Also, if you’re looking for a guide, here are some notes on the different elements each expansion adds.
Catan Base Extension
Not really an expansion, but including it here anyways. This has the exact same rules as the base game, but expands the game to accommodate 5-6 players. You’ll need the original version of Catan to play.
What’s actually included? It adds another ring of tiles around the base game plus 2 port ocean tiles and 2 empty ocean tiles. Of course there are also two more sets of roads, houses and cities.
The additional tiles add a good amount of variability. I’ve had fun playing this version with 3-4 people, just because it provides a ton of room to expand.
If you’re thinking about getting a Catan expansion, Seafarers is probably the first one you’d want to purchase. It adds the fewest new rules and they mostly follow the same patterns as the original game.
- New land and water tiles
- Shipping lanes, which work as roads do, but on water
- A new tile type, gold, which grants a resource of your choosing
- A pirate piece that can halt the building of shipping lanes
In Seafarers the victory point threshold is increased from 10 to 14 points. You can expect games to take a bit longer.
I’d say there’s also a bit more structure in setup. With the original game you can essentially shuffle all the hex tiles and place them down. With Seafarers it’s harder to do that and get an interesting game. There are a handful of setups that are recommended.
All-in all, this is probably the best Catan expansion for most people. It’s easy to learn and adds a good bit more replayability.
Cities & Knights
The Cities & Knights expansions is my favorite of all the expansions. It adds a significant amount of complexity to the base game. Armies, technologies, commodities—it is almost as if Civilization was a board game.
- Commodity cards (coins, paper and cloth) that can be used to improve your cities
- Progress cards (trade, politics and science) that replace development cards
- An event die that determines if barbarians move closer or a progress card is handed out
- A barbarian ship that moves towards Catan
- The introduction of knights pieces that that can be upgraded and used to defend against barbarian attacks
- Cool-looking Metropolis pieces that are placed on cities that add victory points and have some other advantages
I’d say this is the best Catan expansion for the serious player. It adds a ton of depth and a new way to play. If you feel like the original doesn’t have enough variability, Cities & Knights may be for you.
However, there is a caveat. I’ve found that the extra rules make turns take much longer. It can get boring if you’re playing with friends and it takes 10 minutes to complete a turn.
Traders & Barbarians
This expansion along with Explorers & Pirates are a good bit different than the original two expansions. These offer a collection of scenarios that can be altered or combined to create a ton of different ways to play.
This box includes 5 scenarios:
The Fishermen of Catan adds sea tiles that can be converted into fishing grounds. As a resource fish can be spent in some unique ways.
The Rivers of Catan adds a few river hex tiles. Building along the river grants additional victory points.
The Great Caravans adds wool and grain as commodities and camel routes that provide additional resource points.
Barbarian Invasion adds invading barbarians, which must be fended off with new knight pieces.
Traders and Barbarians is the flagship scenario in this expansion (hence the name). Players have a caravan and wagons to move commodities between hex tiles. Successful deliveries result in victory points. This scenario contains new tiles including: a castle, glass and marble.
There are some smaller variants such as Harbormaster, Catan Event Cards and 2-player Catan. These variants can be added to just about any Catan expansion.
Explorers & Pirates
Explorers & Pirates is the newest of the Catan expansions. Like Traders & Barbarians this expansion is a collection of smaller scenarios that can be mixed and matched. These focus on new game mechanics that are built around exploring.
Here are the scenarios included in Explorers and Pirates:
In Land Ho! players must send expeditions to discover two new islands. Ships must ferry settlers to these new islands in order to colonize them.
Pirate Lairs! adds pirates that interact with your trading ships. Discovering their pirate lairs to earn gold and victory points.
In Fish for Catan! players are rewarded with victory points for returning fish to the main island and capturing pirate lairs.
Spices for Catan! has players seek out fish and spices from foreign islands. When seeking these commodities players can uncover faster sailing or the ability to fend off pirates.
Explorers & Pirates combines all the above scenarios into a single game. This creates the largest game board and pushes the threshold to 17 victory points.
What’s interesting about this expansion is that each scenario builds a bit on the next one. It gives you the opportunity to learn how to play the full expansion while playing the game. By the time you get to the Explorers & Pirates scenario, you have a good idea of what strategy to use.
Of all the expansions I’d say Explorers & Pirates offers the biggest change in gameplay from the original Catan.
I couldn’t remember all of these details on my own and haven’t spent much time with the newer expansions. So special thanks to these sources!