The Settlers Of Catan (or simply Catan) may well have been one of your gateway games which got you into this hobby, but what if that it was only the start and that there was much more Catan out there?
The original game of Catan has been added to by four big box expansions over the years, each of which alters the core experience in different ways.
The expansions may be scenario-based or add modular elements which can be mixed in as desired, but they all make changes to the rules of the base game.
Extensions are also available which allow the base game and each of the expansions to be played with extra players up to a maximum of six, while additional boxes extend the stories of some of the expansion arcs.
The main expansions for Settlers of Catan are:
Note that the box art for *Extensions* and *Expansions* look very similar - but are very different products - be sure you select the right one.
The game of Catan is something that has brought countless people into the board gaming hobby since it was first published, but how do you find out what should be your next step?
Thankfully, you do not need to take a risk on buying something totally new but can add to what you already have, giving you more of the same but with a slightly different flavour.
Getting More From Catan...
When Catan arrived on the scene in 1995 it set a new standard for board gamers who had been brought up on a diet of Monopoly, Cluedo and Yahtzee.
It combined resources, odds-based dice rolls, area control and - probably most enjoyably of all - proper trading between players, as well as a board that changed fundamentally from game to game.
Many of us have happy memories either of playing Catan or of introducing it to friends for the first time, of negotiations that went wrong, or of the way the robber always comes after you.
That last bit isn’t true, by the way - he always comes after me!
Even if you have played Catan many times with different maps and still enjoy it, there may well be a time when you want something just a little extra.
This could be more control over the robber or greater flexibility in your settlements, or maybe even the desire to leave the island and see what lies beyond the borders of Catan.
Thankfully there are loads of choices out there, but it might help to work out first of all which are the bits that you like most about Catan...and what you would change if you could.
How To Move Outside The Island - Seafarers Of Catan
If you are looking to expand Catan then it makes good sense to begin with Seafarers which gradually adds extra rules to the original game but also makes thematic sense.
It’s hinted at in the title, but in this expansion your gallant settlers begin to make steps beyond the island of Catan that they have explored in the original game, striking out across the sea to new horizons.
What makes Seafarers so neat is that it is not just a box of extra rules and pieces, but that it is instead a set of different scenarios that can be played together to make a story of how your settlers begin to discover new lands.
There is even a table that suggests the order in which you can play the scenarios to give a series of games a more cinematic feel, as if you and your fellow players are working towards some kind of shared goal.
All the playthroughs suggest that you begin with Heading For New Shores, which introduces the new rules for gold fields, ships, small islands - and a pirate.
The good news is that none of these additions overcomplicates what was in the original game, so gold fields produce a resource of your choice, ships are like roads, and small islands give extra points when you settle there.
However, the pirate is always causing trouble, and will disrupt your shipping routes in the same way that the robber got in the way in the base game.
Additional Seafarers Scenarios That Grow The Catan Storyline
After you have played Heading For New Shores a couple of times and are happy with the new rules you can then strike out in one of many different directions.
You could try to build one of the Wonders Of Catan, explore the Fog Island and the Pirate Islands, find The Forgotten Tribe, send your explorers Through The Desert, or establish a new system of trade in Cloth For Catan.
Some of these scenarios use the basic rules from Seafarers while others add in more elements, but playing them in order is a gentle process and you really feel that you are part of the story of Catan as it grows and develops.
There is even a final option, called New World, which provides an outline for a random set up using the Seafarers rules but without the specific tweaks of each scenario.
Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower talks about this expansion in this video:
Cities & Knights Is The More Fighty Option
After the gentle expansion of Seafarers you might feel confident about jumping into the next expansion for Catan - Cities and Knights - but this is quite a different expansion from the first one.
Cities and Knights changes the dynamic of Catan (and Seafarers, for that matter) in a fundamental way, and turns it into something that is quite far removed from the original game.
The base box and Seafarers are all about expanding and using resources to build up your settlements and trading networks, but Cities and Knights brings in elements of military power and destruction which might not be to everybody’s taste.
Where Seafarers adds to the base game, Cities and Knights actually replaces parts of it, introducing knights, a new way of developing, city walls and a barbarian tile.
There are also three new types of material which are upgraded versions of some of the ones found in the original Catan, and these are cloth, coin and paper.
An extra die is thrown at the start of each round which can bring the barbarians closer to Catan or allow the active player to draw a progress card (another new thing!).
Players can use progress cards to develop their trade, politics or science, and also spend resources on their turns to upgrade their knights, protect their cities, and maybe even build a metropolis.
From time to time the barbarians will attack, at which point the players’ knights have to band together to see them off before they attack the cities on the board.
As you might imagine, all these changes make the game quite different from original Catan, and there is also a great deal more to think about on your turn, and some people might well think that Cities and Knights takes the game too far from its original feel.
Probably the best example I can think of is that Cities and Knights is a bit like the Wonders Of Catan scenario from Seafarers - if you like what that has to offer and hanker after a version of the game that feels a bit more like a civilisation builder then this expansion might well be the one for you.
There is also the possibility of combining this version with Seafarers as well to come up with a mega-fighty seafaring variant, but this is even further away from the original Catan and also adds to the complexity of the rules.
We’re going to keep things consistent with the videos in this article, so here’s Tom Vasel again to talk about Cities and Knights.
Traders & Barbarians Introduces Scenarios & New Modules
This third expansion is less like the previous two because it is not a set of new rules which can be applied to games of Catan, but a collection of scenarios and modules that can be combined with the original.
It’s best to think of this expansion as having two main categories of content - the new scenarios and the extra small modules.
The scenarios include some that were previously only available as extra content in magazines, such as The Fishermen Of Catan, in which fish become one of the resources and can be traded for various items, including points.
The Rivers Of Catan is another small extra module, as is The Great Caravan, while Barbarian Invasion and Traders & Barbarians are more involved, challenging the players to defend and then rebuild Catan.
There are also rules for a less aggressive robber, cards to take out some of the randomness of the dice rolls, and a card to reward the player with the most harbours.
These little changes are all well suited to players who think that the randomness of the original Catan can be a bit too much to handle.
One small bonus of this expansion is that it also comes with the official rules for a two-player version of Catan, and although it might not be to everybody’s taste at least it can be tweaked if necessary.
It is probably best to think of Traders & Barbarians as a collection of small items that can be used to tweak each individual play of Catan without shaking up the game too much.
You could, for example, play a standard game of Catan with the friendly robber rules and the Harbourmaster card, and the game would feel slightly different without the changes being too complicated.
In this sense, Traders and Barbarians is a kind of stepping stone to Seafarers, which changes the rules entirely, and it is certainly a lot less disruptive to the feel of the original game than Cities and Knights.
Tom Vasel is back again to give his views on this expansion here:
Explorers & Pirates Takes Catan In A New Direction...(Treasure?)
Just like the other boxes mentioned already, Explorers and Pirates goes its own way, but it is again a different experience from the other expansions.
Think of this expansion as a reboot of the original game, as if the 1995 version were to be rereleased some twenty odd years later.
There are five scenarios in the box which gradually build up to the final Explorers & Pirates version which brings together all the new material of this expansion.
You start with Land Ho! and most - but certainly not all - of the components of the base game, because you won’t need development cards, Longest Road and Largest Army cards, cities or even the robber.
If this seems like too much of a change for you then you should look elsewhere.
This first scenario allows you to load your ships with settlers who then head out to explore new islands and either pay tribute to or chase off the pirate.
The really good news is that the second scenario allows you to discover the Pirate Lairs and receive some gold as a reward which can then be traded for resources.
After that you can find out how to discover and trade fish and spices and eventually combine all the elements together into a new style of Catan game, which merges different resources and routes to victory in a game with significantly greater scope than the original.
In terms of how this fits into the overview of Catan expansions it is probably best to put it alongside Cities and Knights as something that really mixes up the base game and changes it into something new, rather than merely adding to it like Seafarers does.
Do you feel like turning Catan into a fully-fledged economic game but without overt aggression between players?
Then Explorers and Pirates is for you.
Just be aware that getting full value out of this expansion means taking on lots of extra rules step by step and scenario by scenario, but it is definitely recommended.
You can watch Tom Vasel’s view on this expansion here.
So Which Catan Expansion Is Right For Me?
Consider... what do you want next from the base game?
If you want tweaks rather than a reboot from the ground up, then Traders and Barbarians is a good place to start, as it offers some scenarios to explore as well as some adjustments to the base game.
For something similar but with a little more bite, Explorers and Pirates is a good choice, with some linked scenarios and further adjustments to the basic rules which still retain the feel of Catan but which strike forth in a new direction.
This feels a little like turning the bare economic and trading elements of Catan into something much more developed and open for exploration, which could be exactly what you are looking for.
If you enjoy Catan but want something a little more widescreen, then Seafarers is the expansion to get, as its linked scenarios offer a large amount of variability and could keep you going for ages if you really want to explore them all in depth.
It also offers a fresh and new experience without adding piles of new rules and exceptions to what you know from Catan, keeping most of the basic elements in place and popping extra bits on top rather than changing them.
Finally, Cities and Knights is the expansion to get if you want to turn Catan into something like a civilisation game with armies and invaders.
Positioning on the map becomes really important here, as does developing the power of your settlers, but the price of this is a longer playing time and the loss of some of the charm of the original game.
Because of this Cities and Knights is probably just for hardcore players who want something really meaty to dig their teeth into.
Still Need More Catan Expansions?
These are the four “big box” expansions for Catan, but there are other options out there, even if I would hesitate to call these expansions in the traditional sense.
There is Legend Of The Searobbers, which contains extra scenarios for the Seafarers box - an expansion for the expansion!
Legend Of The Conquerors does something similar for Cities and Knights, while Crop Trust is a single scenario that integrates with the base game and probably offers the most basic of expansion experiences.
There are better options out there than Crop Trust, though, so you can happily keep exploring Catan without really needing this.
There is also good news if you want to get more people involved in your games because each of the big expansions comes with a separate box that can add two more players into the game, so if you want to share the Catan love you could even have six players at your table duking it out.
The more players you add in the longer the games will drag on, though, and I certainly wouldn’t advise a 6-player Seafarers/Cities and Knights combo - you could be there for days!
Can I Tell You A Secret?
If you do decide that you want to expand Catan then you are spoiled for choice, and you certainly shouldn’t feel that you should buy everything.
Instead, think carefully about what it is that you enjoy in the base game and what you might want to fix and that should lead you to the best expansion to buy.
Many other games have expansions that can all be added to each other, but that is not the case with Catan.
Instead you should think of each big box expansion as a separate road to explore rather than experiences that can be added to each other.
TL; DR: Because of this it is strongly recommended that you only go with the big Catan expansion that most appeals to you, and then you can always explore the other ones later if you want to.
One of the reasons that Catan can stand up to all this tinkering is that it is a game system as well as a game in its own right, so it can take on all sorts of adaptations, meaning that you can change and adapt it to your heart’s content until you get exactly the version that you really want to play.
Best of all, the official Catan site has all these expansions listed, and many other different versions of the base game as well, such as for Star Trek or Game Of Thrones, and the website even features a little adjustable widget you can use to pop in your preferences, and it will highlight what it thinks might suit you.
If you really love Catan then you could even have all of these expansions on your shelf (I do!) and mix and match elements to have a fresh experience every single time and adjust the feel of the game for your gaming group.
I’ll let you into a secret though - sometimes I just go back and play the base game without any added extras!
So, go out there and be bold, pick up one of these boxes and put it onto the table to give it a try, and may your brave settlers always strike out for new horizons!
Here’s The Cheat Sheet:
If you want more exploration and some extra layers without changing the base game too much then Seafarers is for you, followed by Legend Of The Sea Robbers.
If you wish Catan was even more interactive and that the Largest Army actually meant something more than points then Cities & Knights is for you, followed by Legend Of The Conquerors.
If you think that the base game is pretty good as it is but needs a little tweak here and there to freshen it up a little then Traders & Barbarians is for you.
If you think Catan is great but it should feel like an epic movie then Explorers & Pirates is for you.