How To Play Settlers Of Catan Seafarers

Live A Life On The Ocean Wave

Have you just taken the plunge and bought Catan: Seafarers to add to your base game box? if looking at all those new components feels overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, maybe we can help.

I’ll be breaking down the new elements, giving advice on how they work, and also providing handy tips on what to play first, and how to work your way through that lovely new book of rules and scenarios.

The best way to learn how to play Catan Seafarers is to:

– Learn the new rules for ships
– Read about how the pirate works
– Play the Heading For New Shores scenario
– Continue by playing through one of the story arcs described in the booklet

Although the section in the booklet that details the new rules can initially seem very complicated it actually builds on what went before.

In other words, ships are like roads, the pirate is like the robber, gold is a wild resource and chits are victory points.

Keep those similarities in mind and it will make the special rules for the new additions feel much less tricky and you’ll be able to get involved in Seafarers with the minimum of trouble.

I’m going to go through the new rules introduced in this expansion and explain how they work step by step, and then I will look at how to approach the scenarios.

You might also want to take a look at this three minute Learn To Play video by Starshine which will take you through the new rules for Seafarers without taking up too much time.

YouTube video

Ships Are Like Roads On Water

One of the first things you’ll notice when you open your box of Seafarers is all those little wooden ships, but how are they meant to work?

Base game Catan takes place on a single island on which you build up your network by building roads, but Seafarers has a larger border and some ocean tiles which can break up the board.

Sometimes there will be smaller islands that you want to travel to and ships are the way to get there.

Ships operate like the roads in the original version of Catan except that they are placed on water or along coastlines.

To build one costs one wood resource (for the ship itself) and one wool (for the sails) and then you can begin your shipping route by connecting a ship to any of your coastal settlements.

They are used to travel to new islands but they can also connect to roads if you have a settlement in between.

One of the key differences between ships and roads is that the end of an open shipping route can be moved.

If a shipping route connects to a settlement or city at either end then it is considered closed, but if one end is not yet connected then it is open.

Once per turn you can move a ship at the end of an open shipping route, placing it anywhere else legal.

All the other rules about ships are easy to remember, as they are close enough to the limitations on roads, but you also need to know that shipping routes count towards your Longest Road (which is now known as the Longest Trade Route).

This means that ships and roads all count towards this card, as long as they are connected by a settlement or city.

If you like you can also place a ship rather than a road as part of your initial setup, although it would have to be attached to a settlement that is on the coast.

Must start from a settlement or cityMust start from a settlement or city
Can’t be moved once builtCan be moved if unattached at one end
Only on land or along the shoreOnly at sea or along the shore
Connect to ships via a settlement or cityConnect to roads via a settlement or city
how to play settlers of catan seafarers(1)

Image by Tim Bonnemann

The Pirate Is A Watery Robber

Unfortunately a life on the ocean wave is not all plain sailing as Seafarers also introduces the Pirate, and you’ll want to try to avoid him if at all possible.

The Pirate plays exactly like the robber from the base game (who is still here in Seafarers), so you can choose to move him when you roll a ‘7’ instead of moving the robber and then you get to steal a resource from a player who has a ship next to that hex.

Also, when the Pirate is on a tile nobody can add or remove a ship from its border.

Some scenarios change the way that the pirate behaves, but these are the basic rules and are easy to remember.

Discard cards if you have more than 7Discard cards if you have more than 7
Move the robber to a land hexMove the pirate to a sea hex
Steal a resource from anybody who has a settlement or city on that hexSteal a resource from anybody who has a ship on that hex
The hex with the robber no longer producesThe hex with the pirate cannot be built on and ships cannot move away

The Gold Tile Produces Anything You Like

There’s a new type of tile in Seafarers which represent a gold field, although you will usually have to explore in order to find it.

If you happen to have a settlement on this tile when it produces a resource then you can choose whichever one you like.

It’s easy to remember if you imagine that the hex produces gold nuggets which you immediately spend to buy whatever you want.

Get a city onto a gold hex and you can mix and match two resources or pick two of the same.

Gold hex are clearly really valuable, and if there is one on a nearby island you might consider trying to settle there.

Chits Are Points

The only other small rule change is that some scenarios have little Catan chits, which are a new way to gain points.

The way to earn these varies from scenario to scenario and is clearly explained in the instructions, and the chits are usually placed under the settlement which earned them.

So if you’re playing one of these scenarios the chits represent a small extra thing to keep in mind when trying to work out how close your opponents might be to victory.

Usually they reward you for exploring a new island, but in one scenario they represent cloth – either way you collect them for extra points.

Catan seafarers mid-play

Image by BGG user nickster1970

The Scenarios Are The Story Of Catan

One of the best things about Seafarers is that it comes with nine different scenarios to play, and the first eight are designed to tell a story when played in combination.

The booklet gives four different options for playing through them, and they all start with Heading For New Shores before moving gradually on to more complex scenarios and rules.

This is a great idea because each story begins with a scenario that simply introduces the new rules, but then things get more spicy as you move from game to game and add extra tweaks.

It also means that you could sit down with the same group for a series of games and watch the story of Catan grow on your table, maybe even keeping track of points all the way through and crowning an overall winner at the end.

Do you fancy yourself as the King or Queen or Catan?

Maybe playing through one of these stories is the way to prove it!

Story OneStory TwoStory ThreeStory FourSingle Play?
Heading For New Shores (Easy)Heading For New Shores (Easy)Heading For New Shores (Easy)Heading For New Shores (Easy)New World (Easy)
The Fog Islands (Easy)The Four Islands (Easy)The Forgotten Tribe (Moderate)The Wonders Of Catan (Complex) 
The Pirate Islands (Complex)Through The Desert (Easy)Cloth For Catan (Moderate)  

To help you along, here is a list of the scenarios in Catan and a brief description of what they do and how they change the basic rules.

I’ve lined them up in scenario order so you can see what each story might involve.

  • Heading For New Shores introduces the ships and the pirate, and players who manage to settle on the new islands get Catan chits.

Story One:

  • The Fog Islands introduces face-down hexes which are flipped when they are discovered. It could just be more sea…or even gold!
  • In The Pirate Islands you try to avoid the pirate fleet and defeat the pirate fortress by building warships.

Story Two:

  • The Four Islands gives bonus points for settling on new islands.
  • Through The Desert rewards players for striking out across the desert or for settling on one of the three small islands on the map.

Story Three:

  • When you make contact with The Forgotten Tribe they offer you gifts, which can be Catan chits, development cards or harbours.
  • By establishing trade routes with The Forgotten Tribe you are able to acquire Cloth For Catan which earn you victory points.

Story Four:

  • Once you have met a certain requirement you can begin to build one of The Wonders Of Catan, but you can also settle on the outer islands for extra points.
Catan Seafarers Full board picture

Image by BGG user thom4z

The Stories Make Sense

While the original Catan is the same story played over and over again, the stories in Seafarers make sense, and there are even little introductions to each one in the booklet.

If you are playing through a linked set of scenarios then I strongly recommend reading these introductions out to your fellow gamers before you begin playing.

You’ll find that Seafarers is surprisingly atmospheric once you begin to imagine yourself in the place of your brave group of explorers.

Scenario Nine Is Like Base Game Catan Reimagined

The final scenario in Seafarers is New World, which is essentially a set of guidelines for a randomised set up that uses all of the Seafarers rules.

As this board will be different every time and will usually consist of several islands it uses the pirate and also awards points for settling on new shores.

If you simply want to throw everything into the mix and end up with a game that feels like base Catan but with all the Seafarers extras then New World is for you.

There are no exceptions or extra rules to learn, as there can be in most of the scenarios.

Instead you just set up and play.

Seafarers Is Versatile And Fun But There Is More

Seafarers is definitely my favourite Catan expansion, as there is so much to explore, and I really enjoy playing through the various story arcs.

However, if you really enjoy Seafarers but you still want more then you should consider buying Legend Of The Sea Robbers which provides another linked set of four scenarios and will complete the adventures of your Seafarers Of Catan.

In this video by Games Made Easy Lavinia (and her cat!) will take you through the rules for Seafarers and discuss each of the scenarios.

There are also some strategy tips and a brief look at the expansion for five and six players here as well.

YouTube video

Start By Heading For New Shores

Seafarers offers a huge amount of value for money with its extra rules and various scenarios, and it really opens up the feel and the strategies of the base game.

The rules can look quite forbidding when you first read them, but if you follow our advice you should be up and playing very quickly indeed.

Follow our advice by beginning your adventure with Heading For New Shores and everything should fall into place easily and without too much trouble.

Then you and your friends should strike out from there and see where your adventure takes you.

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.