The Settlers of Catan has one of the best game board designs. The modular, variable design paved the way for the Seafarers and Cities and Knights expansions to enable ambitious players to terraform an entire game night into a vast sprawling event in an epic setting. It’s like when you’re a boy or a girl, and you do an action figure or doll mashup, combining in play all the diverse franchises that you own.
Even as an adult it’s only natural to want to mingle these $40-$50 expansions all at the same time, and get your money’s worth. They all have the same size box, the same font, the same magazine styled rulebooks, the same hexes, and identically colored wooden pieces. The separate Catan boxes have such a sense of identity and belongingness that I’m sure there are dozens of other Catan gamers that have wished, along with myself, for a cardboard enclosure, not unlike the box in book box sets, to contain all the Catans. That sense of closure can only be obtained by arts and crafts people, currently, but any Catan and Catan Expansion owner can throw down a Catan archipelago of knight-ruled islands.
And so, most Catan gamers have no doubt had a night of Catan-mageddon or Catan-gasm—take your pick—in which the main theme of the evening was a megalo-masochistic masterplan of crushing every Catan into one game: a Cities and Knights / Seafarers sweeping eighteen point scenario. The Catan iPhone app actually has several of these Catan-Pangaeas* (Greater Catan, Enchanted Island, and Great Canal), and they’re pretty entertaining when played against AI, but interminable torture when played with other people online. Catan veterans know they’re in for a two hour tabletop game when it’s a ten point island; eighteen point supercontinent juggernauts can take three or four hours.
For those of you that feel that you have satisfied your desire for Catan expansion ad absurdum, you may wish to avert your eyes from the following image (posted by the blogger Kurisu on the website 9to5.cc), as it can only lead to unrequited longing:
You can find more photos of the event in this Facebook album. Short of going to GenCon on a year when someone’s trying to outdo this record event, you will probably never be in a game of Catan this size. Here’s a really big game board you can try out on the right size game table, though.
Too much expansion, of course, eventually leads to a desire for a Catan diet, and a return to basic Catan, that Edenic island on which most of us played our first Eurogame and learned there was another, more satisfying way than Risk or Monopoly for adults to play board games. But you can’t confine yourself to just one island forever, once you’ve had that vision of Catan island chains. You start to miss the ships and even the pirates.
I’ve only found one other version of Catan that can satisfy the need for a return to simplicity: Catan Explorers and Pirates (2013). Explorers and Pirates has the virtue of being uncombinable** with the earliest expansions, Seafarers or Cities and Knights, so that it is only played with basic Catan. For while it might be possible for an enterprising gamer to combine Explorers and Pirates with Cities and Knights if they really wanted to, it would ruin the distinctiveness of E&P, and players would be discouraged from getting fish and spices while they level up their knights. There is no possible way to combine Seafarers and Explorers and Pirates, aside from combining the map pieces to make a larger Catan setting, as the rules of ship movement in these oceanic expansions are not compatible with each other. Explorers and Pirates also changes a lot of other rules in the direction of simplicity, such as eliminating the harbors, which makes all trade follow the same rules of 3:1 resources or 2:1 gold, and also making all habitations produce only one resource. It makes all these streamlining changes, however, while satisfying the Catan players’ needs for a monolithic game board, as the Explorers and Pirates scenarios have the largest maps in any of the expansions.
Here’s my own contribution to the vision of Catan-Pangaea—inspired by scenarios in Seafarers and Explorers and Pirates—for you to play on your next board game night if you have a really big table, and at bare minimum, basic Catan and E&P. Create an island of four alternating wool and lumber hexes in a rhombus shape. Place 6s on the starting wool hexes and 8s on the starting lumber hexes. Place harbor settlements and settler ships from E&P on each side of the island, and place water hexes under the settler ships where they border their starting hex, so that the settler ships are sitting on the border of two hexes, as they should be. Make a stack of every hex from every Catan box you have. This means you’re using the fish, spice, and pirate leader boards from E&P. Also, use the turn sequence from E&P, ships move exactly as they do in E&P, use 3:1 trade and gold from E&P. As the ships move, hexes are flipped, a resource bonus or gold is given out, and numbers are drawn randomly to mark the resource hexes. To satisfy Cities and Knights enthusiasts, you could say that cities can be built starting with your second settlement, but as soon as the first one is built, the barbarians start to attack using the rules in C&K. How big can you make that Catan mash-up before someone scores twenty victory points?
*I thought of calling it Catangaea, and though it looks and sounds great, the hyphen makes the mash-up more obvious to those not so fascinated with geology as myself. I’m apparently not the first person to connect the game with the geology concept.
**Explorers and Pirates also has the virtue of giving players gold when they’re unlucky with resources, which is probably the most charitable evolution in the history of Catan, an island that has historically been cold and inhospitable to the unlucky.