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Settlers of Catan—now officially shortened to Catan but referred to lovingly as “Settlers” by my friends—is a wonderful gateway board game. If your friends still think of board games as Monopoly, Taboo, and Cranium, then Catan is one of the best ways to open them up to a whole new world of new board game mechanics!
But the more you play Catan, the more likely fun turns to frustration.
Of course, if you like it then by all means keep playing. When my friends want to play Catan, I join in without complaining and I can have a good time. But do I ever suggest bringing out Catan? Not really. It has a few design flaws that grind my gears, and I think there are a lot of better board games to play.
Here are a few signs you’ve outgrown Catan:
1. You Dread How Long It Takes
Sure, there are plenty of excellent board games with playtimes longer than Catan. It isn’t the playtime itself that’s a problem—it’s the fact that so much of the playtime is empty downtime. Don’t most turn-based games have downtime when it isn’t your turn? Yeah, they do, but it’s particularly bad in Catan. You can’t plan ahead because your next play depends on what everyone else rolls, so you have to sit around and twiddle your thumbs while everyone else goes. God help you if you’re playing with an Overthinker at your table!
2. You Hate Missing Turns for No Reason
There’s nothing wrong with randomness in games. Some of my favorite games of all time, including Poker, have tons of randomness. So why is it a problem in Catan? Because in Catan, a bad dice roll means losing your entire turn. If you roll an 8 and none of your hexes have an 8, tough luck! And it’s not exactly a rare occurrence. The nature of Catan’s randomness means you could miss several turns in a row—through no fault of your own! This can make an already-long game feel excruciatingly long.
3. You Hate Being Ganged Up On
Much of the strategy in Catan hinges on the trading aspect. If you want to take down the leader and have any chance of overtaking them, you need to 1) stop trading with them and 2) hinder them with the Robber. The problem? Everyone at the table except the leader is going to have the same strategy, which inevitably leads to trade embargoes and repeat Robberies until the table decides you’ve been put in your place. Not fun at all, mainly because it leads to a bunch of empty, boring turns.
4. You Hate the Fate of the Initial Setup
In Catan, you place two settlements at the start of the game, and these settlements pretty much dictate the course of play. If you make a poor placement—whether because you made a miscalculation, you were forced into it by other player placements, or you’re a newbie and don’t know what to do—it’s extremely difficult to recover from. And bad placements increase your likelihood of bad dice rolls, so you lose more turns. Truly, the first decision in Catan is the most important decision in Catan; it’s all downhill from there.
5. You Want More Strategic Decisions
After the initial setup, there aren’t many interesting decisions to make in Catan. Even though you have four possible actions—Settlement, City, Road, or Development Card—only one or two of them really make sense at any given point in the game. Even the trading aspect of Catan isn’t all that interesting; most trades are pretty straightforward, as anything less than a 1:1 trade is inefficient and it’s hard to make a bad trade once you’re familiar with how the game plays.
What Should You Play Instead of Catan?
How do you know you’ve outgrown Catan? When you get to that point where Catan feels like too long of a game for its shallow, luck-based gameplay. Just as you once graduated from Monopoly to Catan, it’s now time to graduate again.
Here are some other board games you might like:
The Castles of Burgundy has resources, settlements, dice rolls, the whole shebang—and a whole lot more, like worker tokens and a fixed number of rounds so the game never goes too long. It’s a relatively complex game, but the added complexity is well worth the ramped up fun factor and reduced influence of randomness. It’s really Catan: The Next Level in many ways, so definitely give this one a try if you can (perhaps at a board game cafe near you).
Much like Catan, Stone Age has you collecting and trading resources to build up your village. While there’s some luck involved, Stone Age proves more fun than Catan because the interactions are constant, downtime is minimal, and there’s always something you can do. It’s a little more complex than Catan, which also means it’s never quite clear who the winner is until the very end.
Just as you collect resources and spend them to build roads in Catan, you collect train tickets and spend them to build train routes in Ticket to Ride. But Ticket to Ride is less cutthroat than Catan, so it isn’t liable to ruin as many friendships, and you’ll never be ruined by a series of bad dice rolls.
The link between Catan and Pandemic may be tenuous, but I think it’s the perfect next game if you despise the competitive aspect of Catan and board games in general. Pandemic is a cooperative game—you’re all on the same team—and the goal is the cleanse the world of viruses before increasingly frequent epidemics wipe everyone out. You manage and trade cards as resources like in Catan, but the decisions are more interesting and more tense.
Concordia is a strategic economic development game like Catan, but it has very few random elements. Everyone starts with the same resources in hand and the winner is determined by smart plans and smart plays. However, there’s no player-to-player trading, so this may not be the game for you if that’s the aspect you like about Catan.