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Best Settlers of Catan Expansion Packs – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)

You don’t have to leave the world to explore a whole new one… or several! Expand your island, fight off barbarian invasions, and crush your friends.

The island settlement of Catan is my home-away-from-home. It’s a place where my friends and I have spent a lot of time. I first received Catan as a Christmas present and subsequently spent the next three days straight playing it. It was on the third day (after we had spent 8 hours at the table with no breaks) that I realized I wanted more.

Luckily for us, there are numerous Catan expansions. Each one changes the game drastically and unlike other game expansions, aren’t necessarily compatible with each other. There are home brew rules you can find online with ways to mix and match, but my recommendation is to enjoy each one separately and appreciate it for what it is. That being said, if you’ve become an expert on classic Catan and have no idea where to start, then we’ve got you covered.

We’ve compiled the best Catan expansions and where to start exploring your very own island of Catan. In this post, we’ll be covering a part of the massive world that is Catan. We’ve ordered this list in a logical progression of expansions, but feel free to skip around!

Catan: 5-6 Player Extension

Catan 5-6 Player Extension

The simplest and usually the first expansion players get is the 5-6 player expansion. As amazing as Catan is, it’s no fun standing on the sidelines wishing you were the one getting gouged on a sheep-to-brick trade.

Larger gaming groups? No problem.

The 5-6 player expansion is exactly what it sounds like. It comes with extended sideboards, additional cards, and 2 extra sets of wooden player pieces. It includes everything you’ll need to expand your board, plus all the pieces to make sure that you don’t run short on cards.

Game-Changing Mechanics

Not much has changed here. The game is basically the Catan you know and love. There is only one major rule change:

All players can build in between turns during a special build phase.

This allows for the longer times between turns and keeps it a little more fair. It’s no fun being hit by the robber multiple times before you even get a chance to use anything.

Final Thoughts

This is usually the first expansion people buy. It doesn’t drastically change the game but allows enough resources and room for two more players at your table. If you’re short on friends and never have a gaming party with more than 4 players, then keep reading! But if you want to be able to play the original game with a larger group then this is your choice.

Catan: 5-6 Player Extension
  • This extension requires Catan to play
  • Allows for 1-2 more players to play
  • Compatable with Catan 4th Edition base and expansion games
  • Easy to incorporate
  • Inexpensive
  • Adds playability for larger groups, but not much else

Catan: Seafarers

Catan Seafarers Expansion

Hoist sails, secure for sea and prepare to get underway.

Set sail with Seafarers! There’s gold on that island, I just know it…

Seafarers drastically changes how your board looks, but the core of the game remains the same. The object of the game is still to score 10 victory points before other players and build out your cities and settlements to gain more resources.

The difference is what’s added to the game. You now have the option to expand your settlements out to islands and to create waterway trade routes, which definitely helps if you’ve ever made a bad starting choice and had nowhere to expand. The first player to get to the islands usually has first pick of untouched territory which includes the new golden hex, which I talk about in-game mechanics.

Game-Changing Mechanics

  • Requires the Catan base game to play
  • Best with 3-4 players
  • Game length: 90-120 min.

9 scenarios

The Seafarers expansion comes with 9 different scenarios to get you started. They start out very similar to the original Catan and then branch out, introducing new elements and strategies as you progress through the scenarios.

I think this is an excellent mechanic and an easy entry into the expansion, allowing you to slowly integrate until you get your sea legs.

Starting Ship or Starting Road?

The Seafarers expansion introduces a new way to expand your control over the board. To cross the ocean and get to the resource-rich islands you are going to have to build ships to act as your waterway trade routes. On the other hand, if you decide to start on a coastal hex, then you can place a ship instead of a road to start. Don’t worry too much about your initial placements as ships also have a limited ability to move!

Longest Trade Route Replaces the Longest Road

Because your sea trade routes are now part of your influence the rules have changed the longest road into the longest trade route to account for ships you may have built. Keep in mind the rule of having a continuous route still applies and ships need to connect to a settlement to count.

Gold Hexes

There’s gold in them thar hills!

A new hex showing gold resources is introduced although there are no gold resource cards. Gold hexes represent the wealth your newfound gold can buy and anytime it’s rolled you can take any resource making it extremely powerful. Usually, they’re only found on islands which make them much more difficult to reach early but extremely lucrative.

Pirates and Thieves, Oh My!

Success breeds jealousy. Especially among friends. In addition to the robber if you roll a “7” you now have the option to move the pirate instead. Pirates work very similarly to the robber, it’s just placed on water tiles instead. Players who have an adjacent ship are at risk of having a resource stolen just as if the robber landed on their tile. Be wary because the ships trapped by the pirate are unable to sail away, and new ships are unable to be built in a tile connected to the pirate.

Final Thoughts

Seafarers expands your gameplay in all senses of the word. You’ll extend your board size and players will no longer be limited to their one island.

Many players consider this as a “lost rule book” expansion. It is often said that this is how Catan should have been played from the beginning. Many players switch over and won’t play the base game unless Seafarers is included. It has minimal rule changes, while more importantly, doesn’t change the overall flow of the game. You’ll still recognize and feel as if you’re playing a game of classic Catan, just bigger and better.

Catan: Seafarers
  • For 3-4 players
  • 60 minute playing time
  • You need Catan (aka The Settlers of Catan) in order to use this

If you’re looking for a place to start expanding your Catan experience, then this is your first stop.

  • Considered the “Lost Rulebook Expansion”
  • Expands gameplay to islands and sea routes
  • Still feels very much like Catan

Catan: Cities & Knights

Catan Cities and Knights Expansion

As with all great and successful civilizations, your city’s prosperity is being closely watched by lurking barbarians, waiting to invade and grab their piece of your pie. Fortunately, your gallant knights are prepared and ready to fend off any attack… hopefully.

Upgrade your cities, build a hub of science and technology! Then watch it get destroyed by barbarians.

Where Seafarers expanded outward, Cities & Knights looks inward. There are several major rule changes and game mechanics added that makes Cities and Knights feel like an entirely different game.

In Cities & Knights, you will be looking inward to your cities. No longer will they be the faceless sheep factories of the past, but they will be upgradeable giants of industry… if you can keep them.

In addition to improving cities, you are also under threat of a barbarian horde. The event dice always has a chance of pushing the barbarians closer to attacking your peaceful island, and if you don’t build enough knights to keep them at bay, your flourishing city can be destroyed and reduced to a petty settlement.

Game-Changing Mechanics

  • Requires the Catan base game to play
  • Best with 3-4 players
  • Game length: 90-120 min.

Barbarian Invasions

Instead of 2 dice to roll every turn players will roll 3 dice, 2 regular dice and a third event dice. The event dice can help you by potentially gaining progress cards, or an unlucky roll (the ship) will result in moving the barbarian track. These rolls will push the barbarians closer to your island… and you better be prepared.

You will need to band together and muster the combined forces of knights (of all players) to successfully repel the invaders. And, unfortunately, the barbarians grow in strength with the number of cities you control on your island.

Being the defender of Catan isn’t without its own rewards, though. If you successfully repel the barbarians and contribute the highest number of knights (ties don’t count) you will receive 1 victory point.

The barbarians can (and will) destroy your cities.

If you fail to repel the barbarians, then the player(s) who contributed the least will have a city destroyed and reduced to a settlement along with all of its upgrades.

Development Flipchart Addition

Replacing your original build cards is an entire flipchart of options. This is used to represent the level of technology and improvements that you have built. With more upgrades come more options and advantages.

More Dice & Progress Cards

Replacing the development cards are 3 new decks called progress cards. You can play any number of progress cards after your initial role. Instead of buying progress, a third dice is rolled every turn that could potentially allow players to draw from one of the new progress decks. Upgrading the cities increases your odds of drawing progress cards.

Trade and Build or Build and Trade

Order no longer matters and you can do it as many times as you want on your turn.

City Walls

One of the most irritating and friend destroying mechanic of Catan is the robber, and in classic Catan there’s really no defense for it. Cities and Knights grants a bit of reprieve in the form of city walls. The cap for the robber is normally 7 cards before you have to discard half. Each city wall boosts that cap by 2 cards. So if a player has 1 wall then they can have a max of 9 cards in their hand before they have to discard half. Keep in mind that a player can only have 3 city walls at any given time, and if the barbarians reduce a city to a settlement, then the walls go with it.

Knights

Knights come in 3 flavors: Basic (1), Strong (2), and Mighty (3).

You can have the best military force in the game but they don’t work for free. In order to use your knights, you’ll need to activate them using resources. Knights bring a whole new level of strategy

You can become the protector of the land and receive 1 victory point for repelling the barbarians.
Knights can be used to block road routes. Other players cannot build through your knights.
They can chase the robber off your hexes, as well as other knights if your knight is the stronger of the two.

Refined Commodities: In addition to the regular resources you now have three new resources called refined commodities that you can use to expand your cities and trade.

  • Cloth
  • Paper
  • Coin

City Improvements: City improvements will give you an advantage in the game like better trade deals, defense, and building.

  • Tradehouse
  • Aqueduct
  • Fortress

Metropolis: Turning your city into a metropolis can be a difficult process but well worth the effort.

  • A metropolis gives you 2:1 trades on all your resources in the bank.
  • Controlling a metropolis gives you 2 victory points.

Final Thoughts

Seafarers expanded outward with its gameplay. Cities & Knights looks inward for inspiration. It heavily alters the game mechanics and adds a great deal of complexity to the game making the strategies much deeper than simply going for the longest road.

Knights are a huge strategic weapon to use in your arsenal. If there’s a trade route you’re looking to build but someone else might get there first, you can always move a knight to block off the route, buying you some time to get your roads up, and there is always the ever-present threat of a barbarian invasion coming to pillage and destroy your well-crafted cities.

Catan: Cities & Knights
  • For 3-4 players
  • 90 minute playing time
  • You need Catan (aka The Settlers of Catan) in order to use this

If you wanted more depth, strategy, and complexity from your game of Catan, then this is what you are looking for.

  • Adds a lot of strategy and complexity to the game.
  • Adds an ever-present threat of barbarians reducing your cities to settlements.

Catan: Explorers & Pirates

Catan Explorers and Pirates Expansion

Channel your inner Columbus and Magellan, minus the subjugation of the locals… on second thought let’s skip that entirely. Instead, let’s be pirates and commandeer a ship to forge our own path into uncharted lands.

Who needs cities? When adventure calls, it’s time to set sail for foreign shores!

Game-Changing Mechanics

  • Requires the Catan base game to play
  • Best with 3-4 players
  • Game length: 90-120 min.

5 Scenarios

The scenarios will start simple and slowly introduce new game mechanics. By the time you finish all five, you’ll be an expert on new strategies and rules.

NO ROBBER

It sounds too good to be true! Well, that’s because it is.

In place of the robber, you will have sea pirates that roam around blockading ships and ruining your trade routes, causing players to pay a toll to use the water route.

The best part is that they are your pirates. Each player employs their own pirates to wreak havoc on the open seas, and you get to control your own.

No Longest Road or Largest Army

Building trade routes and roads is less important in this version and to reflect that largest army and longest road have been removed. There’s plenty of other ways to receive victory points, don’t worry.

Settlements do not upgrade to cities

(but they can upgrade into harbor settlements) No cities! The wanderlust has hit and nobody can sit still long enough to build a city.

Settlements instead have the option to upgrade into harbors which allow players to store more cargo for shipping. If the tile gets rolled you still only receive 1 resource.

You always get something, even if you get nothing.

If you receive no resources on a roll you get a gold from the gold pool. This speeds up the game and cuts down the whining when you don’t receive any resources for a few turns *cough* Kendra *cough*.

Always 3:1

Everything is a trade port, therefore, all players start the game with a 3:1 trade with the bank from the start.

2:1 for Gold

If you have a ton of gold burning a hole in your pocket but don’t have the resources, then you can now just purchase them.

  • Gold can be used twice per turn.
  • Gold can even be traded with other players normally like a resource.

Ships

These are different ships from the Seafarers expansion and do not act the same.

  • Ships transport various resources using cargo space.
  • Each player can have up to 4 ships (these can be purchased using wool 1x per turn per ship)
  • They all move independently. They don’t need to be connected and they can move past other ships as long as they don’t end on the same space.

Discovery

There are 2 randomized islands that players can explore. The islands start face down so players truly are heading into the unknown.

Every time a player sends out an expeditionary ship to explore an island tile they get to flip over the tile and either receive a resource of the revealed tile or if it isn’t a resource, they’ll receive 2 gold.

Settlers and Settlement Ships

In order to settle the unexplored sections of the island, you will first need to explore this new land with your ship. Once you know where you are going, you can then build a settler and load them on a ship. When they reach the new land, you can expend both ship and settler to create a new settlement. Once you have your foothold on a coastal region, you can then press inwards to settle the landlocked area of the island just like in classic Catan.

Final Thoughts

The Explorers & Pirates expansion adds even more shipboard fun and is great at randomizing the islands, ensuring that every game will play differently. However, it seems almost like a different game that has Catan elements. It reminds me of the Catan Histories series that alters the rules substantially into something similar to Catan… but not quite.

If you’re looking for a completely different Catan experience or were thinking of getting into the other Catan variants than this will give you a glimpse of how they play out. I liked the game but personally feels more like a totally new game with some Catan elements that I know and love.

Catan: Explorers & Pirates
  • For 3-4 players
  • 90-180 minute playing time
  • You need Catan (aka The Settlers of Catan) in order to use this
  • Complete overhaul of strategy.
  • Lots of new elements including hidden tiles and ship movement.
  • Personally, it felt more like a game with Catan elements rather than a purely Catan game.
  • Good introduction if you’re looking to play Catan Histories games.

Catan: Traders & Barbarians

Catan Traders and Barbarians Expansion

We’ve done it all. There couldn’t possibly be more… could there?

Traders & Barbarians should be your final stop in the Catan expansions. It adds several new game variant rules and scenarios that you can use to randomize your games. This basically turns your already randomized game with a high replay factor and cranks it up to 11.

I wouldn’t suggest starting here unless you are really interested in the 2 player variant rules that come with the board. The only additional things needed to play the official 2 player rules are something to use for tokens. So if you just wanted the 2-player rules you can download them for free on the official Catan website.

  • Requires the Catan base game to play
  • Best with 2-4 players
  • Game length: 90-120 min.

Game-Changing Mechanics

It’s rather difficult to talk about how Traders & Barbarians changes the base game. If I were to go through each change then I would basically be retelling the entire rulebook, but to help you understand this massive expansion I’ll share just a few of the major changes you could see in your game.

  • 4 game variant rules
  • 2 Player official rules
  • The Friendly Robber
  • Catan Event Cards
  • Harbormaster
  • 5 new scenarios
  • The Fisherman of Catan
  • The Rivers of Catan
  • The Caravans
  • Barbarian Attack
  • Traders & Barbarians

Event Cards

In addition to these rules, there are also event cards that can snatch victory away, and completely change the board dynamics of your players.

Robber Attacks – Immediately introduces a robber even and everyone over 7 cards is in trouble.
Earthquakes! – Natural disasters can ruin your infrastructure and force you to make repairs or lose some roads.
Robber Flees – Every settlers dream. The robber is returned and nobody gets anything stolen. What could be better?
Year of Plenty – In true Oprah fashion, “You get a resource! You get a resource! Everybody gets a resource!”

Adds different ways to get victory points

This addition will completely change the way players will approach a traditional game of Catan by offering many new ways to earn points or by removing some altogether.

Alters or adds rules to even the playing field

The Friendly Robber Variant lets you ignore the robber if you are under a certain number of victory points. Very Robin Hood-esque.

Certain scenarios add extra resources like fish that can be very lucrative to the savvy settler.

Creates a more even playing field

The Poor Settler Variant helps the poorest catch up a little quicker.

Final Thoughts

Traders & Barbarians is the culmination of many years and millions of games of Catan. It’s a combination of scenarios and alternative rules to keep the game fresh. It was created with the original vision of Klaus Teuber and years of fan feedback and design.

If you’ve played through all of these expansions and simply can’t get enough, then this is will give you enough scenarios and rule variations to keep you satisfied for many years to come.

Catan: Traders & Barbarians
  • For 3-4 players
  • 90 minute playing time
  • You need Catan (aka The Settlers of Catan) in order to use this

I wouldn’t recommend this as your first expansion, but it definitely should be on your radar once you’ve picked up the others.

  • Drastically adds to the replayability of Catan.
  • Rule randomizer and multiple scenarios can change each game you play.

TL;DR

Best Catan Expansions InfographicBest Catan Expansions Infographic

Crazy About Catan

If you’re familiar with the game, you probably know that there are dozens of variants, expansions, extensions, and themed-spinoffs. If you love the little island of Catan as much as we do, you will never get bored with all of the options out there that make the island into a whole world.

Each of these expansions has its own unique personality that will undeniably intrigue some while repelling others. What is your favorite Catan expansion? What order did you decide to play them in? We’d love to hear your experience with a comment below!

Happy Gaming!

SHARING IS CARING

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2 thoughts on “Best Settlers of Catan Expansion Packs – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)”

  1. For city and knights: No …. Walls do not prevent barbarians from pillaging a city. They simply add +2 to the cards you can hold. A “7” does not advance the barbarians, the roll of the third die with a ship on it does. And metropolis’ are worth 2 victory points. Rules people!

    • Hey Jphiz

      You are absolutely right, good catch. I really appreciate the feedback and the correction. I was confusing the metropolis with the walls. Keeping everything straight can be tricky sometimes.

      I went back reread the rules and did another test run of the game. The article has been updated and I reworked our rules section.

      Thanks for the feedback. Let me know if I missed anything else.

      Cheers.
      -Bryan

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