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What Are the Rules for Settlers of Catan

by: William Springer ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 5/25/2012 • Leave a comment

While Settlers of Catan has introduced many people to eurogames, the rules aren't always simple for those new to the hobby to grasp. We cover the elements of play, as well as some basic strategy.

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    Settling the Island of Catan

    Settlers of Catan is the first in a series of building games centered around negotiation and dice rolling; the original game, which was first released in 1995, has a number of expansions and several sequels, and has won many awards including the 1995 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year).

    For many people, this game is their first introduction into the wonderful world of eurogames, which tend to be more goal-oriented than American games; as such, they may be unprepared for the longer rules these games provide. Let's take a look at the Settlers of Catan rules.

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    Setting up the Board

    Depending on which edition of Settlers you have, your board may or may not come with a frame; if it does, assemble it by matching the numbers at the ends of the pieces, then build the board inside it. If not, simply assemble the board as described below.

    The island of Catan consists of 19 tiles, each depicting one of the following terrain types: fields, forests, hills, pasture, mountains, and desert.Mix up the tiles and deal them out randomly into a hexagon.


    The game also contains 19 circular markers, each of which has a number between 2 and 12 and a letter. Sort the tiles according to the letter on them and place them (face-up) on the tiles in alphabetical order, starting with one outside corner of the hexagon and proceeding counterclockwise. (Do not place a tile on the desert, as deserts do not produce anything)

    If your game did not come with a frame, surround the board with ocean tiles, alternating plain ocean tiles with specialty tiles as in the image to the left.

    Players now place their starting pieces as follows. Choose a player to go first; he places one of his settlements on any intersection (a place where three hexes meet) and places a road along an edge next to it. (Notice that the three hexes do not all have to be land hexes) Going around the table, each other player places a settlement and road as well, subject to the restriction that no space can contain more than one piece, and no two settlements may be adjacent.

    After everyone has played their first settlement, repeat the process in reverse, so that the last player places his second settlement and road first and the first player places his second settlement last. Each player's second road must attach to his second settlement. After building his second settlement, a player immediately takes the resources that the tiles surrounding that settlement can produce (see page two).

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    Strategy Tip

    Pay attention to both the numbers and types of resources on adjacent tiles. Try to place next to hills and forests (which give the most important resources in the early game) and numbers that will be rolled most often (those closest to seven). Notice that each number tile has one to four dots on it, showing how often it should be rolled, on average; 6 and 8 are the most likely, while 2 and 12 should occur rarely.

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    Rolling the Dice

    Each player begins his turn by rolling two dice and adding the result. If the sum is anything other than seven, all players collect resources, as follows. For each hex containing the number rolled, every settlement adjacent to that hex generates one of the appropriate resource for the player who owns it (two of that resource for a city). The resources are created as follows:

    Desert (which has no number) produces nothing

    Fields produce Grain

    Forests produce Lumber

    Hills produce Brick

    Mountains produce Ore

    Pasture produces Wool

    Note that a player may have several cities or settlements bordering a region, in which case he collects for each one. There are two tiles for every number, with the exception of 2 and 12, which have one each, and 7, which is a special case.

    If a seven is rolled, nobody collects resources (and at least one person will generally be annoyed). Anybody with more than 7 cards in hand must immediately discard half of them; odd numbers are rounded in favor of the player (so someone with 9 cards in hand will keep 5).

    After anyone who needs to discards cards, the active player (who rolled the 7) moves the robber to any land hex other than the one it is currently on; that hex cannot produce goods as long as the robber is present. If one or more players have a city or settlement adjacent to that hex, the active player chooses one of those players and randomly steals a card from his hand.

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    Tip: Open Information

    The number of cards each player has (but not their type) is public knowledge. If a player has very few cards in hand and you know he just collected the type of resource you need, he's probably a good bet to steal from!

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    After resources are generated, the active player has the opportunity to trade. One of the Settlers of Catan rules that is sometimes missed is that all trades must involve the active player; other players may not trade among themselves. All trades are public knowledge. While trades do not need to involve the same number of cards (ie, you could trade a stone for three sheep), you may not give away cards or trade the same resource (although you could trade away a resource and then trade for more of it, or vice versa).

    Only the resource cards (grain, lumber, brick, ore, wood) may be traded.

    You can also trade with the game. Some sea hexes are simply marked 4:1, and allow you to trade any four identical cards for any one other card. If one of your cities or settlements borders the sea, you can get a better deal; generic harbors are marked with a 3:1 and allow you to exchange 3 identical resource cards for any other card, while specialized harbors accept only one type of resource, but require only two of that resource.

    The disadvantage of being on a harbor, of course, is being adjacent to only 2 resource-producing land tiles!

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    After trading comes building (in earlier versions of the game, these are the same phrase). Resources can now be used to build things and buy development cards.

    Each player has a building card that shows the cost of each item; the active player may build as many things as he wants as long as he can pay for them (and find a place to put them). Cities replace settlements (and return the settlement to the player's supply); settlements must be built adjacent to that player's road (and at least 2 spaces away from any other settlement, regardless of who owns them). The number of pieces in the supply is a hard limit; if you run out, there are no more.

    When building, if you create a continuous road of at least five pieces that is longer than anybody else's road, you claim the "Longest Road" card, which is worth two victory points. Building a settlement on someone else's road breaks that road (which can cause him to lose the longest road bonus); of course, you must have your own road to that intersection to legally build there!

    If several players tie for the longest road, whoever has the card keeps it; if none of the tied players currently have the card (because someone just lost it due to a road being broken) then nobody gets it until someone again obtains a longer road.

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    Development Cards

    Development cards are bought during the build phrase, but can be played at any time during your turn, even before rolling the dice; however (and this is another Settlers of Catan rule that is often overlooked) you may not play a card during the turn you bought it; the one exception is if the card is a victory point card that would win you the game, in which case you immediately reveal all of your VP cards. You may only play one development card per turn.

    Knight cards are played in front of you and allow you to move the robber; players do not discard cards, but you can steal a card from someone who has a city or settlement adjacent to the robber's new location, following the same rules as if you had rolled a seven.

    Strategy tip: play your knight card before rolling to remove the robber from a location you're hoping will produce for you this turn!

    If a player has at least 3 Knight cards in front of him and has more than anyone else, he receives the "largest army" card, which is worth two points; as with longest road, this can be stolen by someone who creates an even larger army.

    Instead of a Knight, you can play a Progress card, of which there are three: Road Building lets you place two free roads, Year of Plenty lets you take 2 free resources, and Monopoly allows you to name a resource and forces all opponents to give you every card they have of that resource.

    Strategy tip: Have a lot of something? Trade it all off, then Monopoly it back! Just avoid doing this around excitable friends..

    Victory Point Cards (which have a yellow frame) are kept in your hand until the end of the game, when you may reveal all of them at once to claim your victory.

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    Winning the Game

    To win the game, you must have 10 victory points at the end of your turn (so if you somehow hit 10 during someone else's turn - say, a third party breaks up a longest road in your favor - keep quiet!) Points are scored as follows:

    Settlement - 1 VP

    City - 2 VPs

    Longest Road - 2 VPs

    Largest Army - 2 VPs

    Victory Point Card - 1 VP

    Every player starts with two points from settlements; cities will most likely be required to win! As Settlers of Catan is a negotiation game, it often helps to appear to be weak and then suddenly surge ahead on the last turn, but beware! You never know when the robber might pay you a visit..

Settlers of Catan Guide

More articles about the game Settlers of Catan.
  1. Strategies for Settlers of Catan: Location, Location, Location
  2. What Are the Rules for Settlers of Catan

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