Hail intrepid seafarer! The council of Catan has sent you forth to seek out new islands, trade with the natives, and do battle with the nefarious pirates of Catan-ia!! Victory points abound as do new strategies for conquest in Explorers and Pirates, an interesting expansion for Mayfair Games’ flagship (you see what I did there?) title, The Settlers of Catan. You and your friends match wits to see who will be the bravest, richest, and possibly swarthiest seafarer of them all! But beware, nefarious pirates sail the seas between islands, and if you’re not stout enough you may just be taken beneath the waves!
What’s in the Cargo Hold?
Wooden Game Pieces
- 4 sets in 4 colors
- 16 harbor settlements
- 36 crews
- 12 ships
- 8 settlers
- 12 markers
- 4 pirate ships
Neutral Game Pieces
- 6 fish hauls
- 24 spice sacks
- I’m not going to list them all, because there are a lot of them, and it seems unnecessary!
Hexes and Other Game Components
- 6 pirate lair/gold field hexes
- 6 fish shoal hexes
- 6 spice hexes
- 6 standard terrain hexes with green moon icon backs
- 6 standard terrain hexes with orange sun icon backs
- 6 number tokens with green moon icon backs
- 6 number tokens with orange sun icon backs
- 6 pirate lair tokens with numbered backs
- 3 mission cards
- 3 Victory Point (VP)
- 4 new building cost cards
- 10 component sorting tiles
Seafaring, Exploring, and All the Other Stuff You Couldn’t Do Till Now
The game itself is a very interesting twist on normal Catan that is broken down into 4 separate scenarios, each of which introduces you to a new aspect of the ruleset the expansion provides. This makes getting into the new material pretty easy, as the core mechanics of Catan still exist in this expansion. Each of the four scenarios has an increasingly large map as well, which is something you should keep in mind prior to purchasing this game, since the game board advances rapidly towards its ultimately mammoth size by the fourth scenario. Gameplay is broken down into production, trade and build, and movement phases. With the exception of the movement phase, this plays very similarly to normal Catan. Each player rolls the production dice and obtains the resulting resources from the resource pool, using them to build settlements, settlers, ships, harbors, or crew members, and they can then trade with other players of the bank for gold or resources (there are no Ports in this expansion, and all trading is done at a 3:1 ratio). After the trading phase is done, players may move their ships, pick up Spice, or Fish Hauls, and discover new hexes on the map. Every time a new hex is turned over the player who discovered it gets a resource card that matches what the tile would produce (brick, wood, ore or wool), or 2 Gold if it is a spice, Pirate Lair, or Fish Haul hex. Victory Points are awarded for trading the most spice, catching the most fish, raiding the most pirates (these replace the longest road and biggest army awards) as well as via the traditional methods of building Settlements, which are worth one victory point, or Harbors which replace Cities and are worth 2.
We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Table!
Let me just start this off by saying, I absolutely LOVE this expansion. I’m not the biggest fan of normal Catan for a number of reasons, not the least of which is, if you get hosed on your initial placement, or just don’t get the rolls you need during the game Catan can turn into a boring grind of constantly passing, or hoping that someone will have mercy on you, and trade you the resources you so desperately need. Both of these problems are addressed expertly with the addition of one simple mechanic, Gold. Gold can be used to purchase any resource from the bank at a 2:1 ratio, and if you happen to roll something that gets you nothing, you get 1 Gold instead. This makes those long hauls of poor rolls something that is not so devastating to your overall experience of the game, and takes a bit of the luck element out of play, which is something I’m always a fan off.
So, the game board. Holy cow. It gets big, and I don’t mean my waistline after an all-you-care-to-eat pizza buffet big, we’re talking 500 pound driving a scooter around Walmart big. My table is a normal sized dinner table for 4 people, and I could barely fit the full game board on it. I simultaneously love and hate this. Let me tell you why. First of all, the giant board is super cool to look at, and it keeps the exploration aspect of the game in play for a long time and that’s great, because its one of the most fun parts of this expansion. It’s well put together, and holds up about as well as you would imagine a board made up of about 30 pieces should hold up to pieces being constantly moved and flipped and jostled during play. The downside to this giant board, beyond the obvious concern of space however, is that its quite complex to put together, and its VERY easy to mess up during the initial setup of the game, which means, halfway through exploring the board, you’re going to realize that you’ve misread the setup instructions, and you’re going to have to move around pieces you’ve already explored, accidentally giving someone a slight advantage, or simply just interrupting play and forcing you to take the board partially apart, and put it back together again, which can be a real hassle.
The Final Word
Thanks to Mayfair Games for providing a copy of Catan: Explorers and Pirates for review!
- great twist on a classic game
- well balanced and interesting mechanics
- many paths to victory
- scenario system makes it easy to pick up
- ridiculously large board
- big departure from the classic gameplay