* Prices may differ from that shown
Catan Seafarers is an expansion pack for The Settlers of Catan. The original game is a "speciality board game" sensation, selling more than 15m copies, earning many gaming awards and, most impressively of all, earning a 5-star dooyoo review from Idiophreak :)
With an original game so good, there's a lot of pressure on anything claiming to add to the experience - and that's exactly what Seafarers, the first of the major expansions, set out to do. Thankfully, the pack succeeds admirably in it's aim.
The original game isn't the focus of this review, so I won't dwell on the finer points, but a brief description may be useful for the uninitiated: Settlers of Catan uses a board that is made up (often at random) from hexagonal pieces (hexes) depicting different kinds of terrain. Players can build settlements, connected by roads, on these terrains in order to harvest resources, in the form of cards, which can then be traded for more roads, settlements or cities (think hotels in monopoly). There are several strategies for victory, but as a rule the person that collects the most resource - and builds the most settlements/cities - wins.
As the name might suggest, Seafarers expands the base game by allowing players to take to the seas of Catan, rather than being constrained to the land. This is achieved with the help of new pieces which are arranged to form "shipping lanes" between islands. Players are then rewarded for managing to reach, and settle on, new islands.
Introducing the boats means that a previously underused resource, wool, is now a lot more valuable - as it's used to make the sails of boats. Wood, previously used with brick to make roads, is used for the hulls, completing the boats.
Whilst roads are permanently placed once built, shipping lanes can be moved, piece by piece, over a number of turns - meaning that if you're cut off from reaching your destination, it's possible to redeploy your ships in another direction. In order to counter this, another new piece is used - The Pirate. This stops people from building shipping lanes nearby - and stops players from moving ships in the proximity.
The expansion pack comes in a blue box (pictured), the same size and layout as the original Settlers of Catan, and contains:
6 Frame Pieces - for making the playing area larger.
19 Sea Hexes - there's, obviously, a lot more sea needed when you can build boats.
11 extra terrain hexes - including two of a new type, "Gold Field" - that can be used to collect the resource of your choice.
50 catan chits - these are used to track the bonus points achieved by crossing to new islands, or completing other objectives defined in certain scenarios.
10 number tokens
10 harbour tokens
60 ships - 15 for each of the four players.
Game rules and scenarios.
There are also a few little bags included for keeping things together. All of the pieces in the Seafarers expansion match perfectly with those from the original Settlers of Catan.
The contents list mentions the word "scenarios" a couple of times - and that's something relatively different from the original settlers. In The Settlers of Catan, there's a "beginners" layout that people try the first time, then the board is generally randomised thereafter. Seafarers, by contrast, contains 8 different designed scenarios for you to play - with balanced arrangements of resource, ports and number tokens. These games are designed to be more balanced and challenging than random gaming.
Thankfully, however, the ninth scenario listed includes a section on "variable play". This ensures that one of the key strengths of the first settlers - that the game board is different each time you play - is preserved.
In terms of how the expansion impacts on the original game, I have to say I feel it's an improvement. As well as the varying board layout, another key strength of the original game was the variety of strategies that could be used to win - Seafarers just adds in a couple more. You can target bonus points for settling on other islands, or you can focus on collecting wool to go for the "longest trading route" bonus points. Each way of gaining points they add in just serves to make the game deeper, more enthralling and less likely to feel old.
If there were any criticism, it would be that the seafarers' instructions seem to assume a working knowledge of the original Settlers - if you were playing Seafarers as your first experience of Catan, you would have to spend a good while going back and forth between the two rule books trying to work out how to play. In any case, for beginners, I'd recommend getting a few games of the original Settlers of Catan played before moving on to Seafarers - just to learn the basics and save having to take in too much at once.
Depending on the scenario or board layout, I've found that a game of Seafarers can be a little longer than "vanilla" Settlers, but the worst of it is in merging and separating out the two sets at the beginning/end.
I'm a big fan of the original Settlers of Catan, but having played Seafarers, I don't see myself going back - you get a little more depth, a few more options, bigger boards and no disadvantages - Mayfair Games really have managed to improve an already winning formula - and for that, they should be applauded.
Seafarers, like the original game, can also be expanded to support 5 or 6 players with another pack available from Mayfair Games.
In all, as with the original Settlers of Catan, I would highly recommend Seafarers to just about anyone. It's certainly not just for hardcore game geeks, or anything of the sort - it's an easy to pick up, fun, family game, but has plenty of depth to keep adults engaged for game after game.