25 years ago Catan, originally known as Settlers of Catan, released and took the board gaming hobby by storm. It used dice that players were familiar with, included a customisable game board and pitted players against each other without weapons or battles. Through generating and trading clay, sheep and more, players grow their settlements into cities, build networks of roads and potentially along the way will see a visit from the dastardly robber. Now, a 25th Anniversary Edition of Catan has been released to mark the occasion. Coming with the base game and the 5 – 6 player expansion, the game plays with 3 – 6 players straight out of the box, with a couple of other goodies for players. However, what are the changes to this edition and does it do the quarter of a century anniversary justice? Let’s find out!
For those of you who haven’t played Catan it gives players a simple aim, get to 10 points first. Each player starts on two points from the get go, as after setup each player has on the board two settlements – both having a single road leading away from them. Settlements sit at the intersections of the hexagon tiles, making settlements adjacent to up to three tiles. The turn structure is simple to follow, the active player must roll the dice and then they can trade resources and build if they wish.
The hexagonal tiles have values (2 – 12) and a resource type, with the dice roll determining which tiles produce resources for each player with an adjacent settlement. The active player is then able to spend their resources in various combinations to build roads, new settlements and even upgrade settlements to cities. If they don’t have what is required they can trade with the other players around the table or the board at specific rates. Building settlements and cities scores points, buying one time ability development cards can help score points and constructing the longest road that wiggles across the board can also be lucrative. When a turn is finished play moves onto the next player, and so on until a player reaches 10 points – being crowned the winner.
As standard Catan only plays with 3 – 4 players, though an expansion is included in the Catan 25th Anniversary Edition which increases that range. To some Catan is better at 4 than 6, though extending the player count makes it a much easier game to get to the table. The constraint of 3 – 4 players does mean at times Catan doesn’t fit the game night. Regardless of the number of other players between your turns the engagement can be there due to the way resources are earnt from anyone rolling. Still, for the sake of the time taken, it’ll be a lot faster around the table at 3 than 6.
The expansion included is almost identical to the regularly available 5 – 6 player expansion, the only difference being the green & brown player pieces have the same custom shiny look like the rest of the player pieces. Additional tiles are included to increase the size of the game board. To make it simple to jump from a 5 – 6 player game back to a 3 – 4 player game the tiles and tokens have identifiers. The tiles have a small logo on them, which most will be oblivious to unless looking for it, and the tokens are a slight shade of brown numbers rather than black font.
At worst, if you never plan to play Catan at 6, there are more player colours to pick from. This is helpful as the brown has become almost a bronzy colour with the “glitter paint” treatment, making it often be chosen. The wooden glitter painted pieces aren’t exactly metallic in appearance, with the effect more noticeable in some lights. Compared to the standard edition pieces the difference between them is rather dependent on the player colour.
In addition to the base game and the 5 – 6 player expansion is the Helpers of Catan mini-expansion. Adding 10 helper characters to the game these offer players unique abilities to give little twists on the standard Catan experience. These aren’t quite unique player powers as throughout the game these helpers will aid players and then become available to the others around the table. In reverse turn order at the offset of the game players take the next available helper tile from the starting set. Players can use the ability on their turn and then choose to either flip the tile over or exchange it with one from a market of the remaining helpers. Once a player uses a flipped helper they must exchange it, thus another player can obtain it from the market.
Without hugely altering the core gameplay the helpers add little boosts here and there, and even ways to mitigate some bad luck. For example, Marianne allows a player to gain a resource if they wouldn’t gain any from production, while Lin’s power is for the player to move the robber back to the desert. There is even a helper, Nassir, that forces opponents to trade with you. With new ways to circumvent needing specific resources or making things cheaper, none of them completely change how to play but make everyone slightly less reliant on the dice rolls. For those new to Catan they would be a little more to teach them. As Catan thrives at being an entry game I’d therefore leave the Helpers out for an initial few games with new players. Experienced Catan players though can easily include these helpers in and will probably not want to play without them again.
The cards in Catan get regular use, being held constantly and being passed about through trades or robber actions. To protect the Catan 25th Anniversary Edition it comes with 160 Gamegenic Catan sized card sleeves. With a total of 154 cards and 160 card sleeves you’ll have one or two spare just in case. Given the sizing of the Catan cards they would be unlikely to fit other games – so having an abundance spare wouldn’t have been a huge win. Another nicety that may go unnoticed by some at a quick glance are the custom dice. As well as a slightly marbled design, the dice pips are hexagons – with the one pip side also coming with Catan embossed on it. Slightly oddly the dice don’t have a glittery finish to make them in line with the player pieces – which would have rounded the set off.
Card trays are included, forming part of the plastic insert and being the best part of it. These can be pulled out and used during play, with three card types in each. Having a bit of a curve to them it is easy to put the cards in and grab them when collecting resources. They are rather thin plastic, much like the rest of the insert, and don’t have the same wow factor as the Gamegenic Catan Trading Post accessory. Unlike with the 2015 Catan box, the Gamegenic Trading Post does fit in the Catan 25th Anniversary Edition box, if you ditch the insert, as the box is around a centimeter taller. It is also wider than the standard Catan box, being closer to a Ticket to Ride sized game box, just a bit deeper.
The Catan 25th Anniversary Edition isn’t necessarily a huge grandiose or hugely different version of Catan. For a 25th Anniversary edition this is a bit of a shortcoming, being more of a new set to get the base game and 5 – 6 player expansion in one box, with a slight perk of the helpers mini-expansion. Fans of Catan will therefore look at this edition as mostly content they already own. The custom dice, custom player pieces and card sleeves are a nice touch, making this set special for those that have it. For those looking to pick up Catan, especially if they are remotely interested in playing with a larger player count, then Catan 25th Anniversary edition is a great addition to a gamer’s shelf.
(Editor’s Note: Catan 25th Anniversary Edition was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)