle (this one is new but a twist on a (very) old one)
    – Shadows Over Camelot (great for playing w/ kids because you play collaboratively against the game (until you add a traitor to the mix…)

    Also, you want to invest in the Seafarers expansion as soon as possible for Settlers. It adds a lot of fun without the complexities of Cities and Knights or Traders and Barbarians (which are also both fun in their own way). T&B also adds a pretty well balanced alternative for 2-player Catan AND a dice deck that can solve your dice rolling problem.

    Another must-have add-on for Catan is baby food. Or at least baby food containers — the plastic kind with the snap-on lids. One can also make for a very handy way to roll dice.

  60. Welcome Mark. There is no turning back. I look forward hearing about the third board game that you can stand… and the forth, fifth…

  61. Of COURSE Monopoly isn’t much of a GAME per se. It largely created as a tool to teach Georgist economic theory.

  62. If you think vanilla Settlers is great, you should really look into the Cities and Knights expansion pack. It makes the game feel much more dynamic and compelling, in my opinion.

    In contrast to the base game, there is a common threat that all players must face – a tribe of marauding barbarians who must be defeated by building knight tokens. Knights cost Sheep and Ore, and must be “activated” with wheat. That means that early-game resourcing is more balanced, and less “I must have brick and wood and everything else is useless right now!”

  63. Those interested in learning more about modern board games should definitely visit But be warned, many of the hundreds of excellent games discussed there (and some listed in comments above) are probably too complicated for those who are new to the hobby.

    In fact, there are regular discussions on boardgamegeeek of which games are best as “gateway” games, to introduce new people into the hobby. Here’s a sample list, from one regular contributor to the site:

    I would add:

    Stone Age (an intro level example of what is called a “worker placement” game),

    No Thanks! (a very simple “push your luck” game that is absurdly fun),

    For Sale (a good introduction to the “auction” genre),

    Chinatown (a gateway “negotiation” genre game),

    Lost Cities (a two-player card game that is good for couples, will introduce you to the world of “Knizia”),

    FITS (tetris the board game),

    Incan Gold (another light push your luck game),

    Pandemic (or it’s little sister, Forbidden Island; these are good examples of the modern “co-op” game),

    Saint Petersburg (an “engine-building” gateway),

    San Juan (multi-purpose cards),

    Tikal (exploration and action points).

    I could go on. The point is that the games I’ve listed above are all accessible to those new to the hobby. Once you’ve cut your teeth on those, you’ll find “next step” games, and so on up to the monsters of the deep.

    ALL of these games are head and shoulders above the classic Milton Bradley fare and most everything in Toys R US.

    Game on!

    1. Chewbonus’s list is 100% correct.

      If you enjoy playing Carc and Catan these are the next best games to step over/up to.

      I’ll add a few more favorites of mine for people new to eurogames:

      Ra: It’s an Egyptian themed auction/set collection (pun!) game with a push-your-luck element.

      Bohnhanza: Pure trading and negotiation. You’ve got 2 bean fields and too many beans to plant. Trade them quick!

      Thurn & Taxis: a route building game that offers more strategy and less luck than Ticket to Ride.

      Coloretto: quick little card game with a lot of teeth. Collect sets of cards to earn point but if you get too diverse you’ll start to lose points. Very clever trick taking mechanic.

      All of these can be learned quickly, played quickly and will appeal to all ages.

  64. While I think your title is the kind of lazy thing that you as a magazine editor would frown on from writers, I’m glad you’ve started to find modern designer (or hobby) boardgames. There are more games than you’d ever imagine out there for you to enjoy.

    Also, you’re in luck, thanks to many great podcasts like On Board Games, The Dice Tower, Game On! with Cody and John, Myriad Game Presentations, The Little Metal Dog show, and many others, it is easier than ever before to learn about new games, find out how games work, and find games that you will like based on other games that you’ve already enjoyed.

    Add to that the terrific compendium of information available from publishers themselves as well as fan sites like Board Game Geek, you can find tutorials, reviews, alternate rules, and other things to make gaming easier and more fun.

    It’s a good time to be a board gamer. Welcome to the fold.

    One thing that you will notice with many modern board games is that they designer’s names are often prominently displayed on the boxes; hence the “designer” board game moniker. If you find a game that you enjoy, check the game’s designer. You might want to look for other games by that designer by using resources like Board Game Geek. For instance Settler’s of Catan was designed by Klaus Teuber and Carcassonne was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede.

    One designer whose games I enjoy is Matt Leacock. His cooperative game Pandemic, in which all the players play against the game board in an effort to save the globe from global disease outbreaks is a must play. it’s an amazing game. My family has enjoyed this game so much that we bought some of his other games including the On the Brink expansion to Pandemic, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, and Forbidden Island.

    I’m glad your joining the fold. Explore some more of what’s out there. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

  65. First off, I think it’s great that Mark discovered Settlers of Catan, and I think it’s great that he’s publicizing it further by making posts like this here on BoingBoing. And give him a break on the “Hey, this game is hardly news anymore” angle; it may be mainstream in Germany and fairly well-known in the geek community, but its level of penetration in the American public mindset of games is still quite low.

    My only beef is how he’s phrasing the headlines. If you phrase your praise of x1 and x2 by saying something of the form, “x1 and x2 are the only members of the class X that I can stand,” don’t be surprised if enthusiasts of X don’t take it as a compliment. Cory and Xeni wouldn’t be flattered if I blogged an article with the title “Mark Frauenfelder: the Only BoingBoing Editor/Contributor I Can Stand.”

    Much better is something along the lines of “I had previously dismissed X, but now that I have seen that I enjoy x1 and x2, I can see that there is a lot of promise in new members of X.” The difference is that under the former phrasing, the presumption for a new game x3, previously unknown to Mark, would be that he would not be able to stand it. The latter phrasing, on the other hand, would indicate that Mark has an open mind about new games.

  66. While I sort of agree that the hate poster was snarky, yeah, catan is old. I’m glad to see you like it, but for a cutting edge geek community that’s like saying “I hate most search engines but just discovered teh googels! Discuss!”

    Hate aside, I’ve gotten back into gaming 25 years after being a teenage d&d player with some other people/couples/parents (ouch, getting old). Most of the games we play are co-op, which is a big trend in gaming. Co-op games reduce the inter-table hate and bickering and competitiveness which is usually what kills casual gamers.

    I highly recommend you check out Castle Ravenloft (or the similar D&D titles based on it) or similar games. Can be played in a couple of hours, gives you the dungeon crawler experience without having graph paper and rush posters lying around, and it’s a co-op.

  67. Ah, yes, Catan: the Gateway Drug of Eurogames.

    The European game I’m most likely to settle down to a serious round of is Race for the Galaxy, though it’s more akin to Magic than Monopoly. Blue Moon City is also a lot of fun, though part of that may just be that it’s all about moving around little plastic dragon statues and throwing awesome parties for them.

    But the game that I’m pretty much always up for playing is Cosmic Encounter. It’s an American game, originally developed in the seventies, that’s very European in its simplicity. You get to be one of a few dozen crazy-looking alien races trying to take over the universe; the rules are very cleverly designed to create constantly-sifting alliances and maximize giggly, fun chaos,

    And yeah, nthing, browse around, look at games you like, find out what else the people who made them have done, find out what people who like that game also like.

  68. Those old American board games are hardly board games anymore. Pop into your local game shop and see what else is out there. You’d be surprised at how much better European board games have become.

  69. I understand Mark’s initial slagging of games like Monopoly and life. But they DO have their audience, as does any other game.

    However, I’d like to come to the defense of Risk. Specifically the Risk variants like Star Wars Risk and Halo Wars Risk. Sure, they’re based on movies and video games but they also introduce fun new wrinkles to the basic Risk gameplay. And it’s wayyyy more fun to play Imperial Stormtroopers than crusty old dudes wearing shakos and riding on horses while rattling sabers. :)

    I’ve never played Catan, but it’s on my list of games to try.

    At our house we tend to play miniatures games such as Heroscape and Actionclix (which is kind of clunky compared to Heroscape). We also really like the Dungeons and Dragons “Castle Ravenloft” boardgame. It’s a board game/dungeon explorer that can be played by one person or by more cooperatively! We highly recommend that one.

    As an aside, lots of the fun that we’ve found in playing these games is in creating our own “house rules” to address any shortcomings we perceive or to add in our own character creations.

    We also really like Steve Jackson’s “Zombie Dice” and “Cthulu Dice.” These are fun dice rolling games that can be played in 10 minutes or so. Very portable and something we play while waiting for pizza.

    Munchkin and any/all of its variants are also a hoot. Crazy wacky fun card game.

    I’d recommend that you (Mark) go back to the game store and just browse. You’ll find lots and lots of cool and interesting games. Your bank account will likely hate you in short order.

  70. You really should try the Catan card game.
    Since i have it i dont play the board game anymore.
    Very addictive!

  71. There is a huge difference between Catan/Carcassonne and many other German-style board games, particularly as they relate to young children and non-gamers. Catan and Carcassonne are intuitive and simple to learn and require virtually no internal calculations. Puerto Rico, Agricola, Power Grid etc. are hard to learn (esp. for young children) and require fairly extensive mental calculations and/or in-game calculations.

    I think that a truly great game needs to be robust and challenging but also intuitive and simple. This is a very difficult combination to capture and shows the genius of Catan, Carcassonne and Bohnanza. I would also include Hive in this group.

    Also +1 to Cosmic Encounter/Dune. Played that for the first time a few weeks ago and loved it.

  72. Yeah, sunneversets is right, and there really wasn’t a lot of bile there. He was pretty gently mocking Mark’s frankly surprising obliviousness. Hell, it’s been in Toys R Us for more than ten years and sold over six million copies in the US alone.

    Mark, you should give Small World a try. A version is available for iPad so you can get a feel for it first.

    I’m really happy that you’ve discovered and are having fun with Eurogames.

  73. While Catan can be commended for bringing better boardgaming the the general public, it is itself not a very good board game.

    In Catan, placement of starting settlements is the most important move in the entire game, and far too much of the game is determined by chance.

    It amazes me that BoingBoing would have a self-professed “boardgame hater” reviewing board games! I have to wonder if the reviewer has much actual exposure to modern boardgames.

    For readers out there who are actually interested in a good board game I would suggest Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Neuroshima Hex, Pandemic, or Small World.


  74. The game “Dominant Species” is an amazing euro board game that hasn’t been out for all that long. While I still enjoy a good game of Catan or Carc, this new one just blows the lid off.

  75. So, I know it’s been said here several times already, but here’s my 2 cents on the subject.

    Many old style board games ARE really awful. Pretty much the ONLY classic board game I can stand is CLUE.

    New modern board games are different.

    Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan are two of the “Gateway Games” as far as ‘hardcore’ board gamers are concerened. If you like them you really might consider taking a look at other modern board games, particularly via

    Other “Gateway Games” are Ticket to Ride, which focuses on strategic card drawing and building a network, Pandemic which is a good introduction to Cooperative board games where all the players work together to beat (a truly sadistic) board, Either you all win, or you all lose.
    I’d also recommend Small World from Days of Wonder. It’s a nice, light, thematic multiplayer war game. Also, it’s available for the iPad fairly cheap.

    Lastly, I would really recommend both to you, Mark Frauenfelder, and to anyone else who thinks they don’t like board games, because they don’t like Monopoly, Risk, Sorry, and Candyland, See if you can find a Game store in your area that has a board game night. Go to Board Game night, and try as many new games as you can.

    If you don’t find anything you like, well, you lost one evening. But then again, You may discover something worthwhile.

    FINAL ADDENDUM: I Love Agricola and Puerto Rico, but the probably aren’t right for you, yet. Puerto Rico is good for when you hit the point that Carcassonne and Catan have gotten a bit too easy and predictable (which can take a while) and Agricola is something of an acquired taste.

    Also, keep in mind that both Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan have numerous Expansions. I personally really like Cities & Knights of Catan, it adds a kind of neat societal advancement system to Catan.

  76. Mark to world: “Kids, have you heard about this rock ‘n roll music?” Just repeating that hating games older than 1960 – having not played a newer generation of them – is kind of brutal, unless BB is on a quota for page hits.

    That said, welcome to the hobby. I hope you can find a *third* game for your collection that doesn’t suck. Roll Through the Ages has an iPhone/iPad app and your family may like it. Dice-rolling, resource managing, civilization building game.

    Another new one is FRESCO. That one’s selling out of Barnes and Noble bookstores, which is a good “crossover appeal” mainstream indicator that it’s a great family game. And it’s beautiful, and it reduces the luck element that Catan has without alienating casual gamers.

  77. Catan is a wonderful game. A few of my friends and I kept finding ourselves without enough players – only 2 of us around – so we actually developed an alternate method of play that works GREAT with only 2 players.

    I understand there are some other Catan versions that work with two, but why buy a whole new game when you can just make a new set of rules?

    It’s a work in progress, but here are the 2-player rules we created thus far:

  78. Also, as an Angelino and board gamer myself, I have to disagree with Knight Ware as being “awesome”. When I first moved to the area, I checked out all the local gaming stores, and my reception at this place was by far the most awkward encounter I’ve ever recieved at any sort of establishment.

    But I’d highly recommend Game Empire in Pasadena, or (to a lesser extent) Emerald Knights in Burbank. I’ve also heard Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica is nice (if small), but I’ve only spent a limited amount of time there myself.

  79. Citadels is an excellent game too. It’s a card game where each player has a different role each turn. You can pick your role from a set of cards that is passed around. Your role determines who you are. You can choose to be a murderer and as such prevent another role from playing. You can choose to be a merchant and receive extra gold, but have a high likelihood of being robbed or murdered and hence idle for that round.

    In Dutch it is marketed under the apt name of Machiavelli.

  80. I had the same experience with Catan a few years back, and it was indeed a gateway game. Now I’m hopelessly enmeshed in the wonderful world of modern board games. It fills me with geekish glee to see you starting down the same path, Mark. Allow me to give you the benefit of my experience.

    Many have recommended Dominion, and with good reason as it’s fantastic.

    A lot of people are recommending Ticket to Ride as well. It’s good, but I personally prefer the very similar Thurn & Taxis, as I feel its design is a bit more refined.

    Pandemic is a co-operative game in which all the players are working together to try to stop global outbreaks of disease. The game’s rules are constantly working against you, forcing you to throw out your carefully-coordinated plans for victory and run damage control. At first, you’ll be losing every time, and you’ll love it. It’s good to have something that’s co-operative rather than competitive.

    Check out Citadels. Its rules are simpler even than Catan but it has surprising depth. It’s all about trying to read your opponent’s minds. It can be played normally with four to seven people (or even eight, with the included expansion) so it’s great for parties, and there are included variants for two and three players that are great fun as well.

    Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Cosmic Encounter (on the recommendation of the inimitable Robert Florence (of and it’s a blast. The rulebook can be a bit intimidating but it’s really only slightly more complex than Catan. At the start, each player picks one of fifty alien races to play as, each of which has a unique power, making it a different game every time you play. It’s a bit harder to find, but worth it.

    Any of those will stand you in good stead. Welcome to the world of boardgames!

  81. It seems like you don’t like board games because you’ve been playing bad ones. I can’t blame you, much. You have dig a bit to find out about good board games, but there are plenty out there. Dominion is one of the more popular ones, and I’ve recently gotten pretty addicted to Pandemic, for example. There is such a great deal of variety in board games that I’m sure you’ll be able to find many others you’ll enjoy with a little bit of looking.

  82. I’d like to recommend Condottiere (, a very simple and small game. Easy to learn, hard to master. Also, I’d like to second the recommendation of Roborally, if you can find it. Never have I had so much fun while loosing.. Goes especially well with a few good friends and slight inebriation ;) But don’t overdo it because then it can be hard to tell right from left and then you get crunched..

    There are also a few good cooperative games. Battlestar Galactica and Arkham Horror to mention some, but these tend to be more complex and can take a good deal of time.

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