The New Expansion for “The Settlers of Catan” – Part 1
Part 1: The Development Begins
In February 2013, the fourth large expansion for “The Settlers of Catan” will be released for German-speaking countries on the occasion of the Nuremberg International Toy Fair. The first three expansions – “Seafarers,” “Cities & Knights,” and “Traders & Barbarians” – had been released in 1997, 1998, and 2007, respectively.
“Seafarers” expanded “The Settlers of Catan” beyond the limits of the original island, “Cities & Knights” added more depth and complexity, and “Traders & Barbarians” enriched the game with new variants and two large scenarios.
Which themes and what kind of challenges should be at the core of a new expansion? Or maybe the question should be: What do Catan players want?
Currently, more than 4,000 Premium players enjoy playing “Cities & Knights” and “Seafarers” scenarios on playcatan.com, our online gaming platform. The most frequently played scenarios are “Oceania,” “Treasure Islands,” and “The Fog Islands.”
All three aforementioned scenarios have one thing in common: part of the game consists of facedown terrain hexes – undiscovered areas the players still have to explore. As soon as a player places a ship so that its bow or stern points to a facedown terrain hex, the hex is turned over and thus discovered. As a reward, the player receives a resource of the type produced by this hex. In addition, the hex is assigned a randomly drawn number token and can now be settled by any player.
No doubt, many Catan players especially love the excitement of exploration and discovery! This is why the topic “exploration” occupies center stage in the new expansion.
In 1996, when I began to develop the “Seafarers” expansion, I was asking myself how to make seafaring work as a game mechanism. I saw two alternatives at the time. One was to string ships together in a static fashion so that they form a continuous connection, like roads. The other alternative conceived seafaring as something dynamic, where ships are moved by dragging them from edge to edge.
In “Seafarers,” I opted for the first, static alternative – it requires fewer rules and seemed easier and more accessible in the context of a board game expansion (which, in 1997 was still quite unusual).
However, I never could quite forget the dynamic movement of ships. Maybe some of you know the German-language scenario “Seefahrer – Die Kolonien” (Seafarers – The Colonies). In this scenario, the ships on the game board could not only be moved, they could also transport commodities. The commodities were placed as tokens under the ships and, together with the ships, had to be moved across the game board. Although transporting the commodities was a little cumbersome and confusing, it added considerable zest to the game.
Based on these experiences, in October 2011 I had the following goals when writing the first concept for the new expansion:
- There is a starting island and a large unexplored area.
- Seafaring takes place in a dynamic fashion.
- Besides the usual terrain hexes, the unexplored area also contains new hexes.
- The new hexes serve as a basis for missions the players have to complete successfully.
- The ships are loaded with game pieces that are required to complete missions.
Being able to load the ships was particularly important to me. For my first model, I carved out a hollow space in a ship from the game “Seefahrer – Die Kolonien” and loaded the ship with a barbarian from “Traders & Barbarians” and a small wooden cube with an edge length of 8 mm.
At the beginning of the development, this arrangement stood on my desk, consistently motivating me to continue when the development of the new expansion stalled.