Settlers of Catan—now officially shortened to Catan but referred to lovingly as “Settlers” by my friends—is a wonderful gateway game. If your friends still think board games are represented by Monopoly, Taboo, and Cranium, then it’s one of the best ways to open them up to a new reality: board games can have interesting mechanics!
But the more you play Catan, the more likely fun turns to frustration. Don’t get me wrong: If you like it, by all means keep playing it. When my friends want to play it, 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 there are better games to play.
Here are a few signs you’ve outgrown Catan.
1. You Dread How Long It Takes to Play
To be fair, 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. To be fair, most turn-based games have downtime when it isn’t your turn, but it’s particularly bad in Catan. You can’t exactly plan ahead when your next turn depends on what you roll, so you just 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! (The best and worst types of board gamers.)
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. The problem with Catan is that a bad dice roll means you lose your turn. If you roll an 8 and none of your hexes have an 8, tough luck. The nature of randomness means you could miss several turns in a row—at 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. Unfortunately, everyone at the table except the leader is going to have the same strategy, which inevitably leads to a trade embargo and a never-ending string of Robberies until the table decides you’ve been put in your place. Again, this causes you to be unable to do anything and leads to a bunch of empty, boring turns.
4. You Hate the Fate of the Initial Setup
You place two settlements at the start of the game, and these settlements pretty much dictate the course of history. If you make a poor placement—whether because you made a miscalculation or you were forced to by other player placements—it’s extremely difficult to recover from and you’re gonna have a bad time. It’s especially punishing for newbies. Where you place your first two settlements is the most important decision in the game, and it’s all downhill from there.
5. You Want to Make More Strategic Decisions
After the initial setup, there aren’t many interesting decisions to make in Catan. Even though you have four options—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 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 simple, 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.
So, how do you feel about Catan? I’d love to hear your recommendations on other board games that are similar—in theme, in gameplay, in strategy and mechanics, or whatever other criteria you want to use! Let me know in the comments below.
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