Settlers Of Catan – 4th vs 5th Edition

The Settlers of Catan is a great way to dive into the board game hobby, but you might already be confused about what to buy.

There are boxes out there called The Settlers Of Catan and others simply called Catan so which is which?

Actually, they are the same game, but there are still some differences between them that are important.

You may also have looked at expansions and heard talk of compatibility and different editions, and the truth is that it can be tricky to work out what goes with what.

I’m going to give you a handy guide to clear up any confusion, and by the end of it you’ll be able to go out into the world of Catan with confidence.

The Settlers Of Catan was first published in 1995 and represents the beginning of modern board gaming. It continues to be popular and has been published in multiple editions since it was first released. Most of the copies on the market today belong either to the 4th edition, which has two subtly different versions, or to the 5th, which was renamed as Catan.

Don’t Worry About The First Three Editions

The 4th edition of Catan was first published nearly fifteen years ago in 2007 when the board gaming hobby was much smaller than it is today.

The real explosion of the board gaming has taken place more recently, and the 5th edition of the game was released in 2015 to keep it up to date with the expectations of modern players.

In other words, you will rarely ever see a copy of one of the first three editions, let alone play it, so if you are looking to buy then the choice is simply between the 4th and 5th editions.

Did I say simply? Sorry about that!

It’s actually just a little more complicated as there are two different versions of the 4th edition but the changes are minor and I’ll talk about those in detail later.

The 4th Edition (2007)

The 4th edition of the game was still called The Settlers Of Catan and was for many gamers (including me) one of the first designs that lured them into board games.

It’s less direct than the cover of the later edition, and the tagline of “Award-Winning Game of Discovery, Settlement & Trade” is possibly not the most exciting thing to read on a box cover.

However, when this edition came out nearly fifteen years ago it transformed Catan into one of the wonders of the modern gaming age.

It came with pieces that formed a frame around the island of Catan and which had harbours printed on them, and while that does not sound like much, it marked a significant change from the earlier editions that made the game much easier to set up and play.

You could easily put this on the gaming table today without any problems, and there are still many copies on the second hand market available.

The second hand prices are not that much cheaper than those for a discounted new copy of Catan, so there is clearly still demand for this version.

This video review by Starlit Citadel is done with the 4th edition and also gives a great overview of what the game feels like.

YouTube video


The Revised 4th Edition (2012)

A few years later the 4th edition was reissued with slightly thicker tiles, so although the games look nearly identical from the outside there is a small difference between these versions as the revised boxes come with a QR code on the side.

I’ll explain why they decided to change the tiles later in the article, but the game plays exactly the same as the earlier 4th edition printing and all the other components remained unchanged.

The 5th Edition (2015)

The first thing you’ll notice about the 5th edition of The Settlers Of Catan is that it’s lost its Settlers – the game has become Catan, pure and simple.

The artwork on the box has also changed orientation from landscape to portrait, but you still have the good folk of Catan stopping for a chat while the enormous sun sets in the distance.

Another nice touch is that the designer’s name has been placed dead centre, and you also have the description of the outline of the game right there to entice prospective purchasers – Trade Build Settle.


Catan Board Game Cover


Image credit: Catan official site

So what’s changed on the inside?

  • Artwork

Well, the first thing you’ll notice if you are a veteran of the 4th edition is that the artwork has been updated.

The resource cards all have icons in the corner which make things clearer to understand at a glance, and the development cards are less fussy.

These are small details which do not change the way the game is played, but they all feel like changes which belong to modern gaming.

  • Rules

The same applies to the rules, which have been tidied up and edited to make them clearer for a modern audience, but nothing has really changed in terms of the game itself.

This How To Play video by Rodney Smith is done with the 5th edition so you can multitask by learning how to play and checking out the latest version at the same time.

YouTube video

  • Tiles

The tiles are also slightly thicker than they were (cue creaky voice) in the old days, and match the beefed up 4th edition printing from 2012.

It’s worth mentioning that some versions of the 5th edition come with plastic rather than the traditional wooden pieces.

This varies from publisher to publisher, but if you end up with plastic bits you can always buy replacement sets online, even for the expansions.

It’s also worth pointing out that some people have remarked that the quality isn’t quite as good in the later edition, so if you’ve watched Rodney’s video you’ll see that there are some small gaps between the island and the map.

In the 4th edition everything fits really snugly and feels just right.

Catan Board Game Components Laid Out

Image from the official Catan website


The really good news is that if you get the urge to expand your copy of Catan then you can more or less mix and match expansions with either base game.

There may be a slight mismatch in terms of tile thickness, and you won’t get a consistent art style, so it’s not quite as plain sailing as it could be, but it’s worth considering if you see a bargain somewhere.

The expansions for the 5th edition also come with natty little descriptions on the sides of their boxes as well, which sum up what they do:

  • Sail – Discover (Seafarers)
  • Develop – Defend (Cities & Knights)
  • Transport – Campaign (Traders & Barbarians)
  • Explore – Harvest – Deliver (Explorers & Pirates)

Purists, though, would definitely want to make sure that everything matches, which is really easy to do with the 5th edition – just go to your online retailer and add the boxes to your cart.

For those who have the 4th edition it’s a little more awkward – bear with me here – as there are revised 4th edition expansions to go with the 2012 version of Catan which have the thicker tiles.

At this point you might be asking why they wanted to make versions with thicker tiles anyway, and it’s because the original Explorers & Pirates expansion had tiles that needed to be flipped and the designers wanted to make them more durable.

They are a tiny bit thicker than the tiles in the other 2007 boxes, although not by much, but designers being what they are they then went back and sorted out this tiny discrepancy in the 2012 revision by thickening the tiles in the earlier releases.

Here’s a picture of the tiles side by side from the boxes in my collection – Explorers & Pirates is on the left and the 4th edition 2007 base game printing is on the right.

Comparing Catan tile thickness

Here’s a table to help compare the differences between the editions:

Version Title Format of box Characteristic Pros Cons
4th edition (2007) The Settlers Of Catan Landscape Thinner tiles Easy to find on the used market Artwork is a little less clear
4th edition (2012) The Settlers Of Catan Landscape Thicker tiles Fits better with the later expansions As above
5th edition(2015) Catan Portrait Thicker tiles, revised art, edited rules The latest version, easily available Some small quality issues

Final Verdict

The 4th and 5th editions of Catan offer more or less identical gameplay experiences, even if the graphic design is a little sharper and clearer in the newer release.

The 5th edition is readily available but if you wanted to save some money and find a cheap copy of the 4th edition then it would feel almost exactly the same.

However, if you think that you might end up wanting to add some expansions to the base game then you are probably better off getting the 5th edition straight away,

This isn’t because it or its expansions are any better or worse, just that they are much easier to buy and you’ll also end up with a consistent style across the various boxes.

Personally, I’m very happy with my 4th edition collection, even with Explorers & Pirates’ thicker tiles, and won’t be replacing it, but if I were starting out again from scratch I would probably go with the 5th edition and build my Catan collection from there.

In summary:

  • Buying just the base game? – Either 4th or 5th edition is fine. Go with whichever art style you prefer.
  • Thinking about expanding later on? – 5th edition is the better route, unless you can find a cheap 4th edition bundle!
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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.