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Settlers of Catan - Learn to Play Settlers of Catan

Updated on April 22, 2008
Cracking Open a Settlers of Catan Box
Cracking Open a Settlers of Catan Box

Settlers of Catan is the primary gateway modern board game. If you are going to give this hobby a try, this is the game that everyone suggests you try first. It is actually a fairly simple game that allows every action to affect every player. Also, it is important to know that this game has no player elimination or direct conflict.

Winning Settlers of Catan

The goal of the game is to be the first player to achieve 10 victory points. You do this in one of several ways. Your success is based on your management of scarce resources to allow you to do these:

  • Build enough settlements and cities on the island. Settlements are worth 1 point and cities are worth 2 points.
  • Earn the Longest Road card - worth 2 points.
  • Earn the Largest Army card - worth 2 points.
  • Purchase event cards that offer different point values.

Starting Setup
Starting Setup

Starting Setup

The base game is an island surrounded by water. The spaces of the board are hexagonal and each space represents a different resource. On each resource, you place a number token. These numbers represent the 12 possible numbers that can appear on a roll of two dice.

Each player receives two settlements and two roads. The rule book suggests a pre-set layout - but you can choose to set it up however you want. The settlements get placed on a corner of the hexagonal(hex) space. The road goes on an edge of the hex, but is adjacent to the settlement. The rule is that settlements go on corners and roads go on edges. Each settlement should touch either three other hexes or a port by the ocean.

Each player receives a card representing the resources that are touching his settlements. You are now ready to start playing.

Resource Hex and Card - Brick
Resource Hex and Card - Brick
Resource Hex and Card - Sheep
Resource Hex and Card - Sheep
Resource Hex and Card - Wood
Resource Hex and Card - Wood

The Resources

Catan has several resources for you to work with and each becomes more important at different points in the game. The resources are:

  • Wood
  • Sheep
  • Wheat
  • Rock
  • Brick

At the beginning of the game, the important resources will be wood and brick. This combination will get you a road.

Wooden Settlement, City, and Road Pieces
Wooden Settlement, City, and Road Pieces
Building Costs Reference Card
Building Costs Reference Card

It Takes a Settlement

Your second goal should be to build a settlement. The more settlements you have built, the more resources you can possibly receive on any roll of the dice.

The rule for building a settlement is that it must be two road lengths away from any other city - either one of your settlements or an opponent's. Therefore, it is possible to block other players trying for an important resource.

To build a settlement, you need four resources - wood, brick, sheep, and wheat.

One important feature of the settlement is that if it is touching a port, you can use it to trade specific resources for a discount. We'll cover this a little later.

Resource Hex and Card - Rock
Resource Hex and Card - Rock
Resource Hex and Card - Wheat
Resource Hex and Card - Wheat
Event Cards - These Earn You Knights or other Good Things
Event Cards - These Earn You Knights or other Good Things
2-For-1 Trade for Wood at a Port
2-For-1 Trade for Wood at a Port

Wood for Sheep? Trading Your Resources

The main interaction in Settlers of Catan is that on every turn, players can trade resources with each other. This becomes a tool for you to get what you need at most any long as someone else will trade with you. This is where the concept of scarce resources comes into play. Don't make all the other players mad, otherwise, they will put a trade embargo on you and you won't get any resources you need.

Another option is for you to hog a few key resources and control the flow of that resource to get what you need to grow your civilization.

You don't have to trade with other players to get what you need. However, trading with others is cheap - usually a one-for-one trade. You can also trade with the "bank". This is your most expensive option. You must trade any four of your cards to receive one resource of your choice.

Ports are another option for inexpensive resource trade. Most ports offer either a 2-for-1 or a 3-for-1 trade. The ports with a question mark are the most valuable, since you can trade for any resource, rather than a specific one.

The Robber on the Desert Hex
The Robber on the Desert Hex

I've Been Robbed!

The tool for you to inflict pain on your fellow opponents is the black pawn, the robber. Whenever a player rolls a seven on the dice, they get to use the robber. The robber does two things:

  • You get to put the robber on a hex of your choice
  • You get to steal a resource card from a player with a settlement or city touching that hex.

The other thing to be concerned with is that the robber is also a tool that forces you to trade. Let's say your strategy is to hold your cards, and massively build. Then, someone rolls a seven... You just became a stuck piggy! If you have more than seven cards in your hand, you must discard half of them. So, trade often.

The other effect of the robber is that while that robber is on a hex, nobody can harvest that hex if that number comes up on a turn. This can be pure evil to some people. Also, be careful how you use the robber. It has been known to completely destroy the economy of the island.

On a Roll of 8, Blue Harvests a Brick Resource
On a Roll of 8, Blue Harvests a Brick Resource
On the Same Roll of 8, Orange Harvests a Wheat Resource
On the Same Roll of 8, Orange Harvests a Wheat Resource

Taking Your Turn

Now that you understand the goals of the game and some of the mechanics behind how you use the tools in the game, let's break it down to what you do during any turn.

Your turn is simple, really. Roll, harvest resources, trade, and then build.

First, you will roll the dice. If it is any number other than seven, somebody might be happy. Find the numbered disc on the board and every settlement touching that hex gets that resource. So, for example, you have a settlement touching hexes with the discs labeled 3 (wood), 5(brick), and 9(stone). Someone rolls a five. Which resource do you get? Brick, because your settlement is touching the brick hex and it has the 5 on it.

Once all the harvesting for that roll has happened, you then trade, buy, or build.

Then, it is the next players turn.

Wash, rinse, repeat! That's really it. Roll, harvest, trade, build. The only thing that really changes this is if you roll a seven - then you get to rob someone.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Can u earn victory points if the robber is on a hex that has your settlements and cities?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

    • teriyaki profile image


      7 years ago from Croatia

      Nice primer on the game. Cheers!

    • gryphin423 profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      Love this game, thanks for sharing :-)

    • Fit Nerd profile image

      Fit Nerd 

      7 years ago from Eastern U.S.

      Catan really was the "gateway" game for my family. Everyone was at first weirded out by it's distinctly different setup compared to say, Monopoly.

      After a few games, though we began to glean the strategy, and really enjoy the trading room floor feel of bidding on resources!

      Eventually we moved to the Sea Farers expansion, and then Cities and Knights. Other such games such as Puerto Rico are in the future for us.

    • profile image

      Grow up Hugh Jass 

      7 years ago

      I truly can't believe that the above person wasted so much time and energy on a 'game'. It's a game - get real, get with it, it's not the end of the world, don't like it move on, but most importantly - hopefully you will eventually grow up and realize how immature your rant really was. Just because you didn't like it doesn't mean everyone else has to have your opnion. Obviously you should have asked your Gramma for another gift!

    • profile image

      Hugh Jass 

      8 years ago

      I've had this game sitting in my closet for about 15 years, haven't touched it, my grandmother gave it to me for my birthday when I was a kid and it seemed like the stupidest game. I don't know if this article confirms that or not, I didn't read it. What I can say is, if you are in need of some kindling in the winter when you are out of newspaper, grab this game. Actually, you should probably toss out this game, it pretty much burst into flames when I dropped a match on it. Plus, those little game pieces are sized perfectly for stuffing into nostrils. I had a cousin who enjoyed shoving them up his nose, only had to go the ER a few times to have them removed. All those midget houses and road pieces are misplaced immediately, mostly up my cousins' nose. The concept is pretty boring, just by glancing at this article, seems like a game given to prisoners to pass the time/induce torture. Build a road or settlement; resource cards consisting of wood, sheep and wheat; exhilarating shit here. Can't wait to build my road to make a town and populate it with wheat to feed me and the sheep, that I may or may not do inappropriate things have no proof, unless you can fashion a camera out of wheat, wood and brick. Catan is that board game you can't give away at garage sale. "But sir, it uses all the Earth's resources, like rock AND brick!" "Now that you mention that is has rock and brick, I might be interested. Tell me sheep and wood are included in those resources and I'm sold" "Not only that, but it has wheat too". "What the *#&@ was I thinking passing this up. I really like rocks and bricks, but when combined with sheep and wheat or even wood, it creates such a magical effervescence that I think I may have just @!zz*& my pants thinking about it."

      Reviewer: 20SidedDie: "The best part about playing Catan is really just being around friends, drinking an O'Doul's and having fun. Racing to build roads and get brick and sheep shipments from the port. Does life get any better?

      You know you have good friends when they can sit through a game of Catan. Usually they pass out after hour 6, and that's when I pretend they are sheep."

      Catan: A game of wits, wheat and sheep...mostly wheat and sheep.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Where can I get this game free online?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have been playing Settlers Of Catan for at least 10 years and still love it. Your instructions are great, well done.

    • profile image

      Matthew Gendle 

      9 years ago

      Its my favorite game to! I have my own Settlers Of Catan Blog!

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 

      10 years ago from California

      I love to play Settlers of Catan! It is a great game! Thanks.


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