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August 5, 2009 7:33 AM   Subscribe

What games out there are similar to Settlers of Catan?

My 12-year-old son absolutely loves Settlers of Catan. He's hooked the rest of us, too (two parents, one nine-year-old sister). This question solves the "what next" problem quite nicely, but I'm wondering if there are other Catan-like games we'd enjoy playing. They don't have to be limited to 4 players; we often have various friends over who also like to play.

The nine-year-old is pretty smart and likes strategy games but if things tend to go on and on and on and on she gets bored. We're not looking for card games, so Fluxx is out for the moment. Oh, one more thing: my son already has HeroScape but 50% of us don't care for it. So perhaps nothing that's battle-centric.
posted by cooker girl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ticket to Ride is a great game where you strategize building railroads across the U.S. and Canada. It has a little in common with the road building aspect of Setters, but is simpler and a smaller time commitment. Very worthwhile.
posted by umbĂș at 7:40 AM on August 5, 2009

Ticket to Ride and Eurorails

Though they are "battle-centric" Risk, Axis and Allies, and Shogun/Samurai Swords are popular, fun, slow, strategic games.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2009

We always play Ticket to Ride when Settlers of Catan gets to vicious. It is similar game with less of an emphasis on trading. Players compete for most efficient train routs to various destinations. Like many great board games it seems simple, but is extremely compelling to play.
posted by abirae at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2009

sorry, forgot to preview.
posted by abirae at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Carcassone, maybe? Also, there's a whole raft of Catan add-ons and expansion packs.
posted by jquinby at 7:50 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ticket to Ride is boring as hell. What you need is Carcassonne.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:50 AM on August 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You may want to try reading reviews of other 'German-style' board games (of which Settlers is the biggest name) at Board Game Geek.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:55 AM on August 5, 2009

Oh, I've also been giving Agricola the eyeball for my next game purchase.
posted by jquinby at 7:56 AM on August 5, 2009

Ticket to Ride is, IMO, more engaging and less random than Carcassonne.

You might also enjoy Puerto Rico, though it may be to advanced for your 9-year-old.

It may seem a bit overwhelming due to the sheer number of bits, but Arkham Horror is a fantastic cooperative boardgame with RPG-ish elements- you each play individual characters who each get their own equipment and abilities, and there is combat, but it's all in service of telling a group story. It's also nice in that there is no individual "winner"- you have to work together to beat the game. If your 12yo likes HeroScape, he'll go nuts over it.
posted by mkultra at 8:00 AM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: Saw the Catan add-ons and expansion packs in the other question I linked to, and will be purchasing something today or tomorrow.

Risk is out, at least for the four of us together. Too battle-centric for me and too boring for the nine-year-old (her words, not mine!).
posted by cooker girl at 8:00 AM on August 5, 2009

Oh, and it's card-based, but not a "card game" in that you each have a hand, play tricks, etc, but Dominion has been like crack for my game group lately. It's very simple, but incredibly addictive.
posted by mkultra at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a good place for recommendations. And here's a thread asking about games for younger players.

Personally, I think you could do ok with anything mentioned so far.

Others that might go well are Kingsburg, Jamaica or Blokus.

Also I know you said no card games, but Tichu is hands down my fave 4 player game currently.

On preview I see someone mentioned Agricola - ugh. It's like work, I don't really recommend it.
posted by o0dano0o at 8:06 AM on August 5, 2009

Agricola is my favorite board game ever. It does tend to go on though—a game is 30 minutes to 1 hour per player.

Power Grid is another fun game.

Arkham Horror is great, and turns the concept of board gaming on its head.
posted by grouse at 8:10 AM on August 5, 2009

Puerto Rico, as mentioned above, is a possibility for a smart 9-year-old. Arkham Horror might work once you beat the learning curve, but it does have one, and in my experience it's a weekend afternoon game, not a weekday evening game.

And I also know you said no card games, but Race for the Galaxy is a card-based game that's closer to Settlers than it is to a traditional card game--that is, it's about resource development and utilization, and the cards are just the most convenient way of rendering the game mechanic.
posted by Prospero at 8:13 AM on August 5, 2009

On BoardGameGeek, Settlers of Catan is tagged with gateway, presumably in reference to the fact that it is often the first game on the road from Casual Monopoly Player to Person Who Goes to BoardGameGeek. it may be worth checking out the other games with that tag (noting, in fact, that the top three are Carcassone, Settlers, and Ticket to Ride).
posted by Partial Law at 8:14 AM on August 5, 2009

I've been enjoying Carcasonne and Power Grid recently - Carcasonne may be "too boring" for younger players but on the other hand they may enjoy the randomness inherent in tile-based games.
posted by muddgirl at 8:15 AM on August 5, 2009

My $.02:

Ticket to Ride is awesome, and I've never introduced it to anyone who found it boring. And to clarify, there isn't exactly "less" emphasis on trading (as in Settlers)--there isn't any trading at all. And finally, Ticket to Ride: Europe is WAY, WAY better than the standard Ticket to Ride (which is America). The map is a lot better (fewer chokepoints) and adds some new wrinkles (stations) that really improve gameplay.

That said, Carcassonne is also fucking fantastic, and it has a pile of expansions that can be added if it becomes a favorite (which is likely). The only key thing to know about Carcassonne is--as far as utility goes--is that it requires a fairly serious amount of flat table or floor space to play. Our small kitchen table simply doesn't cut it.
posted by Skot at 8:16 AM on August 5, 2009

Arkham Horror might work once you beat the learning curve, but it does have one

One of the nicest things about Arkham Horror, is that since it is cooperative, you can kibitz the other players and help people who don't understand the rules perfectly yet.
posted by grouse at 8:17 AM on August 5, 2009

I would recommend against the Catan expansion packs. Although the main game is fun, I find that the expansions add complexity and time to the game without adding better gameplay. Your money would be better spent in getting a whole new game. Boardgamegeek is definitely the best resource for all things related to board game reviews and discussion.

I would recommend: Power Grid, Acquire, Saint Petersburg, Zooloretto, Hey That's My Fish, Transamerica.
I find Puerto Rico a bit too complicated, so I prefer San Juan, which is a card game.

Ticket to Ride and Carcassone are good choices too.

If you have trouble getting people to play HeroScape, I doubt Arkaham Horror will be a big hit. Typical games of it take three hours.

Are there any aspects of Catan that you especially like?
posted by demiurge at 8:19 AM on August 5, 2009

Co-op games are great. Arkham Horror was mentioned (which we LOVE, and has numerous expansions) - there are a lot of rules and a lot of pieces - don't be intimidated. It's totally worth it. Other good co-op games like that are Shadows Over Camelot, The Lord of the Rings and Betrayal at the House on the Hill.
posted by MsVader at 8:21 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Mefi's own Matthew Baldwin writes up solid guides to great board games every year. One of his usual criteria is that the game is easy to learn, which will make most of his recommendations great for your family.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

EVO would be my recommendation. Playable from 3 - 5 players, with a fun theme (breeding dinosaurs), a set number of turns so you know when it'll end.
posted by garlic at 8:48 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: A big part of where you ought to go next is going to be based on what it is that you most like about Settler's. The trading? The "empire" building? The thrill of the dice? People love to compare games to Settler's that have next to nothing in common with it, so make sure that what the suggestor finds appealing is similar to what you find appealing.

A lot of people are suggesting the classic Euros which you might like, or you might hate as being way too dry and procedural. Personally, if I was 9 I'd have told most of those games to fuck right off and gone for something with a fun theme and/or less convoluted rules. (With rules, some games have a lot but they are intuitive like in Heroscape, but others that seem simpler are in fact way harder to learn because the rules aren't attempting to simulate anything and thus you can't make any logical connections with the real world)

I think that Catan (and it's related expansions) is one of the best games of all time. I'd say you'll be hard pressed to do much better with anything similar. I LOVE Seafarers and Cities & Knights, while Traders and Barbarians adds a bunch of new little things to the system, some of which are better than others. I'd get Seafarers first for sure.

Mare Nostrom is a game that can appeal to the empire building aspect really well.

It's a card game, but Bohnanza is a game that will really appeal to the trading itch.

And finally, I really think the best thing you can do is get onto Boardgamegeek and just dig into the info on games, then have you and the kids all look at some together and see what looks the most appealing. If you start first by narrowing things down to well regarded games, no matter what you pick will be a good one and I think the biggest factor as to if you specifically will enjoy it early on is if you find the theme engaging and exciting.

And finally, ESPECIALLY on BGG but also here and elsewhere, take any specific game advice with a grain of salt.

(also one of my favorite features on BGG is the comments, not the number rating usually, reading those can be really helpful in finding out WHY someone liked or disliked a game. feel free to lurk mine out if you like, username: Matt Loter)
posted by teishu at 8:48 AM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: What my son likes about Settlers: the physical pieces, the trading, the strategy...he actually says he likes "everything about it."

What I like: it doesn't have to take hours and hours to play, once it gets going it moves pretty quickly, it's never the same game twice, and there's no warfare. I just don't get into the battle games.

He doesn't tend to like games that only use cards, no matter what the game itself is. He's very into the physical set-up of games, which is one of the reasons he's crazy about HeroScape. He will literally spend an hour or more setting up the board, never mind building his army.

My daughter mostly just plays Settlers because we do. She likes it well enough but she's more of a board game girl, so I'm trying to find things that my son, my husband and I will really enjoy but that my daughter will be willing to play.
posted by cooker girl at 9:09 AM on August 5, 2009

My 6 year old son kicks butt at Carcassonne. So IMHO, it works well with children.

I know you don't want card games, but seriously consider picking up Bohnanza at some point. My family loves this game, and it plays awesome from 2-7 players.

My wife and I also play a metric monkey load of Stone Age. It's ligher then Agricola and is just a ton of fun to play.

We also like Thurn and Taxis. It's somewhat like Ticket to Ride, but it focuses on the German Postal system, and building post offices. It's a bit less confrontational then TTR.
posted by JonnyRotten at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2009

I'm going to ask my wife to look at this more and offer some more specific games, as I feel like I'd suggest games that your son would love, but I dunno about the rest of you. My wife loves Settler's but also doesn't like most games with combat in them so she ought be more helpful.

One other thing I just thought of that could potentially be HUGE for you is to find a local gaming group (that is welcoming of children, some aren't) and go there. You'll be able to play all sorts of games and find ones you want to buy and ones you want to avoid. This meetup group seems like it would be good (dunno about the kid friendlyness though).
posted by teishu at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Late to this party, but I cannot recommend Agricola enough. It is awesome and also has its own MeFi thread (full disclosure -- I started it).

People that love it, tend to love it because they don't mind a lot of bits with their games, and really dig games that force you to alter your overall strategy constantly in reaction to other players' moves; people that hate it tend to be more "set a path to goal and follow it" folks, who don't adjust well to having their strategies disrupted by other players' moves.

I'm saying this because Settlers tends to reward flexible strategies (nobody rolls an 8 for 64 consecutive turns, so what do you do then?) but can also be enjoyed by people with rigid play styles. If your son tends to get frustrated or upset when somebody blocks his Longest Road, it really might not be the game for him. It also has a scoring system that rewards lots of small successes rather than one large success, so again, people that aren't big on multitasking and multiple paths to winning really don't go for it. And it's expensive enough that you may not want to splash out until you're sure everyone will like it.

If you do go with Agricola, start with the Family Game ruleset. There are two "speeds" to the game, the Family Game, with a simpler set of rules and no cards, and the Advanced game, with a whackadoodle number of cards that add a lot of complexity to the game. The Family Game is all the game you need, TBH, and still played in my relatively hardcore gaming circle when we want a faster round of Agricola.

Of the other abovementioned games, you can't go wrong with Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.
posted by Shepherd at 9:42 AM on August 5, 2009

Stone Age is great.

Agricola is great too, but it's a very difficult game. The rules aren't super-complicated, but the gameplay is. (Puerto Rico is like that too).

There's a lot of great train games that it sounds like your son might like - they're all on the longer side though. I'd recommend Empire Builder, a crayon-rail game (meaning you build up your networks by drawing on the board in crayon) - which spawned a whole series. If you play any of the real-world ones, it also teaches some geography (not just where places are, but what sort of industry they have). But as I said, gameplay can be a little long.

I really recommend dropping by local board game stores with them. Your son's a little young for it now, but some game stores have regular nights for different types of games (board games, minatures, etc), which is a great way to make new friends, and a great way to get exposure to new games without buying them.
posted by aubilenon at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2009

I hate Ticket to Ride. Pandemic is fun, because it's cooperative, and the setup takes forever; I just started playing Small World, which is also great fun, and likely my first recommendation for you, though there's less setup. Puerto Rico is fairly complex, the card-based variant (not a card game in the sense you are thinking of) is a good game. Dominion does take some setup, too.

I'd also consider Through the Desert (your pieces are camels!) and even, if your son wants to go more for the strategic aspects, Tigris & Euphrates. This is a complex game, but I enjoy it when I am not too tired.
posted by jeather at 10:04 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Consider Manhattan. You build atop skyscrapers so it may suit your son's love of the game pieces.

Modern Art is really just a card game but is very clever. Each player is an art dealer buying and selling art.

I second the votes for Bohnanza (another card game) and Carcassonne.
posted by deanj at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: I was gonna suggest Manhattan. It's and oldie but a goodie and has fabulous bits. Be sure to add the Godzilla option if you do get a copy. It makes the game a lot more interesting.
posted by chairface at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: To expand on my earlier comment, after many years of playing Settlers, I have come to think of it as somewhat of a drag. The player interaction is minimal, and after all, why are we playing a game together if not to interact? Ticket to Ride takes this even further. The player interaction is so minimal, I might as well be flying solo.

Carcassonne, by contrast, is the Alien of player interaction, the perfect machine. The rules are dead simple, and the strategy is much more intricate than either Settlers or Ticket to Ride. With every move you can expand your own holdings or horn in one someone else's. The pieces are just as nice as the Settlers pieces, too. It plays quick, downtime is minimal, there is randomness but it doesn't have the same potential to continually screw someone like Settlers does, and it has a clearly defined end, unlike Settlers which can drag on. The only downside to the board game I see is the point counting at the end. I play the Xbox Live version, so the computer handles all that for me.

In addition, there are a couple of very well-regarded expansions for Carcassonne, which is more than you can say for Settlers. Carc. Do it. Thank me later.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:15 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Boardgamegeek is definitely your friend here. The pages on a given game will often have suggestions for alternate rules - how to make it a bit easier if one kid is having a hard time, or how to make a game more strategically interesting once a kid has mastered the normal version. A useful thing to do is to familiarize yourself with their glossary, which will help you to articulate what it is you're looking for in a game, and can help in navigating their "geeklists" to find lists of games with really cool pieces for example.

If you have a large gap in skill (or interest!) between players, you may want a game that has some more luck involved, rather than being purely determined by the players' skills. BUT - games that are all dice-rolling (no decisions) or where you depend on drawing lucky cards (or else you're just hosed) get old fast! I've tried to list games that have some strategy but still some luck.

A lot of good suggestions above!
Here are a few suggestions that haven't been said more than once above. You'll want to look at the boardgamegeek listings to see if the playing times seem ok, etc.

Board games that can play with more than 2 players
Pirates' Cove
Through the Desert - colorful plastic camels and palm trees, but a neat and strategic game, may be a little dry for your daughter?
Cartagena - two levels of difficulty, which is nice
Blokus - abstract but colorful and appealing pieces
Quoridor - kids are drawn to the little men and the easy-to-understand maze-making mechanic
The A-maze-ing Labyrinth - an old favorite
Hey that's my Fish! - I love this game so much; I think unskilled players are likely to get crushed though.
Carcassonne is recommended above and I totally agree. Some people have said the "Hunters and Gatherers" version is easier for younger kids, I find the regular version to be ok, but you know your kids. Along similar lines, O Zoo le Mio is another tile-placement game with a zoo theme, in case that would help to attract your daughter.
Ingenious is a nice abstract

Card games - I just have affection for these
Bang! - western gunfighting
Coloretto - a beautifully balanced game
Set - often kids love this and can beat adults (also nice because you can just play until you're tired and then stop and score.
Bohnanza - lots of trading and player interaction, goofy theme, they will be able to play it with their friends
Citadels - can be cutthroat

Two player games (I'm thinking of these as things one of you might play with your son)
Memoir '44 and the related BattleLore- nice pieces and a good two-player strategy game, with different board layouts. Memoir '44 is about WWII battles and has little army men, BattleLore is about medieval Europe plus mythological beasties
Cathedral - abstract but with lovely pieces
Hive - bugs, in a really terrific strategy game

Pirates of the Spanish Main - this is a "constructible strategy game" - you buy packs of cards with varying contents, and build your own little pirate ships, which then play a board game on any table surface. Very cool little game. There are a bunch of expansions (pirate ships from different eras and places). They have similar games for racecars and spaceships too.

Kids their ages often enjoy what are called "dexterity games" - like Jenga, Topple etc. This can help even things out if one sibling is a strategy person and the other isn't.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:11 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

(re: Cathedral: there are various editions, some plastic, some wooden, some with models of real world landmarks - see the pictures at BGG to get a sense)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:47 PM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: There are a few ways to define "Catan-like". 1. "Assemble chipboard tiles and put wood cutouts on them". 2. "Improve your infrastructure, collect resources, improve your infrastructure, repeat". There are others too.

For the chipboard and wood-cutout definition, I cannot endorse Carcassonne enough. My favorite game ever. It doesn't involve trading, but your son will love the game equipment and attractive theme of building a map together by matching the edges of tiles. I have never yet met anyone who dislikes Carcassonne, despite introducing it to people from many walks of life. It is nonviolent. It can be played casually, as befitting its friendly appearance, or if the adults are in a competitive mood they can buckle down to interesting tactics as intense as the most cut-throat wrestling match. All this in a system of elegant simplicity that a six-year-old can understand. If you expand it, choose Traders and Builders and Inns and Cathedrals.

Another chipboard and wood-cutout game is Hey! That's My Fish! I have successfully played this game with the five-year-old children of my friends. Just keep it casual. Don't think too far ahead of your kids or you will blow them away until they don't want to play any more. There are no dice in this game to give them a fighting chance. Just a spiraling mental vortex of combinatorial positioning and deep-future prediction. All that is disguised with the most kid-friendly theme you could imagine.

Definition two is "improve your infrastructure, collect resources, improve your infrastructure, repeat":

If you and your family like the way Settlers of Catan uses dice, Kingsburg may present an appealing variation. Simply put: from the three dice of your color, you need to add up numbers different from that of the other players. Different sums result in different groups of resources. I love that game. The illustrator should get a prize for his character portraits. Be warned that five battles take place in a game of Kingsburg, against monsters on cards who attack the players. The "battle" consists of a single die roll and comparing your preparation strength number to the monster strength number, so it's not what I'd call violent, but I don't know your standards of pacifism. The other 99% of the game is non-violent economics like every other game I am mentioning in this post.

Watch out before you buy Agricola. It takes a long time to set up (although it sounds like your son will like that), and very long to play. It is intensely complex, and has non-intuitive scoring. It is one of the most expensive games of this type, but you get a lot of physical stuff with it.

As compared to Agricola, Stone Age has even higher production values for both sight and touch. Real leather dice-cup; cavemen and resources shaped in ingenious detail out of wood; lavishly-illustrated landscape. You can tell the delight that I take in a game that has good "bits". Like in Carcassonne, there's a simple way to decrease how long the game takes: just leave some of the tiles in the box. Like in Settlers, it's one of those games in which you increase your production capacity, and yet part of that is the ability to spend flint tools to improve your dice rolls. Stone Age has more systematic procedures than does Agricola, so that you don't have to remember so much. However, be aware that almost every turn requires you to perform Catan-style dice addition, but usually with more than two dice, and then perform division on the sum.

Power Grid takes game math a quantum-leap further. Almost the whole game is numbers that you track in your head, plus a tiny bit of visual-positional play. You don't just perform arithmetic to see the results of your actions as in other games-- in Power Grid, you have to perform a lot of economic arithmetic just to distinguish advantageous choices from disastrous ones. That's why Power Grid is not to my taste. I would be surprised if any children enjoy it.

Another warning: there is something that happens to gamers when they expand beyond Settlers of Catan. They start to get bored with Settlers of Catan. They become experienced enough that they know who is going to win after the first turn, they know better than to ever trade with anyone, and the rest is just going through the motions of the inevitable.
posted by Matt Arnold at 11:43 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

He's very into the physical set-up of games

Based on this, I might suggest Agricola, where the whole game is basically building your farm and you end up with a satisfyingly full board at the end.
posted by primer_dimer at 1:46 AM on August 6, 2009

Response by poster: Once again, AskMeFi rocks. You guys...seriously. Thank you. I'm about to have one deliriously happy 12-year-old on my hands!
posted by cooker girl at 6:13 AM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: Rather than recommend a list of games, you might get more joy by identifying designers you like and following their work. Many games designers have a recognisable style and if you like one of their games then you'll probably like others.

The other immediate badge of quality is the Spiel des Jahres award--the Game of the Year. Settlers won it. So did Carcassonne, Zooloretto, Manhattan and many of the recommendations above. The games vary in style but they're always a lot of fun and reward replaying.
posted by Hogshead at 8:47 AM on August 6, 2009

Best answer: How could I forget Starfarers of Catan? I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
posted by Matt Arnold at 9:59 AM on August 6, 2009

Yesterday I played Colosseum for the first time, and thought of comparisons to Settlers of Catan.

Instead of the five resources of Settlers, Collosseum has twelve "show assets": gladiators, lions, horses, chariots, musicians, comedians, priests, ships, torches, cages, scenery, and decorations. They are in the form of cardboard tokens.

Imagine if the menu card from Settlers had thirty items instead of four. Those items are show programs-- each show uses a different combination of assets, as few as three or as many as sixteen. But you must buy the show program with the game's cardboard money tokens in order to be eligible to perform that show, even if you already have the asset tokens.

After buying a show program, several random assets are available for auction. Players bid on them with money tokens in the hopes of completing the optimal collections for their show programs. Then there is a lively phase where anyone may trade asset tokens or money tokens. Then you roll dice to move dignitaries around a track to get them to land in your Colosseum for bonus points when you perform your show.

Although the score for your show is paid in money tokens which you can accumulate, that number does not accumulate on the scoring track. Rather, the game is scored based on each player's single highest-scoring show. Therefore, Colloseum's challenge is in long-term planning and predicting the plans of others. You hope to buy the right assets with which be able to put on a small show now and a larger show in a later round. But in my first game, I didn't see many clear paths of progression like that. When I found one, another player bought the programs for each of the larger shows I wanted, and there was no plan B.

It's not for the easily frustrated. Your family may enjoy playing it in an extremely cooperative mode-- one in which you make plans together for mutually advantageous trades for everyone to gain as high a score as possible. I have the right attitude with which to do that, but not everyone does. Overall, I am undecided on this game until I replay it and see if some strategies emerge.
posted by Matt Arnold at 11:34 AM on August 10, 2009

Very late to this game, but seconding Starfarers of Catan, particularly if your son likes the tactile experience of putting together a cool game with lots of pieces.
posted by hifiparasol at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2009

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