Head to Head Catan

2014-02-08 14.12.21During the last “snow week”, Chloe was sitting at the kitchen table playing with the resource hex tiles from the game Settlers of Catan.  “What are you doing?” She replied that she was trying to design a head-to-head kind of 2 player variant of Settlers of Catan.

We talked about what we were trying to achieve – a variant that pits players head to head, with equal ability to acquire resources at the start, and promotes conflict and strategy between the two players.  We have tried another 2 player Catan variant, but we wanted something designed not by tweaking Catan rules for two players, but for head-to-head conflict with a balanced start.

HeadToHeadCatan (PDF file) describes our first effort with this head to head version.  Try it! Send us comments.  The photo above shows how the board might look as the game is about to start.

Some game design notes from play testing.

  • The requirement that a player can have 2 resources with 2 hexes each is balanced by the 5 pip rule.  This makes player setup strategy more interesting. We initially tried a 4 pip constraint, but 5 offers a bit more flexibility while still constraining the 2-tile options.
  • We tried a set up phase where players take turns placing tiles and numbers – it was kind of plodding.  We found that allowing each player to setup as they please, and then move tiles/numbers around after seeing the other player, was more efficient. When both players agree with placement, game play can start.
  • We have not messed with the Development Cards.  However, we have thought about removing all the Victory Point cards, or reducing their number.
  • The game play offers a range of strategies.  Spending too much effort on defense can hinder scoring down the road.   We’ve tried to play games where we intentionally sought “disruptive” strategies that would mess the rules up, and so far it seems pretty balanced.  But we have only played 5 or so games so far …
  • We added the “friendly robber” rule (often used in online play) – it helps to prevent one player from getting way behind at the start.
  • The idea of giving one player the 6 and the other player the 8 was intentional, and works well.
  • So far in play testing, the ports rule is not helping much – they often do not come into play until a player is at 6-8 points, at which point they are commanding enough resources per round to likely not need it.  Other options we have considered include maybe allowing each player to choose a 2:1 and 3:1 port, and place them on the opposite player’s side of the board after game setup is complete, or some similar variant.
  • We tried various desert locations, as well as one desert vs two.  This combination seems to work best so far in balancing opportunity with risk.
  • The 3 settlement/cities rule on your side was not just to promote interactions, but balance as well. It is possible to hole up on your side and win, but there are consequences for doing so.


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