You don’t need to settle or take a risk when you are deciding between these two classics for a great game night! Catan and Risk offer two different experiences, from civilization-building/resource farming versus area control/combat strategy.
Catan and Risk have a similar underlying objective of capitalizing areas on the game board; Catan manages with resources and settlement construction whereas Risk operates on control. Catan settlers are a bit less greedy and will settle for taking over the small island of Catan while Risk players go big and want the whole world.
It is a different scale entirely and a bit more bloodthirsty with armies and militia waging war on coveted board areas in Risk.
Let’s dive into what to expect from these two classics by answering a few questions:
- How much time to learn, play, set up?
- What are the objectives?
- What kind of dynamic can we expect?
Learning, Set-up, and Playing Time:
For setup, Catan takes about 10 minutes or less depending on if it’s your first time. The rules can be a bit confusing for the first go at it, but become quite simple in a few steps: lay the resource grid, allocate dice roll numbers, and set ports.
After the board is laid, players choose two different locations to place initial tokens which dictate what resources will be given to them naturally in dice rolls and what they will lack in, forcing trades with opponents or the bank.
Learning to settle civilizations happens faster than you would think — if you go by the rules specifically, it might be too much to chew but as a few rounds progress, you will feel at home in your role. This game is easier to learn by watching it play out, figuring out what you need, and basing decisions on your newfound strategy.
Since the game only allows up to 4 players without an expansion (which then allows up to 6), gameplay will max out at around 120 minutes, but speed is dependent on the proficiency of players.
What about Risk?
Risk is divergent, offering a longer playtime — characteristic of world domination. We simply cannot take over the world in one day, it takes time… how disappointing!
To set up the board requires around 15 minutes as it is factored into the first choices in the game. The board takes seconds, but a game does not officially begin until all players position their troops. The player who rolls highest gets the first choice, places a set of troops in a territory, and then continues clockwise around the group until all troops are battle-ready.
Actively learning the way Risk works is more drawn out due to it being strategy-based, so take as long as you need. You should expect a lengthy gaming time when playing Risk since it is completely normal to occupy 99% of the board and still be defeated.
Playing times in the past used to be so long that the manufacturers cut player numbers down to 6 maximum (it used to be 8 and games would last 7 hours). Most games play out in two hours, but props to you if you can multiply and conquer in less than an hour!
Catan is sufficiently straightforward in its goals: victory points, that is. Players will build up resources, trading if necessary, to construct settlements and/or houses which in turn, claims the land and whatever resource it produces. Trade amongst opponents to amass scarce resources or take a cut by directly trading to the bank. Settle the most land, rack up the most victory points, and claim the island of Catan as your territory.
Risk demands a winner-take-all approach. Your goal is to run the world independently and eliminate any troops who stand in your way of success. Battle other armies to gain ownership of geographic regions. Conquer all your opponents, hold the land borders, and become invincible to be the world hegemon in this strategic combat game.
Dynamic vs. Dynamic
Risk calls for more critical thinking, and strategic moves to sustain your territorial control which makes this game a bit more difficult. You must be cautious not to get taken out, all the while hoping luck plays to your advantage in your dice rolls. Catan is more mellow and (slightly) less luck-based, placing the control in the player’s hands with more actions and added elements of trading.
- Risk has three phases in a turn: Deploy New Troops, Attack, or Fortify.
- Catan also has three phases: Roll Dice/Collect, Trade (with port, opponent, bank), and Buy/Build.
Both games will have everyone playing even when it is not their turn; Catan to collect resources, and Risk to defend from attacks. This is an epic element that keeps all players engaged with the lengthy game time.
Catan and Risk share one more similarity: Bonus Cards! Catan will offer bonuses for the largest army and longest road while Risk offers bonuses for being the first to hold a continent and different territory card abilities.
One stark difference between these two games is the elimination of players from Risk. Catan does not have an avenue for removing another player from the game but does allow for resource blocking by moving a robber token to the dice roll spot to block collection when the number is rolled.
If you are lucky, you can block many players since the robber withholds resources from the position on the grid, not an individual player. Anyone who has a settlement built on this space is blocked from receiving those resources until someone rolls a 7, and the robber changes victims.
Risk makes things personal by eliminating other players who lose all of their territories. No land, no play and you will need to sit out and wait to see who takes over your once-held land. *cue sad violin music*
If you still feel stuck between the two games, decide if you want to risk it all on taking over the world or if you’d like to go into the resource management business, although things might get a little rocky. No matter what choice you make, both require a certain amount of strategy, well-placed threats, and good friends to shake things up.