The Best Settlers of Catan Expansions: A Guide for Strategy Board Games

Updated on October 3, 2019
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Learn about the various expansions for Settlers of Catan and the new features they add to the game.
Learn about the various expansions for Settlers of Catan and the new features they add to the game. | Source

Settlers of Catan Expansions

If you’re reading this, you have probably already realized what a great strategy board game Settlers of Catan is! It is a great game to play with family and friends and will provide hours of fun. You may have played the original board game so much by now, though, that you feel you are ready to add some new features with one of the great expansions. These expansions all allow you to play the game in different ways:

  • Seafarers
  • Cities and Knights
  • Explorers and Pirates
  • Traders and Barbarians

Please be aware that all of these expansions require the original version of Settlers of Catan to play.

The board for the Seafarers expansion.
The board for the Seafarers expansion.

Seafarers Game Expansion

The main feature of this expansion, Seafarers of Catan, is the ability to build trading routes to islands across the sea and create settlements there. The expansion comes with four sets of ships, new resource hexes, loads of sea hexes, number tokens, harbor tokens, a pirate ship, and a rules and scenarios book.

The expansion follows pretty much the same rules as the original Settlers of Catan board game, except now coastal settlements can link between the mainland and nearby islands. Ships can create trade links along the coastline or out to sea similar to building roads. On each turn, a ship at the end of trade route can move to a new location that is connected to that trade route or settlement. These features add a new dimension to Settlers of Catan, as it allows players to expand and explore more easily.

Settling on an island may provide access to scarce resources that are unavailable to you on the mainland. It may also allow you to gain a monopoly on certain resources to gain an advantage over your opponents.

This expansion contains 2 Gold Hexes. These allow players to claim resources of their choice when that number is rolled. The Gold Hexes are usually located on remote islands and are definitely worth the effort to capture if you can.
There are loads of other features in the game which make Seafarers of Catan a great expansion. The real appeal here is to allow you to generate many new maps and scenarios which will continue to keep the game exciting.

Box contents for Cities and Knights.
Box contents for Cities and Knights.

Cities and Knights Game Expansion

The Cities and Knights expansion is a great addition to the original board game. Essentially, this expansion introduces two new elements. One new element is the ability to create "knights" to protect your settlements from pirates that will attack you based on the throw of an ‘event’ dice. The second new element is the addition of new development cards with brand new options. For instance, you can now downgrade your opponent’s settlements, destroy their roads, or make their knights switch to your team.

What does this expansion add?

  1. The Development deck from the original game has been replaced by three progress decks for science, trade, and politics. These decks provide some interesting features such as downgrading your opponent’s settlements, destroying their roads, or making their knights switch to your team.
  2. You can now improve your cities using flip cards. The improvements allow you to gain bonus abilities like trading two of one resource or commodity for another. The City improvements also increase your chances of using the three progress decks.
  3. An event die has also been added. It is rolled at the same time as the other 2 dice. This die can move the barbarians closer or allow you to take a card from a progress deck.
  4. Another feature is the addition of barbarians and knights. When the barbarian logo is thrown on the event die barbarians appear and slowly move closer to Catan. Here you need knights to protect your cities. If there are insufficient knights when the barbarians reach Catan, the player with the fewest knights gets their most unprotected city destroyed.
  5. You can now trade commodities such as iron, wood and wool as well as the original resources.

The Cities and Knights expansion requires more thought and strategy to play than the original. The new rules, progress cards, and commodities really add a new dimension to the game, making this is a highly recommended expansion.

A game of Catan played with Explorers and Pirates.
A game of Catan played with Explorers and Pirates.

Explorers and Pirates Game Expansion

Explorers and Pirates is a great expansion for Settlers of Catan. It contains several scenarios, each with a different layout. The more scenarios you use, the larger your board will be. This expansion aims to encourage you to expand and explore by allowing you to reveal face-down tiles for all scenarios.

The New Rule Sets and Scenarios:

  • Harbors, Ships, and Settlers: To further encourage exploring, each player has three new meeples and a harbor which is a settlement upgrade but doesn't generate any resources. It is the place to build ships, settlers and crew which allow you to transport people to start new cities.
  • Moving and Exploring: Allows ships to move four spaces with no cost. They can also be sped up by sacrificing a sheep if that’s your thing. When they end up "pointing" at an unexplored land, that land is then revealed, giving a resource or gold reward to the discoverer.
  • Cargo Space: Each ship has space for one large cargo (a settler or, later, a fish) or two small cargo (a crew or a spice, both of which show up later). Loading cargo up and moving it around is one of the big game elements in each of the Explorers & Pirates variants.
  • Gold: Gold is used in all these variants. As in other Catan variants, gold can be traded for other resources at a 2:1 ratio.
  • Pirate Ships: Instead of having a robber, there are now player-colored pirate ships. You place one as usual on the roll of a "7", stealing a resource from another player, but then it stays on the board, blocking the movement of other players unless they pay gold. Others players can also attack your pirate by "pointing" at it with a ship of their own, which gives them the opportunity to replace the pirate ship.
  • Pirates: There are now six pirate lair tiles which can be discovered. Any player can put crew on a pirate lair for a reward; when there are three crew there, the pirate lair is taken, generating more rewards.
  • The Mission Boards: The pirate, fish, and spice variants each have a "mission board". This is just a victory point tracker. You get points for doing stuff. For example in the "pirates" variant, each player gets a point on the mission board for each pirate lair that he helped to take over, and for each pirate lair that he was the "hero" of. A player's location on a mission tracker gives him a few victory points (from 1-3) and whoever is in the lead gets a 1VP bonus marker.
  • Fish: In scenarios involving fish, there are six hexes to be discovered that randomly generate fish. Taking those fish back to the "Council of Catan" causes advancement on the fish mission board.
  • Spice: In scenarios involving spice, there are six hexes to be discovered that hold spice. Players must drop crew off on a hex to get a spice, which they can then return to the Council of Catan to advance on the spices mission board. Players also get special powers when they leave their crew behind on a spice space.

Explorers and Pirates arranges these various rule sets into five scenarios:

  1. an exploration-only scenario
  2. a pirates scenario
  3. a fish and pirates scenario
  4. a spice and fish scenario
  5. a pirates, fish, and spice scenario

Winning the Game

A player wins when she earns enough victory points: 8, 12, 15, or 17, depending on how many rule systems the scenario uses.

The Explorers and Pirates expansion adds a huge amount of variety to the game and allows you to customize how you play by using the different scenarios. It is one of my favorite expansions, but is more suited to players who are familiar with the game rather than beginners. The different scenarios and rules you can play with will keep you coming back for more.

The contents of the Traders and Barbarians expansion.
The contents of the Traders and Barbarians expansion.

Traders and Barbarians Game Expansion

The Traders and Barbarians expansion adds desert nomads you can trade rare resources (like wool and wheat) with in the desert. When you build a city you can place a nomad as you would a road. The difference is that anyone can bid on wool/wheat with the nomad and whoever wins gets to place the nomad, allowing the road to count twice for Longest Road and gain an extra victory point if you have a nomad on both sides.

This expansion also includes new commodities like glass, tools, and marble. Each tile allows you to exchange two commodities for one. A great feature here is the wagon which travels between the commodities picking up and delivering items and providing a victory point for each delivery. You only have a limited number of moves for your wagon, and it is cheaper to travel on your own roads, so planning your route is vital.

Like in the Cities and Knights expansion, Catan is subjected to continual barbarian attacks. This is a particular issue when using the Wagon, so watch out! To rid yourself of the barbarians you must build more knights to fight them. If you drive them away you will gain victory points.

Rivers of Catan

Another feature in this expansion is Rivers of Catan. This allows you to build on the river to get gold coins. You can also build bridges over the river. If you have the fewest gold coins you lose victory points, whereas if you have the most you gain them.

I don't play with the River often because I don’t feel that it adds a huge amount to the game, but the other options make this expansion particularly interesting and add a whole new dynamic to the game.

Settlers of Catan Survey

Which is your favorite Settlers of Catan expansion

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    • Rabadi profile image

      4 years ago from New York

      Never played Catan but this hub has got me interested in the game. Great read you earned yourself a new follower.


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