Trying to understand all the different versions of Catan that exist can be a real nightmare if you are new to the hobby.
Most people start with the base game, but even that has had two different names and five different editions (so far!) so things can get very confusing very quickly.
If you want to expand your base game then there are several different options for you to explore, which we’ve covered in detail in another article (link?), but if you are looking for a standalone version of Catan, either to start with or to explore, then all the information you need is right here.
I’m going to take you through the various different versions of Catan that are available as self-contained boxes and let you know which ones are worth considering either as a starting point or as something new.
I’m going to go through the various boxes beginning with the one that is most like a redesign and then I’ll deal with the rethemes and the Histories.
Thankfully the awesome Catan website has the rules for all these games available for download, so head on over there if you want to get an even deeper understanding of what makes these boxes tick.
Starfars replaces almost everything that was there in the original version of the game, keeping the dice rolling and resource production but making changes in almost every other area.
The most obvious difference is that the map is entirely different from the island of Catan, as in Starfarers it represents the wide open sweeps of space.
The five resources of the original game become oil, fuel, carbon, food and goods, while settlements and cities are replaced by colonies and spaceports.
The resources are used to build and upgrade spaceships with boosters, cannons and freight pods which are then sent out into the void to explore and settle new areas on the map.
The map itself consists of separate pieces which lock together and which have spaces for planetary systems.
Some of these begin the game face up, while others can simply represent empty space, and when you travel to a new planetary system you might uncover a pirate base or even an ice planet.
From time to time you’ll have encounters and maybe forge alliances with alien races that you encounter on your explorations.
Even so, the core of what makes Catan so great – the trading between players – is still present and an integral part of this game.
Because there is no network of roads in Starfarers the opportunities for blocking other players have been significantly reduced.
In the base game you could easily find your possibilities for expansion blocked, but in Starfarers your ships are travelling around the map so there is always a way around an obstruction.
The game is also slightly kinder to its players than the original game, as it allows players to trade with the bank at a better rate than base Catan.
In Catan players could trade with the bank at an exchange rate of four to one, and needed harbours to get a better deal, but here the basic exchange rate is three to one, while goods may be gained at two to one.
There’s also a subtle but neat catch up mechanism baked into the game which is linked to the scoring tracker.
Players who have four to seven points get to take two random resource cards at the beginning of a turn, while those with eight or nine points get one random resource.
From ten points up to the winning score of fifteen there are no bonus draws, so get near to victory and the game leaves you on your own.
There’s loads to love about Starfarers, but it’s definitely a version of Catan for experienced players because there is so much going on, even if it’s forgiving for beginners.
The map looks great, there are many options to choose from on your turn, and the components look great.
And I haven’t even mentioned each player’s massive rocket, which they shake on their turn to work out how far they can travel and whether they have an encounter.
It also shows how much your ships have been upgraded by the extra engines, pods and guns which actually slot onto the rocket.
In short, Starfarers is a winner, a really great and highly variable version of Catan that sticks to what made the original so great but reimagines it in epic terms.
This video by Rodney Smith will show you how the game works, and hopefully get you excited about it.
Oh, and be careful not to confuse it with Starship Catan, which is a two-player card game, so not included in this list.
It’s important not to get Starfarers confused with the Star Trek version of Catan.
Starfarers is a completely new game based on the mechanisms of the original, but Star Trek takes the original game and slaps a new theme on it, leaving Catan itself untouched.
Instead of the island of Catan the map now represents the various sectors of Federation territory, but the layout of the board, hexes and dice tokens are exactly the same.
Settlements and cities become outposts and starbases, roads become starships, and the robber becomes a Klingon Battle Cruiser.
Other than the retheming of the various items the mechanisms of the game are nearly identical to the original.
One little wrinkle that this game adds is Support Cards, which are given out at the start of the game and which grant each player a one-off special ability.
These are double-sided, so when they are used a player can either return them to the display or instead flip the card over and use the ability on the other side.
Once that side has also been used then the player must return it to the display and take another Support Card.
The best way to think of Catan Star Trek is as a simple retheming of the game in a Star Trek setting.
It’s only really worth getting if you have an insatiable desire to play Catan with Klingons and Spock and Kirk, but it does not do enough that is different from the base game to warrant owning both.
If you want Catan in space then you should definitely get Starfarers instead, as it is an entirely reimagined experience that still has the original game at its core.
The first impression of Catan – A Game Of Thrones is that it is just another retheme of the base game, but that this time everything has been reskinned to represent Westeros.
The cities from the original game become keeps, and the robber instead is called Tormund The Robber – at least he gets a name in this version!
Otherwise this version of Catan is simply another reskin of the original…
…until you get to the second half of the rules, that is.
Where A Game Of Thrones really gets interesting is in the full game, called The Brotherhood Of The Watch.
The rules state that if you already know the original game then you should dive straight in with this version, and that’s excellent advice.
The Brotherhood Of The Watch introduces Hero Cards which act identically to the Support Cards in Star Trek Catan, but also introduces other game elements that are specific to this version.
The hexes represent The Gift, and there is a wall which needs to keep out the Wildings, who begin the game at the top of the board but slowly make their way to the Wall.
There are climbers, giants and regular Wildings, each of which acts in a different way:
- Giants attack guards on the wall
- Climbers jump over the wall
- Regular Wildings overpower guards if there are enough of them
Wildings that breach the wall end up on the hexes of The Gift and prevent those areas from producing during the resource phase.
However, players can build guards to help defend the wall – build three and you receive a victory point, but build five and you’ll get two victory points.
Getting ten points will win you the game, but The Brotherhood Of The Watch also introduces two other ways for the game to end.
If the wall has been breached three times then the game ends immediately, and the same thing happens if there are ever eight Wildlings in the Gift (on the hexes).
Here is where it becomes interesting, because you might think that you would simply tot up the points to find out the winner, but that’s not the case.
Instead, if the game ends because of wall breaches or Wildings then the winner is the player with the most guards on the wall, and points are used as a tie-breaker.
This is a really neat touch, because it means that The Brotherhood Of The Watch is not simply about getting to ten points, but is instead about covering different outcomes.
You definitely need to be working towards the victory point goal in order to try to close out the game, but you are also forced to think about helping to defend the wall.
Ignore either of these two possibilities and there’s a chance that the game could end and leave you shut out of the victory.
If you’re sitting there on nine points and the wall is suddenly breached and you lost because you didn’t have enough guards – well, that hurts!
Catan – A Game Of Thrones is a really good version of the game to own if you:
- Enjoy the original
- Want a Westeros themed version of the game that plays exactly the same
- Also want an extra version of Catan that feels fresh and exciting
Alternatively, it’s a good box to buy first if you think you might enjoy Catan but are also into the lore of Westeros, in which case it’s a great choice.
Tom Vasel reviews this version in this video.
There’s also a whole series of games in the Catan family which are grouped under the name Catan Histories.
These are all standalone games which don’t need the base game, and they take historical scenarios and expand them into fully fledged games.
Settlers Of The Stone Age represents the spread of Homo Sapiens from Africa, tracing the exploration of various tribes across the globe.
There are only four types of resources, as opposed to the five in the original game, and they produce meat, bones, flint and hides.
Players send out their explorers, found camps, and seek advancements in the fields of food, hunting, shelter and clothing.
These grant extra abilities, and any player who reaches the fifth level of one of these advancements receives a victory point but also blocks any other player from reaching that level.
Instead of a robber, players need to avoid the Neanderthal and the sabretooth tiger, which patrol different areas of the map.
The game even represents the gradual heating up of the world at this time, as certain hexes in Africa can turn into desert, making them barren as far as resources are concerned.
Struggle For Rome throws players into the Western Roman Empire where they represent tribes fighting to make their way to the centre of the map.
Their warriors and horsemen travel across Europe plundering provincial cities, and if they are successful enough they can conquer a Roman city and found a kingdom.
Tribes can travel by land or by sea but need to be able to pay for their journey if they are going to move long distances.
Gold is the most versatile currency, used for travel and also to buy resources, and players must keep plundering if they are going to keep their supply of this valuable commodity topped up.
There is one small twist in the game that is worth remembering – in most versions of Catan the first player to get to ten points wins, but in Struggle For Rome the game plays out to the end of the round.
This gives everybody a chance to do some last-minute pillaging and raiding to snatch the victory from under the nose of the leader.
As the title suggests, Settlers Of America introduces railways and trains to the design of Catan, and these may be used to deliver goods to various cities.
This is a critical part of this version of Catan, as the victory condition needs the winner to have delivered all of their goods cubes.
Players need to ensure that they have a decent supply of coal to be able to move their trains, and if their network of rails is not big enough they’ll also need gold to be able to use another player’s tracks.
Like many of the Histories games the map itself is fixed, which means that the hexes remain the same from game to game, although the tokens for the dice rolls can be randomised to make things different from play to play.
If you fancy a game of Catan with a pick-up-and-deliver element to it then this is definitely a version that you should consider buying, but otherwise there are better boxes out there to explore and, critically, they have far greater long-term variability.
Here’s the official instruction video for this version of the game.
There’s an element of pick-up-and-deliver in Merchants Of Europe as well, but here you’ll be using trade routes and caravans rather than railways and trains.
Merchants Of Europe comes with a double-sided map for shorter or longer games, so while the hexes remain fixed again, at least there are some options for a slightly different flavour of game.
The similarities with Trails To Rails don’t stop there, because again this is a version of Catan in which you need to deliver all of your goods in order to win.
If you think of Merchants Of Europe as an alternative to Settlers Of America then you will have a pretty good idea of what it will feel like.
If this appeals to you then the only real question would be whether you prefer the USA and trains or caravans and trade routes in Europe.
Thankfully there’s an official video for this as well, so take a look if you want to see how this differs from the American version.
Ancient Egypt is another of those versions of Catan that includes a simple retheme of the game on a board which follows the original design, but it also includes extra variants.
It introduces papyrus, cattle and oxcarts instead of wood, sheep and roads, but otherwise the basic version of Ancient Egypt is pretty much identical to the original.
It does come with The Great Pyramid scenario, which includes God Cards, identical in function to the cards with extra powers in the Star Trek and Game Of Thrones versions.
In this scenario the Nile delta runs down the middle of the board and papyrus boats are needed to cross it.
Once you have built one of these you can help to construct the pyramid which is off to the side of the board.
Contributing towards this is important, as the person with the fewest contributions incurs the Pharaoh’s Curse, losing a victory point.
The pyramid also acts as a trigger for the end of the game and as a tie-breaker, so just as with the extra scenario in Game Of Thrones, you cannot just build towards points as the game could end while you are not watching.
Rise Of The Inkas introduces new hex tiles and resources – potatoes replace wheat, for example, while jungles, plantations and fishing grounds produce feathers, coca and fish, and these three are known as goods rather than resources.
The trading ratios are set slightly lower than the ones in the base game, so here it’s three to one for resources and two to one for goods, and there’s also the option to trade any three different goods for any combination of two resources or goods.
The stack of development cards in Rise Of The Inkas is divided into two halves for the early and late game respectively, which is something different, but otherwise the basic game is more or less the same as the original Catan.
However, this is another of the boxes that comes with an advanced variant as well, which introduces tribes.
Each player has three tribes which rise and fall one after the other, and the first player to develop their third tribe fully is the winner.
The first two tribes each go into decline after they have notched up four points, so all that player’s roads are removed from the board and their settlements and cities get surrounded by thickets.
Those buildings still produce, but now they are vulnerable to other players, and the new tribe gets to place a new settlement on the board and start all over again.
This is a fun way to play, and breaks the game of Catan up into three defined chapters, each of which begins more or less from scratch while still building a little on what went before.
Now that you know all about the different versions, which one should you get?
Well, here’s an easy guide:
I already own Catan…
Go for Starfarers – it’s as simple as that!
Does Starfarers sound like too much of a leap? Then consider:
Stone Age for some interesting wrinkles in the game
Struggle For Rome for pillaging and new ideas
I don’t own a version of Catan…
Pick Game Of Thrones, Ancient Egypt or Rise Of The Inkas according to which you find most interesting as these will offer you the rethemed base game and additional material in a single box
If you like the idea of pick up and deliver games you could also…
Try Settlers Of America: Trails To Rails if you like trains and railways
Merchants Of Europe if you prefer trade routes and caravans.
You should only consider Star Trek Catan if you don’t already own the base game and are a devoted Trekkie – the other options are all better!