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The basic Settlers of Catan game is designed to work for 3-4 players (or more with 5-6 Player Extension). No 2 player variant is suggested by the rules, and for good reasons:

  1. Trades (an exciting part of the regular game) rarely make sense
  2. No slow-the-leader mechanisms like trade embargoes or coordinated robber placement
  3. The normal board setup offers too little constraint/competition
  4. An early game non-moving robber too strongly influences game outcome

Normal rules/setup therefore result in quick but dull games where whoever gains the early lead wins over 90% of the time.

The question is how do you modify Settlers of Catan to make it good for 2 players, without including auto-generated additional players?

I provide one such answer below that we've used in many games, but I'm totally open to suggestions for improvements on my answer, and/or alternative play-tested systems developed by other Catan enthusiasts.

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May I suggest you Catan Card Game? (boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/278/catan-card-game) –  Oltarus Jan 12 '12 at 16:23
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Per this meta discussion, I think it would help to explain your house rules so that we can make suggestions for improvement, otherwise the answers may be steered toward "let's discuss ...", which isn't a good fit for the SE system. –  Dave DuPlantis Jan 12 '12 at 16:35
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Ok Dave, I'll take your suggestion and modify my question and supply our system for suggested feedback. Will take more than a few minutes but I'll try to have it done within the next few hours. I'm a new user and tried to model this off similar questions but hadn't seen that meta discussion. –  Joe Golton Jan 12 '12 at 16:42
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I'm open to further suggestions on how to better format this for the agreed-upon norms of the community. I do believe it's a reasonable question with a reasonable answer as I've been literally asked the question before and I have a very well defined and heavily play-tested answer. But I haven't seen any other posts that are quite like this one so I'm flying blind. Is this the right idea or are there further suggestions for how to structure this Q&A? –  Joe Golton Jan 12 '12 at 19:25
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This is likely to become my favorite house rules question to point people to, as in, "Do it this way!" Great job, I hope you get good answers. FYI, my answer would be to play another game if you only had two people as I don't like SoC that much, so I won't be too helpful! –  Pat Ludwig Jan 12 '12 at 19:59

8 Answers 8

up vote 26 down vote accepted

We've played many enjoyable games with the following system that does nothing to deal with the loss of trading, but handles the other issues raised above quite well:

Setup for 2 Player Settlers of Catan

  1. Change hex setup to barbell shape (see picture)
  2. 3 of each resource hex (ores always placed as shown with 3-8-11, rest randomized)
  3. 8 randomized ports (5 2:1, 3 3:1)
  4. A set of randomized numbers on either side of barbell (set 1: 4,5,8,9,10,11) (set 2: 2,3,5,6,9,10)
  5. 12 victory points
  6. 7's get rerolled for the first 6 rounds of play (we call this "Robber Delay")
  7. Use Robber Equalizer rule:

The Robber Equalizer rule is our slow-the-leader mechanism, and it works by making rolls of 7 less and less likely to stick the further behind you are. First determine how far behind you are by counting up victory points in the normal manner for settlements and cities (but don't include longest road or largest army). Then add 1/3 for each played soldier, each road link, and each unplayed development card.

A 7 rolled by someone who is behind always counts. Each time a 7 is rolled by the player who is ahead, reroll the dice and the 7 sticks if the roll is high enough according to the chart - for example if you're ahead by 1 and 2/3, you need to roll 6 or higher for the robber to stick:

Point  Minimum
Diff.  Roll
1/3    2
2/3    3
1      4
1 1/3  5
1 2/3  6
2      7
2 1/3  8
2 2/3  9
3      10
3 1/3  11
3 2/3  12

If the robber does not stick, then then the dice must be rerolled, and only a number other than 7 will count.

We've played dozens of games with these rules and the games are fairly balanced thanks to the Robber Equalizer rule, though the rule does lead to not being so afraid about having to discard half your hand later in the game as the 7 may not stick, which can be an advantage to the player in the lead.

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Perhaps you should modify the Robber Equalizer Rule so that the discarding occurs whenever a 7 is rolled, and the Equalization only applies to robber placement & theft. –  Gregor Jan 12 '12 at 21:23
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One minor suggestion: ensure each player gets one 3:1 port, and randomize the other six. Why? Because it ensures a 3-2 split of the other ports. In the layout shown above, I think the player with four 2:1 ports is likely to have a definite advantage. –  Tynam Jan 17 '12 at 11:16
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@Tynam - Note that we randomize the ports and that we allow players to set up on either side. So if one side had all the 2:1 ports, each player could choose whether to be on that side or not, and in most games we played, we each chose one initial settlement on both sides. I showed the ports in the picture in order to indicate their locations. Nevertheless, your idea of insuring at least one 3:1 port per side is intriguing. –  Joe Golton Jan 17 '12 at 13:35
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@Tim Most times I played this was 5-10 years ago so I can't remember too well why we ended up with this precise setup. My best guess is that we found that slightly imbalanced sides made for more interesting games than perfectly balanced sides - I do remember we kept changing around the setup until we fell in love with this one. But I encourage you to experiment and report back results. I believe that the barbell shape and 3-8-11 middle was more important to making this interesting than the precise distribution of numbers on either end. And the robber equalization was even more important. –  Joe Golton Aug 12 '13 at 16:23
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I've been playing a bunch of Settlers of Catan Jr. with my kids. They solve the trading by having normal "bank" trading and also having a "bazaar". They put one of each resource out and you can trade 1:1 for any resource in the bazaar once per turn. If the bazaar ever ends up with all of the same resource, you discard those resources and put one of each back out. –  Alex B Dec 23 '13 at 16:50

Take a look at my YouTube video for a great 2 Player Settlers of Catan version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcK5WhjRWio

“Settlers of Catan” is designed for 3 or 4 players. When played by 2 players, the game has issues that affect play if standard rules are used. Here are some of the concerns:

• There is less competition for territory because there is more land per player. Solution? Less Territory!

• In a 2 player game, once a player gets ahead in resource gathering potential (settlements and cities in good locations), it is nearly impossible for the other player to catch up. This isn't as big of a problem in a 3 or 4 player game, since the other players tend to "gang up" on the leading player. With only 2 players, one player can run away with the game in the early stages. Solution? Robin Hood Robber!

• Because there are only 2 players, there are fewer chances between turns to get Resources than when playing with 3 or 4 players. Solution? Special features to increase chances to get Resources!

• Player/player trading doesn't happen, since any trade helps your ONLY competitor. Solution? Proportionally more Ports in Play!

TWO PLAYER GAME SETUP

Build the game border upside down so that no ports are showing. This will leave a Water Border, and Ports will be placed later.

Resource Tiles: TAKE ONE OF EACH RESOURCE TILE AND TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN. The Game Board uses the following Resource Tiles: • 3 Forests • 3 Fields • 3 Pastures • 2 Hills • 2 Mountains • 1 Desert • 5 Water Cards (the upside down Resource Tiles mentioned above )

Placing Resource Tiles on the Game Board: Take the 13 resource tiles and the desert tile, shuffle well, and place them in one pile, face up. Place the Water tiles (the 6 unused Resource Tiles, upside down) in another pile. Start placing tiles using the “Variable Set-Up” method as per the standard Rules, but randomize the Resource and Water cards by rolling a single die: • Roll of 1 or 2, place an Water tile • Roll of 3 to 6, place a Resource tile

Number Tokens: Remove one each of the 3, 4, 10 and 11 number tokens. In this game, combine the 2 and 12 number tokens and use them in tandem on one Resource hex. All other number tokens are used on the remaining individual Resource hexes (Desert Tiles and Water tiles do NOT get numbered). NOTE: Using the 2 and 12 token combination on one resource gives the same odds as rolling a 3 or 11.

Place all number tiles using the “Variable Set-Up” method as per the standard Rules, remembering that the Red number tokens (the 6’s and the 8’s) CANNOT be next to each other.

HEX LAYOUT EXAMPLES:

Port Placement: 9 loose port tiles are used- Five “2:1” Port for each of the 5 Resources, plus Four “? 3:1” Port. Use the standard Port Placement locations from the regular game, with the following exceptions: if a port cannot be used because a water tile is there, then move the port to another tile with water frontage following these rules: • Isolated single hexes are given ports first • Ports are placed on the “Flat” of a hex pointing to water • Ports must be a minimum of 2 flats away from each other • No individual hex can have more than 1 port • No “Cove” Ports (have a U shape with 3 hexes and the port at the bottom of the u) • New Port locations are placed one at a time by alternate players • No port can be placed on a single landlocked water hex • Ports may be placed in an inland lake of 2 hexes or more.

Rule Modifications

• New Set Up: Game Board is set up differently (see “Game Set-Up” section)

• Bridge Building: Bridges can be built to connect land over water. Ore and Wood make a Bridge. Bridges can be up to two spans in length, maximum.

• Robin Hood Rule: When a 7 is rolled, then the player with the fewest victory points controls the robber (Robin Hood). When players have the same number of victory points, the player who rolled the dice controls the robber. Do NOT count Victory points hidden in Development Cards. Giving control of the robber to the trailing player helps prevent the other player from running away with the game.

• No Robber in play until each player has 3 Victory Points (not counting Victory Points hidden in Development Cards): If a 7 is rolled during this phase, re-roll.

• No Player Trades: Players may only trade with the bank (4:1 turn-ins) or at a sea port. No trades between players, since with only 2 players against each other it is rare to agree on trades. Since there are less resource tiles, port ratio increases.

• Cards in Hand: The limit for the number of cards a player can hold when the robber is activated is increased from 7 to 9. In the four player game there is ample opportunity to trade with other players between turns. In this variant, players tend to accumulate more cards between turns, so the limit was increased accordingly.

Hope you like it!

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I love that you joined the Board and Card Games community here to share your comprehensive, play tested set of rules for 2 player Settlers. Thanks! I hope you stick around and share your expertise for questions on Settlers or other games you play. –  Joe Golton May 24 '12 at 4:39
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+1 Reducing the map size with lakes is downright brilliant! –  Alex P May 24 '12 at 15:01

My boyfriend and I play Cities and Knights 2 player all the time. I feel like that game makes a very balanced 2 person game.

The randomness of getting Progress cards and the fact that you're not dealing with the same objectives in regular Catan make the game quite fun.

no alterations to the rules other than the barbarians don't attack on the first time the ship reaches Catan, and the robber is also delayed till then as well. everything else we play by normal rules of C&K and we haven't reached a snag yet.

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Is there a slow-the-leader mechanism? Or do you find in Cities and Knights that the player who takes a substantial lead first usually wins? –  Joe Golton Jan 17 '12 at 15:14
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Actually, when we play, i usually have a huge lead (like 4-5 points) but my bf usually catches up fast because of the different ways to get points. So its good for people who plan a few turns ahead and works for people who play turn by turn. –  OghmaOsiris Jan 17 '12 at 19:57

Online I found some unofficial rules for 2 player which were easy to use and remember. You set up the game as normal and the play is modified like this:

  1. Each player rolls twice per turn.
  2. If the robber is rolled, the player with the lowest number of victory points places the robber. If victory points are tied then whom ever rolled the 7 places the robber.
  3. No trading
  4. Play to 10 victory points

The double roll equalizes the lack of resources by only having 2 people. Robber will always strive to slow the person in the lead. Trading doesn't make sense with two people so you just get rid of it.

The other modification we tend to do is to deal the number chits face down during setup. Then after initial placements are made turn them over to finish the start board. It throws an element of randomness into the game and eliminates playing the number odds. Instead you end up playing the resources and hope for good numbers. This does backfire from time to time but makes for interesting games.

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Welcome to B&CG! –  Pat Ludwig Jan 18 '12 at 15:29

Me and a friend came up with a solution last night on how to play a 2-person catan game that actually worked really well and very close to the original rules. Rules:

  • Instead of rolling both dice to see who goes first we both only roll one.

  • Instead of placing (2) settlements to begin with, we each start with (3) to fill the board more off the start.

  • The order we found to lay them down fairly we found worked best and most closely resembled the original was player 1 chooses 1-4-5 while player 2 gets 2-3-6 for choices.

  • Both players now collect up to (9) cards (depending on settlement placement) and begin the game.

  • Because both players are starting with now (9) cards, if a 7 is rolled on either players first roll it has no effect and that player may choose the card of their choice from the bank. Afterward 7's and the knight card work as normal.

  • We raised the Victory point cap to 12 instead of 10 since it really did need it for both players to have the time to compete.

  • Trading, we actually found that we still needed each other to trade with and after 3 games were both mutually reliant, and it felt still similar to a 3-4 person game but with less options. Starting with more initial hexes also helps to receive the necessary resources to not be so stranded.

Other options:

  • Something we considered was lengthening the initial longest road requirements to 7 roads.

  • Also something we've discussed including in this and larger group scenarios is implementing "Largest Port trader" that once you acquire (3) coastal ports you receive an additional 2 VP's.

As you can see, the rules remain essentially unchanged and just mildly modified only for the game's beginning. All three games we played were extremely close and we considered the experiment to be a success.

We found it worked best though when the desert was placed away from the coast to break up the center island more.

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Clever idea to start with more settlements and 9 resources with 1 turn robber delay. The worst thing that can happen in 2 player games is 7 gets rolled early and then not for a while, allowing the player who rolled a 7 to easily walz to victory. By starting with more settlements and a bunch of resources, a roll of 7 is not so devastating on turn 2. –  Joe Golton Aug 4 '13 at 12:54

The Traders and Barbarians expansion includes an official two player varient that involves having two fake players (one of whom will build at the same time as a real player does) and tokens (gained by building in unfavourable locations, such as by the desert) that can force trades and make the robber flee.

A copy of the rules is available from BGG.

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This is the best 2 player variant for recreating the 4 player experience :) –  Nick Jun 7 '12 at 11:11

Have each player play two positions in the game, in alternating turn order. Disallow trading between the two positions controlled by the same player.

  1. Trade opportunities will be twice as common as strict two player play.
  2. The leading position will be targeted by the robber up to 2/4 of the time and the trailing position <1/4 of the time.
  3. The normal board setup is appropriately sized for this many positions.
  4. The robber can function as normal.
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Have you tested this 2 player method? –  Joe Golton Aug 8 '13 at 19:47
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I've played with 4 people in two teams of two. The trading rule was required to avoid a runaway winner situaiton. –  Sparr Aug 9 '13 at 20:16

This are my homemade rules, tested in several games. The trick is just: reuse the setup for four players (since that setting is widely tested) and make a limit to avoid "unbalances" toward one of the two colors.

Here i use color or colors meaning the faction that is playing and not the player (because in a 1on1 each player controls two factions).

  • for the first two turns (that is: each color will play two times) the robber can't be triggered, so a roll of seven means: reroll.
  • the robber can't be placed again in the same hexagon if a seven is rolled.
  • both the development cards or the ports (if the color just build a colony attached to a port) can be played/used in the next turn of the color after their construction. In one turn a color can play one development card (except victory points). Moreover if a settlement is built by a color it cannot be upgraded to a city in the same turn.
  • At the start of the game the colonies can be placed only on crossroads where 3 roads intersect, so no all ports at the start can be directly used. (explanation in the comments)
  • Each player will play two colors as they were independent (except for trading, we will see this after). So, at the start, when the player set the cycle of colors during the turn, the player that will play first will play as first and as third (deciding which color is first and which is third), the player that will play as second will do the same, playing as second and as fourth. The placement of the colonies and so on will follow the original rules for the game with four players.
  • remember that even if a player controls two colors each color is independent of the other and can block the other color as well, as they were enemies (so the player should be careful in the develop of the game)
  • the trading between the colors of the same player is without costs, but since each color is independent the benefit of a port of the color A can't be shared with the color B (in the case that both are controlled by the same player) if the color B is playing (that is: except for the trading cost, you follow the rules of catan with 4 players).
  • A settlements or roads can be built only if there is a clear conjunction with a previous settlement of the color. That is: given the configuration SRRR[eventual more roads] (where S is settlement or city and R is road) for the color A, that is a "long road" without settlements except for the first; if another color build a settlement (S) over this roaad, for example: SRR_S_R, then the color A cannot build other roads starting from the last road, because the last road is disconnected (due to S) from the previous settlement.
  • victory condition: the player that reach with a color 10 or more points win if and only if the other color that is under his control has at least 5 points (else the game continue), and, to raise the difficulty (just try and see) you can require that the other color needs 6 points at least (instead of 5). Warning if a color reach ten or more points, it becomes inactive, that is: it doesn't collect any new resource (but it can play what is remaining). (as if the game is ended with four players); else a player can just develop one color to help, afterwards, the other.
  • construction interrupted: a road or a city, of a given color, can be built, following the basic rules of the games, only if the place of construction is directly connected with (at least) one existing road of the same color that is not interrupted by any other color (the allied color is not ok). That is: (i) all the segments of the road are connected each other as the game requires; (ii) the road is connected with at least one village/city of the color (from which the resources, to build the new structure, come) and there is no village/city of other colors that stands between two segment of the road and that is nearer to the construction site than any other village/city of the color itself (it is like that if there is a village/city of another color, this city stops all the traffic to the construction site. Even if the other color is an allied color).
  • allied colors fight for prizes: if a player that control two colors has both with a road of seven segments, no color gets the reward "the longest road". Because it is like that the color are allied but not willing to let the other color "took prizes just to win the war". So the player should play carefully to not play against himself.
  • handicaps: if a player is too strong the other can get a bonus (don't look down to handicaps/bonus, the point of a game is have a challenge and not won with ease / lose without hope. Try them in quakelive!). For example: a player can place, at the start, cities instead of villages for each 2nd choice of each color. Still getting one resource card for every adjacent hexagon at the very start but, during the game, having since the start a city for each color. Another alternative can be place a city instead of a village for the 2nd choice of the 2nd managed color of the player (this because the 2nd choices for each color normally can use spots that are not so good as the 1st choices, and the 2nd managed color place the 2nd choice before the 1st managed color so more good spots are available). And so on, you can test out your own bonuses/handicaps.
  • suggestion to define the best player: the two players should play 4 subgames, rotating the colors sequence. This to allow a better distribution of the result of the dice, because in some games the dice can show very few "probable" numbers. So if the first subgame sequence is red, blue, white, yellow , then the second subgame sequence will be blue, white, yellow, red (or the alternative shift, i mean yellow, red, blue, white), the third subgame will be W, Y, R, B (or the accordingly alternative shift) and the last subgame will be Y, R, B, W (or the accordingly alternative shift). In every game the fraction of each player is counted and then the sum of every subgame define the best player. So if in the 1st subgame the player, for now called P1, with R and W makes 17 points (remember: the minimum is 15) and the other player, P2, makes 12 points; then in the second subgame P1 (always controlling the same colors) makes 14 points and P2 (again, controlling the same color of the 1st subgame) makes 15 points; in the 3rd subgame P1 makes 16 points and P2 makes 14; in the 4th subgame P1 makes 11 points and P2 makes 18 points. Then the sums are: P1 = 17/29 + 14/29 + 16/30 + 11/29 ; P2 = 12/29 + 15/29 + 14/30 + 18/29 ; where P1 = 862/435 < P2 = 878/435 , therefore P2 wins.
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Welcome to B&CG Stack Exchange! –  Alex P Feb 14 at 21:28
    
Can you explain why you added this rule? "At the start of the game the colonies can be placed only on crossroads where 3 roads intersect, so no ports at the start." Does starting with a port just become too powerful otherwise? –  Alex P Feb 14 at 21:29
    
@AlexP: thanks :) , i won't post frequently anyway. For the rule, because so the placement is harder and yes, no one will have an "head start". This avoid easy "changes" since the player controls two colors and can make internal trading without cost. (i.e: i place my color A settlements over the wool, and then the color B settlement over the port with wool) –  Pierfrancesco PierQR Aiello Feb 19 at 12:07

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