I first got into Settlers of Catan a few years ago, at the behest of my brothers who owned the game. They brought it down to play at my folks’ and roped me into it. I didn’t really understand the game at first, but I learned the rules well enough to play it.

The scenario repeated the next time we got together at my parents’. Once again, I played the game and enjoyed it…but I couldn’t remember the rules to save my life. But then one day I happened to acquire the official Android Catan game, as part of a Humble Indie Bundle sale. Its single-player mode allowed me to play over and over again until I had the rules down straight in my head. And since then, I’ve done a lot better at playing it in person, too.

Catan (USM)

The official USM Catan app, pictured above, is available for Android, iOS, and Intel-based Windows 10, at a cost of $3.99 for Android, or $4.99 for iOS and Windows. (My brother didn’t have an option to buy it for his Windows smartphone.) It’s well worth the money if you’re looking to learn the game. It has a tutorial/campaign mode that’s pretty self-explanatory, and supports both basic Catan and a variety of scenarios and expansions, up to and including the advanced Castles and Knights game.

The controls are reasonably simple and intuitive. The icons on the right represent trading, building, development cards, and rolling the dice or passing the turn. Resources at the bottom are easily understood, and the displays in each corner list how many resources, development cards, victory points, knights, and road segments each player has. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand that; it’ll make sense once you’ve played a bit.) Playing is actually quite simple with a touchscreen.

Best of all, the games support multi-player mode, both in-person and via the Internet. In-person multi-play is accomplished by pass-to-play—you take turns playing, and pass the device back and forth when it’s the other person’s turn, or when the other person needs to respond to a trade offer. It’s a clever workaround for permitting in-person play when you only have one device, but it’s also rather awkward and time-consuming in practice.

Internet multi-play comes via access to online servers, for which you have to register an account. Then you can join games with random players, or else if you have friends who also play and are on your friends list, you can invite them to a private game. If you don’t have enough people to make up the three-player minimum required for a Catan game, you can set the third and/or fourth players to be run by computers.

On-line Catan multi-play works well. The one problem with it is that there isn’t any chat system built in. The only way you can communicate to other players is by changing an emoticon icon representing you to one of a limited number of smiley faces and other symbols. It’s a little annoying, but then again I can see how they might have wanted to prevent trolling and griefing, just as the CCG Hearthstone has done.

If anyone out there is reading this and wants to play me some Catan games via this app, let me know what your userID is so I can add you to my friends list!

Note that there’s also an official version of Catan for Windows desktop, available via Steam. It uses roughly the same interface as the mobile app, but it doesn’t seem to support multi-play.

Catan Universe

catan-universeBut there’s another online version of Catan available for play, for free right now. Catan Universe, currently in early-access beta, is available for play via web browser, or via a downloadable Windows game client. (Android and iOS versions are promised soon.) As with the mobile game, Catan Universe is being developed by USM and exozet, so it also has the imprimatur of officialhood. After the beta is over, some parts of Catan Universe will cost money to play.

Catan Universe also supports a single-player mode, but as the successor to earlier multi-player client PlayCatan, it is mainly aimed at on-line multi-play. It has a few rough edges due to its early state (such as the usage of German by the app’s installer)

The interface is necessarily different. Building or buying development cards is done by clicking the arrow icon at the lower left, which changes the screen to show what building pieces you have left and a deck of development cards to buy. Chatting with other players is done via the speech balloon icon at the upper left. In normal play, you get to see the resource and development cards in your hand at the bottom of the screen. (I took the above screenshot after I’d won.)

Catan Universe is in more of a primitive state than Catan, and still has a few bugs—though I haven’t played much with the new version that just came out, and they could have fixed some of those. One annoying thing is that, last time I checked at least, there wasn’t any way to set a third player to an AI if you just had one friend you wanted to play against, and there wasn’t a way to set a private game to public so a new person could join once you and your friend were there.

In any event, I’ll be happy to play Catan Universe against anyone who wants to, also. Just let me know when you’ve got the game and signed on, and I’ll add you to my friends list.

Whether it’s via Catan or Catan Universe, Settlers of Catan is a great game, and I’d love to play it more with my friends. So, if you get the game and want to match me, let me know!