Settlers of Catan - Gameplay close-up

Analyzing Settlers of Catan

Welcome to Board Game Analysis!

For my first real article, I decided to explore one of the most popular board game:

The Settlers of Catan!

Settlers of Catan game box

It’s the first modern game I was introduced to, after growing up playing classics such as Monopoly, Risk, and Clue, and it’s a game that can be enjoyed with a wide range of people, from children to experienced board gamers.

So it was a fitting choice for my first analysis: Popular, easy to understand but with enough complexity to have some fun exploring it in details…

Settlers of Catan, a game full of chance

In Catan, you compete for resources as you try to establish the most flourishing colony of an island. It is a friendly game, involving trading, dice rolling, building roads and settlements, and drawing cards!

If you take into consideration that the initial board placement of a Catan game is a randomization of 19 hexagonal tiles to form a round island, that resources are attributed by the roll of dice, and that you draw cards that can influence the game, you quickly see how much randomness is omnipresent in this game. But not all elements of chance influence a game equally…

Simple Board Randomization

  • Board placement randomization is more a way to add diversity from game to game. It may make some choices more important in some configurations, but it is less likely to be a factor of unfairness during the game. I will come back to this topic in a future post (there are a lot of things to be said about this)!

Dice used in Catan

  • Dice rolling for resources can be more impactful, it is not because you have the most likelihood of receiving certain cards that you’ll receive them, or receive them at the right moment. And since a bad sequence of dice can rob you of great opportunities, this has the most influence on your success…

  • Drawing cards from a deck is similar in nature to dice rolling… Drawing the exact card you need at the right time can make a huge difference in a game, or dilapidate important resource cards that you could have spent more productively on other things… So we will need to be careful with those. (See this useful calculator I wrote)

So how those elements influence winning at Catan?

  • Can we measure the influence of each?
  • Can you use probabilities to establish a winning strategy, or at least mitigate the risks?
  • Is there enough randomness in Catan to render player abilities and intelligence irrelevant?

Those are all excellent questions that I intend to tackle, and much more!

First, I will approach the game from a purely mechanical point of view, with as little chance involved as possible. This way we will establish a baseline for the winning conditions, and we will able to measure how chance modulates those numbers in the coming weeks!

Because while writing my first article, I realized it would make for too long a read, I decided to split different aspects of my analysis in different posts.

You can see this current post as a Table of Content of some sort!

I should update it with new material on Catan in the future as well.

So here is a quick list of all Catan articles written to date:

Upcoming article:

  • Finding the fairest Catan board, this time considering resources!

5 thoughts on “Analyzing Settlers of Catan

  1. Thanks for sharing!
    I am looking forward to reading the other posts about Catan. It’s a great game and it’s nice to see someone diving deep into it.
    Also, nice pictures and layout. I like the look of the site.

  2. Very interesting article ^^, do you still intend to tackle “Initial board setup – What is a fair initial board setup?”? I’m very interested in this.

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