We Play Catan Wrong

James Fulford
2 min readOct 1, 2021

…because we were disappointed.

A normal game of Catan. Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

I don’t like Catan. The game is alright, but I don’t love playing it. But it’s my favorite board game. Not because of the mechanics, clever game design, community, or graphics. Because of when I played it.

We used to have friends over to play Catan, several games in a row around the dining room table. The tragedy of discarding half your cards, the betrayal of the Robber, the irony of your dad’s wheat being denied because of the robber, and your sister’s pleading to not steal the one card she needed to get just 1 point this game. Once, I decided not to place the robber near my crush. When asked to explain, my words were somehow twisted into a proposal, and I’ve been teased to this day. I was 12, and my face has never been so red to this day. If that’s not comedy, I don’t know what is.

When I turned 13, I got the 5–6 player expansion. The biggest tragedy on my board game shelf is that I’ve only needed it once in the following decade.

See, it’s not Catan I like. I like playing with others, and Catan is a great facilitator for that.

Why not make a bigger map and have an even longer and more fun game?

Go on Colonist.io, try the free special map of the week. America, The World, England, you name it (except Black Forest, that’s great). Except for Black Forest, it’s not fun. More space means fewer races for spots, rivalries, and negotiations. Turns out, when you have what you need, you end up playing Catan next to others, not with others.

So, go the other way. It’s counter-intuitive, but try making a smaller map.

Take 1 of each tile, including desert, and flip it upside-down so the water side shows. (We actually replace the tiles with water tiles from Seafarers, so shuffling is easier). Remove 5 random number tokens. Now, make your random map and play as usual, with the robber off the board until he is moved into play.

Not only does the land look more interesting (rivers, bays, weird shapes), but your choices are a lot harder. Do you want the 8 of wheat on the coast, or the last spot with 3 tiles, but they’re all useless? If you place here, can anyone build on that sheep port? And how are you going to get bricks to win the race against orange?

Oh no. You’ll have to talk with people.

For what it’s worth, we’ve only tested with 3 players. Let me know if you try with 4 and how it went.