Pros: Fixes one gripe I had with Settlers; neat scenarios; introduces more variety
Cons: Still only for 3-4 players (officially); one scenario requires two copies of Settlers of Catan
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 2/20/2003
The first thing you need to know is that “Seafarers of Catan” is an expansion for “Settlers of Catan;” you must have a copy of that game in order to make use of this one.
Settlers of Catan (recap)
In “Settlers of Catan,” you use hexagonal “land tiles” and “ocean tiles” to create a varied land mass on your dining room table. You roll dice on your turn, collect resources (depicted on cards), and build roads, settlements, and cities (depicted by little wooden pieces). By doing these things you get points, and the first player to reach a certain number of points wins the game. It’s a very well-balanced game that can be played with a fair amount of thought and strategy. It’s a 3-4 player game although, as explained in my review of Settlers, my husband and I have come up with a method that allows us to play with 2 players, and you can buy further expansions that allow you to play with 5-6 players.
The only gripes I had about Settlers were:
- There was no stabilizing frame for the tiles, so if you bumped them they got misaligned easily.
- The deck of cards that comes with the game (you can spend resources to pick cards, which can give you points or other benefits) lacks variety.
Seafarers does not change the basic statistics of Settlers. It’s still a game for ages 12 and up (it’s a great game for adults!), that’s expected to last roughly 1-2 hours, for 3-4 players. There does exist a 5-6 player expansion for Seafarers.
Added Game Pieces
Seafarers includes extra game pieces:
- 14 edge pieces (for creating a frame around the game area)
- 12 water hexes
- 12 extra land hexes, including 3 desert and 2 gold field hexes–if you collect resources from a gold field, you get to choose which resource you collect, making these very valuable land tiles to settle at
- 8 “victory point tokens”
- 10 of the number chits that get placed on top of land hexes
- 12 harbor tokens–now you create harbors by using harbor tokens rather than special ocean tiles, which makes things slightly easier and more flexible
- 60 wooden ships (15 ships of each player color)
- 1 pirate ship (black)–the pirate operates almost exactly like the robber, except that you use it to stop people from doing things on water; you still get to steal resources
- 1 rulebook
Playing with Ships
Now you get to use the wooden ships to build “trade routes,” enabling you to expand your little empire to other lands.
One of the interesting things about Seafarers is that you no longer play with one variable board design. Now you play with “scenarios.” There are 11 scenarios. Each one tells you how many players it’s designed for (3, 4, or 3-4), estimated length of game-play, and what the “object” of the scenario is. By achieving this object you collect victory point tokens, which add to your score. For instance, in scenario 1 the object is to set out from the mainland and settle smaller islands; you get a victory point token the first time you build a settlement on one of those islands. Each scenario has its own victory point total needed to win the game. Since there are ways to earn extra victory points, these totals are usually higher than that for Settlers.
Each scenario also comes with a nice, clear map that helps you to set up the related game board, since the board is different with each. Each also provides a simple chart of the components you’ll need. My first worry was that because there was a limited number of scenarios, game-play would be similarly limited. Not so! Some of the scenarios (six, I think) use variable land-masses, just as Settlers does, so they can be played repeatedly and they’ll be different every time. (By variable land mass, I mean that each time you play you deal the land tiles out randomly to their spaces, creating a “new” and different board.) And many of the scenario boards are larger than that used for Settlers. This actually gives you a lot more variety in game-play, rather than less. The only problem is that scenario #11 requires that you have two “Settlers of Catan” sets. This is a very minor thing, though. You can play the remaining 10 without problem, and the manual suggests that when playing the 11th, you ask a friend to bring over their copy of Settlers.
We still find the game to be balanced and interesting, involving both strategy and some amount of luck. We’ve successfully used our 2-player Settlers variant with 3-player Seafarers scenarios (i.e., we create a team-played third player); I expect we’ll manage the 4-player ones by having each of us play two players.
Having a frame fixes one of the problems we had with Settlers. Now if you bump the board, it doesn’t get mis-aligned. It holds together quite well. We find that the expanded game play (creating trade routes and having the means to get extra victory points) takes some of the emphasis off of card use, so the lack of card variety seems less of a problem.
Game Piece Confusion?
We enjoy the changes that Seafarers institutes in the game enough that we just combined most of the game components into one box. There’s a clear list of components in the beginning of the Seafarers manual, so it’s fairly easy to separate the components out when you want to go back to playing Settlers. Again, we keep all of the little components in zip-top plastic bags to avoid losing them.
The components in Seafarers are of the same quality construction as those in Settlers. The land tiles and number chits are cardboard, which means it’s possible to damage them, but they are thick and strong. The cardboard frame pieces will be more prone to bending or breaking, but so far we haven’t had a problem. The ships and pirate are wooden.
Overall, we’ve found that the “Seafarers of Catan” expansion has only added to the enjoyment of playing “Settlers of Catan.” And anything that can improve on that wonderful game is impressive indeed!