Settlers Of Catan vs Risk

If you have the choice of playing or buying either Catan or Risk, it’s quite possible that you know one but not both of them, or even neither.

How are you going to know which one is right for your collection or game group?

Both of them have strengths and weaknesses and this article is going to look at each of them in depth, see where their strengths lie and give you some pointers about which one is best for you.

Settlers Of Catan Is A Wonderful Introduction To Modern Tabletop Gaming

The Settlers Of Catan (also known simply as Catan) is one of the classic gateway games of the modern board game hobby.

It was first published in 1995, and its combination of mechanisms, simple rules and player interaction proved immediately popular.

Catan is now on its fifth edition with various expansion boxes, themed versions and scenarios available to keep fans happy for a long time.

In Catan each player begins with two settlements on a small island and needs to harvest resources to:

  • build roads and new settlements
  • upgrade those settlements into cities and build armies
  • trade with other players and via any harbours they have built

until they get to the number of victory points needed to win the game.

This short video from Asmodee Live gives a good idea of what the game is about:

YouTube video

Catan involves its players right from the start with a variable board that can change from game to game.

Tiles on the island produce resources based on the roll of two dice, so the odds mean that ‘6’ or ‘8’ are most likely to be rolled and having a settlement on these tiles is really important.

However, if you are not well placed to collect a certain resource then you will have to find it another way, which will restrict your progress.

So do you go for the most abundant resources or instead strive after balance, and what if another player grabs that spot you wanted?

It’s a great way of getting players involved before anyone has even taken a turn.

Once you get to playing you’ll:

  • roll the dice
  • trade (if you want)
  • build (if you want)

One of the most obvious strengths of Catan is that it forces interaction between players in its trading.

Players can trade resources:

  • with the bank (4 to 1)
  • via harbours (3 to 1)
  • with other players (strike a deal!)

If you need wheat and someone else needs ore, then you can haggle, offer and counter-offer until you are both happy, or another player could leap in at the last moment instead.

Trading might seem like a small thing but it achieves one of the grails of board gaming – it keeps every player involved in the game even when it’s not their turn.

This means you can’t check your phone or zone out from what is on the table because you might miss the deal that could win you the game.

Catan also doles out points for various different things – settlements, cities, large armies, long roads, development – which means that there are multiple viable routes to victory.

The aim of the game is the same for everybody – get to this number of points – but the way players get there can be different from player to player and from game to game.

This keeps Catan fresh and challenging every time you play it.

Catan Can Drag A Little And Is More Complicated

While Catan ushered in the new age of gaming and has aged well it does have some weaknesses, although these are less apparent than you might think.

Also, if you are new to games like this then the excitement of the new experience may well cover up the small cracks that are in the design.

While trading can be boisterous fun with the right group it can sometimes drag a little, but even at its longest a game of Catan will wrap up in under two hours.

Trying to eke out those last points can also cause the endgame to take just a little longer than it should because the island can get really crowded making progress hard to achieve.

Lastly, although Catan is easy to learn it can still be a little rule heavy for somebody who has never experienced this type of game before.

Oh, and the robber who appears when somebody rolls a ‘7’ and steals resources can be really frustrating!

Settlers Of Catan

Image by marceloferrari

Risk Is A Fun Fight-It-Out That Is Simple To Learn

Like Catan, Risk is a classic for a reason, a slugfest for up to five players who are duking it out on a world map to achieve their aims.

Even though it has been in production for over fifty years it has not changed that much since the early days, and the turn structure is very easy to explain and understand.

On a turn you:

  • Receive new troops
  • Attack (if you want)
  • Move troops (if you want)

When Risk is at its best it can be great fun as armies move back and forth across the board, alliances are formed and broken, and the balance of the map changes from turn to turn.

The latest box comes with various different versions to suit most gaming occasions, from Classic (take over the whole world) to Secret Mission (achieve your personal mission) and Capital (for a shorter game).

There is even a version for two players which has neutral armies on the board and in which you strive to wipe out your human opponent.

This video from Gather Together Games explains how Risk is played and also shows what it looks like on the table:

YouTube video

Risk Is Beginning To Show Its Age

Risk can go on for a long time until somebody is in a position to win, especially if you play with somebody like the member of my family who insists on taking over the whole world and achieving their mission at the very end!

The randomness of the dice rolls can also really hurt, and one bad roll can turn the tide of the game.

The strong tend to get stronger in Risk and when people gang up on you it can be a painful and lonely experience as you struggle to muster your forces.

Risk also commits one of the cardinal sins of modern gaming, which is player elimination.

Once your armies are eliminated from the game that’s it – you are out of the game and have nothing more to do with it.

If this happens you could be sitting around for a long time, and that’s never great when your friends are still having fun.

Most modern games – including Catan – keep everybody involved until the end, but this is one area when Risk really shows its age.


Image by Tambako The Jaguar

Both Have Randomness But In Different Ways

Catan and Risk are both great entry level games with simple rules that are designed to get people playing and having fun quickly.

However they represent two different design philosophies, and it’s useful to explain what they are.

In Catan random stuff happens and then you make your decisions for the turn, but in Risk you make your decisions for the turn and then random stuff happens.

So are you the kind of player who is happy to have your plans destroyed by the roll of the dice, or would you rather have greater say about what happens?

If you can roll with the punches and love dealing with the unexpected then Risk is a great choice, but if the thought of randomness stresses you out and you want to be in control then Catan would be better.

Also, it’s obvious but worth mentioning that Risk has direct conflict at its core while Catan is more about going your own way with some obstruction and interference.

So Catan is for people who:

  • want to be involved throughout
  • are happy to haggle
  • dislike conflict but don’t mind a little obstruction
  • are looking for a different experience every time
  • are happy to explore different routes to victory

While Risk is for people who:

  • are happy attacking…and being attacked
  • can laugh off a bad dice roll
  • want something simple and streamlined
  • don’t mind being eliminated from the game
  • will happily play a very similar game every time

Your Choice Depends On Your Group

So which one should you choose if you are offered the choice?

Well, both are fine games but there’s no denying that Catan is more thinky while Risk is about those dice rolls.

In other words, if you want to throw a few dice and laugh and groan at the results then Risk is a good choice, although I would always recommend the shorter Secret Mission variant.

On the other hand, if you want to be involved in more meaningful decisions from start to finish in a game which has a slightly slower pace then Catan is for you.

I would always happily play Catan, but Risk’s flaws mean that I would need to be in the right mood for it or have the right group.

If you are buying then the decision is much more clean cut, because Catan has much more replayability in the box while Risk is pretty much the same game every time.

So for depth and strategy and trading go for Catan, but for drama and disastrous dice rolls with a few rough edges go for Risk.

  Catan Risk
Players 2 to 4 – best with 3 or 4 2 to 5 – best with 4
Age 10 and above 10 and above
Style Trade and build Attack and dominate
Replayability Very high High
Difficulty Medium Low to medium
Luck Medium to high High
Strategy High Medium
Length Around 90 minutes 2 hours +

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

x (x)
x (x)
x (x)

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.