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"Contrary to the belief of many, a noob/n00b and a newbie/newb are not the same thing. Newbs
are those who are new to some task and are very beginner at it,
possibly a little overconfident about it, but they are willing to learn
and fix their errors to move out of that stage. n00bs, on the other hand, know little and have no will to learn any more."
Maybe you're a tabletop newb looking to get more involved in the world of off-screen games. Maybe you're a seasoned vet who just wants to laugh at us newbs trying to make sense of it all. Either way, you've come to the right place. Welcome to the first entry of my newest series, Tabletop for Newbs. First up: Settlers of Catan.
Title: Settlers of CatanDesigner: Klaus TeuberOriginally published: 1995 (Germany)Official website: www.Catan.com# of players: 3-4 (base game); 3-6 (expansions)Duration: 60-90 minutes
For those interested in graduating from popular American board games like Monopoly and Risk, Settlers of Catan is a logical first step. One of the first German tabletop games to gain popularity outside of Europe, Catan has sold more than 25 million copies since its release in 1995. To give you a little perspective, Pokemon Red and Blue (1996) have been purchased around 31 million times worldwide. Largely due to excellent production quality, high replay value, and a delicate balance of complexity and accessibility, Catan is arguably the most mainstream Euro-style tabletop game right now.
So what exactly is a Euro-style tabletop game? In short, "Euro-style" is a category of typically German tabletop games that emphasizes strategy and non-combative player interaction. Such games generally favor planning over luck, economic goals over militaristic ones, and a non-elimination style of play. Additionally, Euro games tend to have short to medium durations and simple rulebooks (note that simple rules don't necessarily equate to a simple gameplay; after all, chess has a simple rulebook). Nowadays Euro-style games can come from anywhere, not just Germany.
Settlers of Catan is a fantastic representation of this genre. Casting players as settlers on the eponymous isle of Catan, the chief objective of the game is to amass agricultural resources, build settlements and roads, and defend yourself against crop robbers. Points are earned by building structures and purchasing certain development cards, and victory goes to the first player to earn 10 points. To make matters more interesting, players can freely trade resources to the bank or with each other, which, as you'll quickly learn, lends itself nicely to alliances and rivalries. All of this is done on a flat board made of hexagonal cardboard pieces.
There are a few features that have been key in Catan's international success. For one, even though Catan may be more complex than a board game like Monopoly, it still works well as a quick-assemble party game. Setup can be done in a matter of minutes, and most players will have a sufficient grasp of the rulebook after a single playthrough. Because games usually last less than 90 minutes, it's not unreasonable to play two or even three of them in one sitting. Secondly, Catan requires a good deal of player interaction. Whether players are trading two wheat's for a brick or quietly keeping track of the number of roads the lead player has built, there is a lot of incentive to pay close attention to what everyone is doing. Lastly – and I say this as somewhat of a critic – Settlers of Catan games are almost always close. I'm not the biggest fan of the fact that first-timers have a decent chance of winning, but there's no denying that such a mechanic can make any game addictive. "One more game!" is a phrase that Catan players are way too used to hearing.
Overall I would highly recommend getting your own copy of Settlers of Catan. The base game runs around $40, which is a steal considering how often you'll want to play it. While there are certainly tabletop games out there that will perhaps more adequately satisfy your nerd hunger, Catan is a great option for those nights when your non-nerd friends want to hang out. I like to consider it a "gateway drug" to more complex games like Arkham Horror or Lords of Waterdeep. But enough about me. If you haven't tried Settlers of Catan yet, seize this moment.
Look for my next post in which I'll review Dominion. Happy September!
Matt Akers (me) is a freelance journalist based in Boston. He writes
about geek culture and works with a youth literacy project at the
Harvard Graduate School of Education. Find him on Twitter @ScholarlyLad.