Catan Set Up Ideas

Any game of Catan will present unique challenges for its players, and most people will begin with the suggested setup and possibly play it a few times, but what should you do when you are tired of this version of the game?

Catan comes with instructions for setting up random maps, and there are also helpful sites online to create new layouts for you. The number of possibilities within the base box is likely more than any player will ever need, but the possibility of an expansion or a variant is always something that should be considered after a while. However, there is more than enough variability and play in the base box to keep most people happy for a very long time.


Basic Catan Setup

For your first games of Catan, you should use the standard map as indicated on the back of the rules booklet.

This map is designed to ensure that the distribution of resources is balanced and that no starting position is advantaged significantly over another.

The basic setup, therefore, ensures that all players are able to play on an equal footing, assuming that they have the same level of knowledge of the game.

catan standardboardlayout

YouTube video


Advanced Catan Setup

An introductory game of Catan will use the original map as pictured on the back of the rules, but the advanced setup incorporates random elements which ensure that each game presents a different challenge.

In the advanced setup the resource hexes are laid out at random, and the number tokens are then distributed across the board, also at random, but ensuring that the dice rolls with the highest probability of appearing are not next to each other.

The numbers most likely to be rolled are in red, making it easy to see which ones should not be adjacent to each other.

The harbours are also laid out randomly in the advanced Catan setup, meaning that every map presents a new set of problems in terms of supply and trading.

catan advancedsetup

Advanced Catan Board Setup

To set up the advanced Catan board, first, assemble the frame pieces, and then shuffle the resource hexes and lay them out in whichever order you like.

You could have a guideline that you could never have three hexes of the same type adjacent to each other, or simply place them as they come out.

After the resource hexes are in place, follow the same procedure with the number tokens, but immediately replace any red token if it would be adjacent to another red token.

If, at the end of placement, you cannot avoid having two red tokens next to each other, then simply swap the last-placed red token with a random black token that is itself not next to a red token, which will then provide a legal setup.

Once the resources and numbers are in place, shuffle the harbour tiles face down and place them in the usual spots at random.

Advanced Catan Rules

The normal way to play Catan is for a player to roll for resources, then to trade with the other players or with the harbours or bank, and then to build.

Many players learn these rules and then miss that there is also an advanced variant mentioned in the rules.

You Can Trade And Build In Any Order Once You Are Happy With The Basic Rules

In the advanced variant, a player can trade and build in any order, even mixing them up if they prefer.

A play could trade, build something, then trade again to build something else.

This makes the games progress much more smoothly.

Catan Original Setup

The original setup for settlers of Catan is pictured on the back of the rules and is designed to provide a balanced experience.

In the original setup, the different resources are laid out in a way that ensures that they are not grouped together, and the number tokens are spread around so that the most frequent dice rolls are distributed evenly.

YouTube video

Set Up Ideas

There are thousands of different ideas for setting up Catan, many of which do away with the frame pieces and alter the rules in some way.

When choosing a new way to set up the game, players need to decide how much of the original game they wish to retain.

Often the best way to play is to keep the standard rules and instead to alter the layout of the board in some way.

Particular Challenges Can Be Fun

While setting up a random board is a way to keep things fresh from play to play, the board could also be set up to present particular challenges.

The board could be set up so that different resources are kept apart and one or two resources clumped together in order to make competition for those hexes particularly fierce.

Setting up the board to be artificially imbalanced in favour of one or two resources can make the game feel very strange indeed, but it can be interesting to play a session in which the elements on the board are not balanced.

Get Somebody Else To Set It Up For You

If all the fiddling with hexes and harbours and number tokens feels like too much, there is always the option of letting somebody else work out a random map for you.

Although websites come and go – and the brilliant is sadly no more – there are some very useful tools on the internet that can help to take the decision making out of your hands.

I would recommend this site, which generates a completely random board for a new game of Catan, allowing your players to set up quickly and without fuss and to get playing as soon as possible.


Catan Board Generators

A few more recommended resources for board layouts, done for you:

Do You Need An Expansion?

Many of the more interesting maps for the base game of Catan involve changing the rules slightly, and because Catan is as much of a game system as it is a game, the boards can be adapted for different rules.

However, if players are changing the rules of Catan and using more adventurous maps then they might need extra components, or even an expansion box, which could cause extra expense.

Using An App, Advanced Rules, & Expansions

Even the base game of Catan can provide so many different layouts that you could go a whole lifetime of play without encountering the same one twice.

If you are happy to play random layouts then you can simply follow the instructions in the rules or have an app or website work out a layout on your behalf.

You can also add in the advanced trading and building rules, which help to make the game much more interesting.

At a certain point, you might find that the challenge begins to feel very similar, and at this stage it is worth thinking about adding an expansion to your Catan collection, or perhaps seeking out a variant online.

Usually, this will result in more expenditure, but spending wisely and effectively means that you will be able to broaden your Catan experience massively and encounter new experiences and opportunities with every play.


Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.