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The New Expansion for “The Settlers of Catan” – Part 1

December 21, 2012
Klaus Teuber

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, 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:

  1. There is a starting island and a large unexplored area.
  2. Seafaring takes place in a dynamic fashion.
  3. Besides the usual terrain hexes, the unexplored area also contains new hexes.
  4. The new hexes serve as a basis for missions the players have to complete successfully.
  5. The ships are loaded with game pieces that are required to complete missions.

Loadable Ships

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.

Klaus Teuber

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I am really looking forward to the new expansion, but i'm hoping that it will be available with the wooden game pieces besides the newer plastic pieces. Are you primarely thinking of water explaration or is desert exploration or any other unknown part off a piece off land also in the picture?
After reading the content above I was concerned about the (mostly) mutual compatibility of all of the expansions. Would the new expansion be able to be played with Seafarers or would it not be compatible? My hope is that somehow they could both function together.
Gero Zahn
@Marcel (1) Sorry for the confusion: The picture depicts a plastic game piece that Klaus Teuber used for his prototype. The Mayfair edition will feature wooden pieces. (2) No, the expansion is about water exploration. @CatanFan No, combining the new expansion with “Seafarers” will not be possible, as the “Seafarers” ships are mostly fixed, while these ships are dynamically moving. However, a possible combination with “Cities & Knights” will be covered in the last part of this series of blog posts.
It would be great if Settlers of Catan would bring back some of the Geographies. I really miss Catan Germany. I would like to see more actual places put into the idea box. I really did not like the mechanics of the U.S.A. game, so maybe a game just based like Catan Germany for other countries like Japan and Island hopping for a sea mechanic?
I'm sure the players will quickly invent ways to combine it with Seafarers. Sealanes (Seafarers) are not the same as ships (Explorers Expansion) after all! :) Suggestion to Klaus: Add the possibility of discovering a new civilisation, like a lost city, an El Dorado or a Shangri-la or even a long-lost Troy, or maybe awakening a Mongol horde or discovering an ancient treasure...
Enjoy hearing about your process. Look forward to more thoughts.
Would it be possible to play the new expansion with traders and barbarians considering that's all my friend and family tend to play now. We really enjoy the concept of being able to "add on" when playing the 4 games in order, thus how we are able to hook so many new players into the game. We have always enjoyed the idea of "leveling up" one you had played, lets say sea farers long enough to be able to then learn cities and knights. Would it be possible to have 2 different kinds of water transit so we could also keep using boats?
Gero Zahn
@Otterby: Regional maps are created on a regular basis, both by Catan GmbH / Kosmos for famous regions in Germany and by Mayfair Games for US states. Besides having the Spanish Island of Mallorca now, we have not yet considered maps consisting of various island, implementing either “Seafarers” or elements from the new expansions. Perhaps some day in the future. @Mark: Agreed, players will find their house-rules, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, one of the most important elements of the new, 4th expansion is transporting goods over the seas. The idea of combining this with “fixed” (or at least hardly movable) ships from the “Seafarers” expansion is hard to grasp. @Joe Basile: A few minor variants from “Traders & Barbarians” sound easy to achieve, like “Catan for 2”. However, the smaller scenarios like “The Caravans” or “Traders & Barbarians” are hard to imagine.
Any rough estimate of when the English language version will be available?
Will it have new water tiles? Like icebergs, whirlpools, Something that wrecks ships and what not? Hey, how bout including "Helpers of Catan" ?
You could combined "Seafares". If you think about it, the dynamic ships are exploration tools. Columbus didn't bring settlers to America. What if you explore with the dynamic ships and then use the fixed ships to place settlements in the new lands that you discover. First you explore and then settle and or conquer. We all know that Catanians are peaceful, but gold does strange things to people.
I am a bit disappointed that this expansion will not be compatible with Seafarers. I for one am very fond of playing Catan with as many expansions as I can, because it adds a lot of depth in the game and gives way to many strategy variants that would not be possible otherwise. I sure hope that mr. Klaus will give the opportunity of merging the game with all expansions, thus making all scenario combinations possible, even if some rules will be a bit tricky to learn [but that makes the game some depth that can be explored by eager players]. House rules for Seafarers + new exp would not be too pleasing as they're prone to subjectivity.
Gero Zahn
I am so sorry that we can't keep the English version of this blog series in step with the German one on; we've already published part 3 over there. All I can say for now is: A lot of questions will be answered during the course of this series. Before you start making assumption if and how Seafarers could be combined with the moving ships of this new expansion, I would like to ask you to wait until the new game mechanics have been explained. For now, please bear in mind that the sea tiles (that is: the fields, the edges, the intersections, and as well the pirate) are used in a totally different fashion than in Seafarers.
How do you pronounce Catan?
Gero Zahn
@Jill: Coming from the original German game, it's /[kã'taːn]/, and we hear it pronounced like this in various other countries as well. However, a lot of Americans (e.g. Sheldon Cooper in “The Big Bang Theory” TV show) pronounce it more like /[kɐ'tɛn]/ – we're absolutely fine with that, too.
Which download and purchase of "Catan" would you recommend for an eleven year old boy? Thank you Patricia
What is the piece with the green, some rock and a waterfall?
Dr. Reiner Düren
@Tara: That are gold fields.