Settlers of Catan is one of the most popular board games. Shortly after it’s release several expansion where released as well. Although we really like the base game, Settlers of Catan is even better with one or more expansions. But which expansion is the best? In this article we rank all expansion packs from best to worst and help you decide which Settlers of Catan expansion to buy.
1. Cities and Knights
Cities and Knights is the best Settlers of Catan expansion. In Cities and Knights trade and development is much more important than just building roads and settlements. The expansion has different elements that we discuss in turn: new commodities, new progress cards, new dices, pirates and knights. After that, we discuss why we think Cities and Knights is the best and number one Settlers of Catan expansion.
In addition to the resources of the base game, Cities and Knights introduces three new commodities: coins, cloth and books. Commodities are obtained just like normal resources are. Instead of two resources, cities adjacent to mountains, pasture, and forest hexes produce only one resource but also one commodity. Mountains produce coins, pasture produces cloth, and forest produces books. These new commodities can be used to buy city improvements. At the start of the game, each player receives a development flip chart. To flip a page of the development flip chart, that is to improve your city, you must pay a certain amount of commodities. The more city improvements you have, the more likely you are to obtain progress cards.
New progress cards
Progress cards replace the development cards of the base game. They are quite elaborate and of one of three categories: trade, politics, and science. With the trade progress cards, you can force people to trade with you or simply steal resources or commodities from them. With the politics progress cards you directly interact with your opponents on the board by stealing their knights, restructure their roads, or steal their hand cards. The science progress cards give you free stuff or discounts. You obtain progress cards when the right combination of dice is rolled.
New dices, pirates and knights
One of the two dice of the base game is replaced by a red dice and a new event dice is added to the game. The event dice shows three city gates in three different colors, corresponding to the three categories of progress cards. The other three sides of the dice show a pirate ship. The combination of the red dice and the event dice determine who is eligible for a progress card. But if a ship is rolled, the pirates get more close to Catan. To endure the pirate attack, knights have to defend the cities. During the game the players buy knights, if they have enough knights, the pirates are defeated. If they have to few, the pirates sack some of the least protected cities.
The thing we love about Cities and Knights is that the commodities introduce much more depth to the strategic aspect of Catan. The base game has only one simple macro-strategy: build as many cities and settlements as you can. As everyone plays the same macro strategy, winning Catan depends on small optimizations.
With the Cities and Knight expansion, buildings many cities and settlements is not the only strategy anymore. With the commodities and progress cards, there are other ways to obtain victory points. This changes everything and makes Settlers of Catan a much more strategic game. Therefore we think that Cities and Knights is the best Settlers of Catan expansion.
2. Explorers and Pirates
Explorers and Pirates is the youngest and definitely the most elaborate Catan expansion. It consists of four modules, that you can choose from or play as a whole. New elements in this expansion are port settlements and gold coins.
The first module (or scenario as it is called in the rule book) is Land Ho! This module looks quite similar to the Seafarers expansion – which we will discuss later – , but is a lot more dynamic. The board consists of multiple islands, but some of the islands are not yet explored. That is, the hexes are placed face down. To discover the hexes, a player must move a ship towards such a hex, that tile is than revealed and remains that way. The individual ships can move on the water hexes, making it a much more dynamic game than, for example, Seafarers.
The second module is called Pirate Lairs. In this scenario gold fields are hidden in the unexplored islands. However, these gold fields are occupied by pirates. In order to defeat the pirates and scare them away, players send their crew towards an occupied hex. Once there are 3 crews on an occupied hex, the pirates are defeated. Fun twist here is that the crew does not have to be from one player. You can work together, or against each other, by strategically sending crew members to occupied hexes.
Fish and Spices for Catan
The third and fourth module are called respectively Fish for Catan and Spices for Catan. In these modules fish and spices are introduced. By discovering fish hexes a player receives fish that, if returned savely, earn that player victory points. The spices that are brought home are also rewarded with victory points, and in addition can bring multiple advantages to the player.
The ultimate way to play this Explorers and Pirates is to play all modules at once. This ensures a very elaborate game with a lot of different strategies, new ways to interact with fellow players and much more opportunities to acquire victory points.
The Explorers and Pirates expansion is by far the most elaborate expansion. We love the different ways that victory points can be obtained. Because of the movements of the ships, the game is much more dynamic that the base game, or the other expansions. However, in our experience, the combination of new elements and dynamics, makes it quite hard to master. Especially for more casual players, this might not be the best expansion to start with. That said, more experienced players, looking for a challenge should definitely consider buying this expansion. Only because we like Cities and Knights so much, we place that expansion above this one. But Explorers and Pirates is close to being the best Settlers of Catan expansion.
3. Traders and Barbarians
Traders and Barbarians is more of a collection of mini expansions, than one big expansion. Traders and Barbarians contains 5 small expansions and 4 small additions to the game. The mini expansions are 5 different scenario’s: the Fishermen of Catan, the Rivers of Catan, the Great Caravan, the Barbarian Attack, and Traders and Barbarians. The 4 additions are the Friendly Robber, Catan Event Cards, the Harbormaster, and Catan for Two. Some of the scenario’s and additions are really fun, some are not that exciting, but overall we like Traders and Barbarians.
Fishermen of Catan
In the Fishermen of Catan a new lake tile and some fishing areas are placed on the grid. Settlements next to a fishing area can catch fish. Fish are an extra resource that can be used to buy certain things, such as move the robber or build a road. This new addition to the game fits in really well, but is not super exciting. That said, having a new resource in the game, changes the dynamic somewhat and makes the game slightly more balanced.
Rivers of Catan
In the Rivers of Catan seven new river hexes are introduced that are placed somewhere on the grid. To cross the rivers you need to use bridges. But aside from rivers, new tokens are introduced: coins. Building bridges alongside a river yields the player coins. Coins can be used to purchase resources or trade, but can also be stacked to get an additional victory point. Personally I don’t love this mini-expansion. The coins can play a big role in the game and leads away from the essence of Settlers of Catan: collecting resources to build roads and settlements.
In the Caravans the original deserts are replaced by oasis, from which caravans can arise. Whenever a player builds a settlement or city, a camel can be placed at the end of one of the three caravans. The players bid grain or wool to buy votes that determine where to place the camel. Camels adjacent to cities or settlements give the player an additional victory point. Although I like the camel tokens, it’s a slightly more dull variant of Traders and Barbarians. I would recommend playing that expansion instead of Caravans.
In the Barbarian Attack tiles can be disabled by barbarians and no longer produce resources. Whever a settlement or city is built, three barbarians are placed somewhere on the grid. If there are three barbarians on one hex, that hex is considered conquered and does not produce resources. The players can capture the barbarians by using knights. Captured barbarians are worth victory points. This expansion is a nice addition to the game. The placement of barbarians can almost feel like Pandemic. A downside to this expansion is that if you get hit hard by the barbarians, it is sometimes hard to recover.
Traders and Barbarians
In Traders and Barbarians three new trade hexes are introduced. Also wagons are introduced, with these wagons players deliver commodities from one trade hex to another. Successful deliveries yield victory points and gold. Delivering commodities is made difficult by barbarians that occupy the road and a limited and costfully amount of movements for the wagons. This expansion really adds to the game. The wagons and commodities are a new element to gain victory points, which I really enjoy.
The new additions
In the Friendly Robber the Robber can’t be used to steal cards from a player who only has 2 victory points. I don’t really like this variant, but if you play with little children you might want to use it.
In Catan Event Cards the dice is replaced by Event Cards. The number on the Event Card determines which hexes produces resources, much like when rolling the dice, but additionally the card can have an event. These events are quite similar to some of the development cards. As a big fan of strategy I’m always somewhat hesitant to play games with dice; it makes it harder to try out strategies, because it can be hard to distinguish between good strategy and just being lucky. That’s why I really like this variant.
The Harbormaster is similar to the Longest Road and Largest Army cards. The player with the most settlements bordering a harbor gets the Harbormaster card. The Harbormaster is a nice extra incentive to build a settlement in a harbor, but not super interesting in itself.
Catan for Two introduces a new neutral third player. Whenever a player builds a road or a settlement, he must also place a road or settlement for the neutral player. I really like this variant. Through the neutral player you have a chance to exert more influence on your opponent.
Although Traders and Barbarians is not a full blown expansion, it is a nice addition to the base game. We would, however, recommend you to buy other expansion first, before buying this one. Traders and Barbarians make the game more fun, while other expansions take the game to a whole new level. But if you already have the other expansions and are in some nice variations, we think you will enjoy the nice little details in this expansion.
Seafarers is all about water. The grid is enlarged by a number of water hexes. And at the other side of the water new shores arise. You can travel across the water by ship, new tokens that behave like roads but can be build on water. The new islands make the game bigger than it was with much more to explore.
Some new scenario's
In the rule book some new scenario’s are modeled. If you’re new to Seafarers they are awesome to try out. More experienced players can create their own scenario. But there is one scenario that stands out: the Wonders of Catan. The Wonders of Catan introduces a new way to win. Players win not only by obtaining 10 victory points, but also by completing a Wonder. This extra element is a really nice addition to the game.
We do enjoy Seafarers. Traveling across the grid on ships is fun. But unfortunately the expansion doesn’t add new strategic elements to the game. It only makes it bigger. We still like to play Seafarers, but preferably in combination with another expansion.