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Cult Hit Settlers of Catan Comes to the iPhone

catanIf you are or ever have been the board gaming type, you may have run across Settlers of Catan, or at least heard of it from a fanatic friend. The game, which is a bit like Risk but without the war (at least in its basic incarnation), is all about resource gathering, trading, and colonization.

Fans of the series (and there are many) will be pleased to know that Settlers is now playable on your iPhone thanks to Catan ($4.99, iTunes link), an app that faithfully recreates the experience on your mobile device. If you aren’t yet a fan, Catan for your iPhone or iPod touch might just be the thing that converts you.

catan mainGameplay

If you’ve played Settlers the board game, or if you’ve played it on your PC or Xbox 360, then you’ll already be familiar with the gameplay in the iPhone version, since it uses the standard rule set. Expansions are available for the board game which add more tiles or new gameplay elements, but for now, Catan on the iPhone doesn’t offer any of these additional modes of play.

The board consists of 19 hexagonal tiles, themselves laid out in a hexagon pattern. Each tile represents one resource, either Sheep, Wheat, Ore, Lumber or Brick. Each player gets to place settlements at the corners of these tiles, and collect resources from them when the number on the tile is rolled. Each tile has a number from 1 to 12, and each player rolls two six-sided die at the beginning of their turn.

catan mapSome tiles, like those with a 6 or an 8, come up more frequently, statistically speaking, and are strategically advantageous because of this. The goal in the game is to amass resources, which you can use to buy more settlements, roads, and other things to earn victory points. In traditional play, the first person with 10 victory points is the winner.

Catan on the iPhone lets you play with between three and four players. You can either play against computer opponents, or play hot seat multiplayer mode, in which you pass the iPhone off to other players when it’s their turn. It’s not an ideal multiplayer situation, since you have to trust your partner not to glance at your resource distribution, but without a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth option, it at least works well enough to be playable.

Sights and Sounds

Clearly, Catan wasn’t rushed out to the masses on the iPhone. Developer United Soft Media (USM) took its time in refining the look and feel of this cult sensation before its release, probably predicting correctly that fans of the game would be sticklers when it came this version’s faithfulness to the original.

The board is viewed from a top-down perspective, and you can zoom in or out using touch controls. Your resource count is displayed at the bottom of the screen in a convenient and non-obtrusive status bar. All of your controls are nested in a pop-out tab interface usually hidden at the right side of the screen behind an arrow button.

catan cardSound is great, with a nice, fitting soundtrack running in the background, and appropriate sound effects for things like trades, resources, and standard button presses. In fact, I’d say it compares favorably even to the console version on the Xbox 360.


Whether you’ve heard of Settlers of Catan before or not, the iPhone port is an awesome time-waster. It’s engrossing, rich, and carefully tailored to the handheld touch-controlled platform. I will say that I found the difficulty to be rather on the challenging side, even when playing against a stacked line up of all the weakest computer players. The Xbox version has both a universal difficulty switcher and different AIs, allowing for greater versatility, and I would recommend Catan for iPhone adopt that in future, too. Still, for $4.99, you couldn’t ask for a better or more challenging pocket strategy game.

8 Responses to “Cult Hit Settlers of Catan Comes to the iPhone”

  1. godlikesme

    Catan is absolutely nothing like Risk AT ALL. The only characteristic that they even remotely share is that they deal with land/territory -but from completely different angles. Risk is 5% strategy and 95% luck. The strategy part is knowing not to try and defend Asia in the begining of the game and to focus more on the smaller continents with fewer borders. That’s it.

    When introducing the game to new people I often hear people saying “Settlers is sort of like Risk”. I believe people draw the comparison because there really is nothing like it in the world! It certainly isn’t similar to Connect Four or Monopoly so the closest thing is Risk -even though it really isn’t anything like it at all. I think it would be better to tell people that it’s like nothing they’ve ever played before then to give them a totally inaccurate preconceived notion of the game. It actually hurts the chances of potential new users from wanting to try it out if they are told that it’s “similar to Risk”. Many people never liked Risk (especially females) because of the whole “testosterone and world domination thing”. If people are given the impression that Settlers is just another 4 hour back and forth game of luck then they may never try it out.

  2. I downloaded a couple days ago! I now have Catan on my Itouch, My xbox, my homecomputer, and of course the real life version which is actually the best for playing with friends and family. Anyway my comments on the itouch version…
    a bit small to see everything, but they do the best the can with automatic zooms.
    although it plays faster than real life version, a bit slower to play than the other electronic, such as computer and xbox versions I have. It has 2 speed settings, and the fastest is still too slow for my taste. I like to play a complete game against the bots in 10 minutes, but it takes about 20 with the animations on the itouch on the fast setting. Maybe I play too much, but I found the AI not challenging, even on the expert settings. I don’t know why but I usually win before they have even 5 pts. But its a great to have when Im waiting for my flight to board.

  3. Settlers of Catan for iPhone is AMAZING!!! It is a completely faithful reproduction of the real board game!! The way that resource trading works in the game is wonderful! I can’t believe how accurate & perfect this game is, compared to the real thing!

    HOWEVER — you’ve got one thing wrong in your article here. You said that your opponents can see your resource distribution when you pass them your iPhone. This is absolutely NOT TRUE — your opponents can NOT see your resource distribution when you pass them the iPhone.

    The only thing they can see are the NUMBER of cards, NUMBER of resources, and NUMBER of known points that you have… just like the real board game itself.

  4. robinson

    Nice review!

    Suggestion for your web site designers, make it so that when we enlarge the font size, the left hand margin is preserved. Now, the text ends up flush against it and is hard to read!

  5. sherkaner

    If they would just add network play, with push notification when it’s your turn or if somebody is offering a trade, this would be absolutely epic. As is, I can’t really imagine playing by myself or passing my phone between people (how does card trading even work in that situation?).