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The 4 Best Catan Expansions

The 4 Best Catan Expansions

On the ninth of November in 1989, the Berlin Wall was demolished. Just five years later, a German dental technician invented The Settlers of Catan, likely the most well-known Euro game in modern history.

Euro games encourage indirect player interaction, economic and resource management. They also tend to be less confrontational in nature than American-style board games. Thought and planning often go hand in hand as players implement ingenious strategies in order to win the game. 

With a Euro game as popular as Catan, additions are inevitable. If you search the Internet for “best Catan expansions,” you get a ton of results, including expansions, extensions, variants and spinoffs. We’ve cut through the noise for you – we did not focus on any of the extraneous stuff here, just the real honest-to-God Catan expansions. Here are our top picks for the best Catan expansions. 

Our Top Picks – Best Catan Expansions

Catan - Seafarers Box Art.

Best Catan Expansion: Seafarers

The best Catan expansion out there, Seafarers makes a splash. It introduces the concept of sailing across sea tiles in order to explore and settle new land beyond your horizons!

Catan - Cities & Knights Box Art.

Best Catan Expansion for Strategy: Cities & Knights

This expansion is the one to get if you’re looking for strategy! The introduction of paper, cloth and coins, along with knights and a shiny trifecta of completely new commodity-focused decks all make this a must-have for strategic expansion.

Catan - Traders & Barbarians Box Art.

Best Catan Expansion for Variety: Traders & Barbarians

Basically a variety pack packed with plenty of mini-expansions, Traders & Barbarians lets you conquer Catan with two to four players. The included Event cards help balance out some of the sting of a bad dice roll, and this expansion plays nice with other expansions!

The Best Catan Expansions

Best Catan Expansions: Traders and Barbarians

Players: 2 - 4 // Game time: 60 - 120 minutes // Age: 10+ // Difficulty: Medium

Publisher: Catan Studio

The best way of thinking about Traders & Barbarians as a Catan expansion is to think of it as a mechanical gear. It’s solid, sturdy and respectable. But the gameplay that this expansion offers is akin to multiple cogs or teeth on the gear itself- you’re leaping from one tooth to the other, not quite getting an overall cohesive experience that elevates your playing level.

This is still one of the best Catan expansions out there because it provides you with tons of components. It introduces new meeples, new land and sea hexes, new cards and new concepts. 

The best thing about this one is that you can actually layer in another expansion and it’ll click well in place with this Traders & Barbarians mechanical gear. It’s a bit like being a trader or barbarian, actually- you’re a bit unruly and rough around the edges. You do get five new scenarios and four variants all in one box, though! 

Here are the scenarios that are included as part of Traders & Barbarians

  • The Fishermen of Catan
  • The Rivers of Catan
  • The Great Caravan
  • Barbarian Invasion
  • Traders & Barbarians 

The scenarios range in difficulty and give you more mission-specific tasks that align well with other expansions. Unfortunately, though, three of the scenarios are already available elsewhere, so there are only two all-new scenarios (Barbarian Invasion and Traders & Barbarians). 

The minor variants include new two-player rules, event cards, the Harbormaster card and friendly Robber rules. The two-player rules are awesome, as are the Event cards- they reduce the “swinginess” or reliance on luck that the base game has, always a win in our experience. The Harbormaster card and friendly Robber cards are misses, though, and don’t enhance gameplay. All in all, think of this expansion as a cornucopia of options.

Buy Traders & Barbarians on Amazon

The Traders & Barbarians expansion is for the experienced Catan player who wants to squeeze every bit out of the experience. We don’t recommend it for beginner players, as this one is really a collection of several mini-expansions that layer on top of each other rather than one chonky expansion (you know you love the chonk)!

Players: 2 - 4 // Game time: 90 - 120 minutes // Age: 12+ // Difficulty: Medium

Publisher: Catan Studio

The island of Catan multiplies threefold, creating three distinct islands, two of which are hidden by a “fog of war” at the beginning of the game. You begin on the first island as an intrepid explorer, ready to conquer hexes and fight for much-needed resources. 

The Explorers & Pirates expansion is absolutely one of the best Catan expansions yet, because it unfolds so much over time. As an explorer, you build ships that transport settlers to undiscovered lands. You reap resource rewards when you are the first to discover a land hex, and when you’re done with your settlers and ships, you can convert them into ports.

Ports allow you to further explore your lands, allowing you to build new roads and ships. They replace Catan cities, which you can’t build in this expansion. Building a port gives you two victory points, just like a city, but the number of victory points you’ll need to win varies by scenario. 

Scenarios, you ask? Yep. Explorers & Pirates is one of the best Settlers of Catan expansions because it includes five intriguing scenarios that increase in difficulty as you go along. You begin with an intro scenario that shows you the ropes, and then you end with a longer scenario that encourages you to discover new territories, destroy pirate lairs, find schools of fish to feed your people and diplomatically manage the citizens of the Spice Islands! 

Who This Expansion is For

Explorers & Pirates is the best Catan expansion for players who want goal-based play. The base game is terrific – don’t get us wrong – but it doesn’t provide a sense of long-lasting accomplishment. With Explorers & Pirates that all changes. You play through five scenarios, providing you with nine missions in total. Perfect for the beginner or intermediate Catan player who’s ready to level up. This expansion doesn’t play well with Seafarers (even the designer said so himself), and you’ll feel boxed in by your scenarios included here, so that’s why this one lands a bit lower on the list.

Buy Explorers & Pirates on Amazon

You’ve decided to grab Explorers & Pirates and already have the five-to-six player extension for the Catan base game. Great! There’s something ya oughta know- there’s an Explorers & Pirates five-to-six player extension perfect for party night.

Players: 3 - 4 // Game time: 90 - 120 minutes // Age: 12+ // Difficulty: Medium

Publisher: Catan Studio

Ever feel like sheep are the most unrewarding resource to barter with? With the Catan base game, that belief is completely warranted. Sheep are, well, just sheep. 

Herald the knights! 

Cities & Knights is arguably the best Catan expansion in terms of strategy. And why wouldn’t it be? This expansion elevates sheep to holy grail status, as you’ll need sheep to create powerful Knights out of thin air. You can build knights throughout your lands, as long as they’re connected by a road. Your knights then seize control of certain road intersections and clear Robbers and Barbarians out of your territory. The more knights you acquire, the richer the reward! 

Sure, you’ve already got cities in the base game, but Cities & Knights is one of the best Catan expansions out there because it adds such a rich layer of complexity atop the base game- a must-have. You can add paper, cloth and coins obtained from forests, meadows and mountains to your inventory, so you’re not stuck with the same old wood, sheep and ore. You’ll start the game with a city and settlement on the board. As you go along, you’ll gain commodities that allow you to improve your cities, snaring all-important advantages. 

The usual deck of development cards you have in Catan goes bye-bye in this expansion- you don’t play with that deck. Instead, you play with three different commodity-focused decks. You’ll be able to build city improvements that help you draw more cards with your dice rolls. We love the introduction of the three decks- they make the game just a bit more balanced.

Who This Expansion is For

Cities & Knights is such a fun play because it absolutely feels natural- in fact, we wish it was included in the Catan base game to begin with! This is perfect for the intermediate player who has twenty or so play sessions under her belt, and is looking for something more strategic. This adds a certain spice to the base game, as you’re wheeling and dealing while trying to fend off Barbarian invasions and filling your stockroom with new goods!

Buy Cities & Knights on Amazon

There’s also a Cities & Knights extension for five to six players. Grab the official two-pack, which includes the Cities & Knights expansion, along with the five-to-six player extension here. Sometimes it can be a better value than buying the two separately!

Players: 3 - 4 // Game time: 60 - 120 minutes // Age: 10+ // Difficulty: Medium

Publisher: Catan Studio

For Euro game designers, perfecting the mechanics of a game is often more important than thematic appearance. Seafarers goes in the opposite direction and pours thematic elements into Catan in a very good way. 

It’s our number one best Catan expansion for good reason. It introduces an epic quest you’ll embark on in order to settle your island, build a fleet of ships and explore uncharted waters near and far. It includes brand-new ships, pirates, sea hexes, tokens, gold fields and scenarios that make it something you’ll bring to family game night. 

The introduction of a “frame” transforms Catan into a large rectangle made up of many unexplored hexes, but also gives you some boundaries. The addition of shipping lanes to the base game is great, as you use them to transport goods and resources to / from previously unconnected regions. Pirates roam these waters, just like Robbers wander throughout your lands, so be careful! 

Here are the eleven scenarios that are included as part of Seafarers

  • New Shores
  • The Four Islands (Level III)
  • The Four Islands (Level IV)
  • Oceans (Level III)
  • Oceans (Level IV)
  • Into the Desert (Level III)
  • Into the Desert (Level IV)
  • A New World (Level III)
  • A New World (Level IV)
  • The Great Crossing (Level IV)
  • Greater Catan (Level IV)

On the surface, Seafarers and Explorers & Pirates seem like they should be compatible. They’re not. They both have a completely different way of transporting settlers via ships and settling new islands. The differences are, in fact, so marked that gameplay with those two expansions together is just… well… confusing.

You are essentially forced to pick between those two expansions if you’re looking for an aquatic immersion in all things Catan, and for us Seafarers provides the richer, smoother, more immersive experience of the two. We would love to not stick to shipping lanes and prefer the open-world movement of ships in Explorers & Pirates, but honestly that’s one of a very small number of knocks against the numero uno best Settlers of Catan expansion out there- Seafarers

Who This Expansion is For

If you already enjoy the base game, Seafarers turns a pretty neat game into a more expansive game. There are more strategies to consider, more hexes to uncover, and gold fields to take advantage of. This expansion edges out Cities & Knights because it’s all about theme, size and scale. While Cities & Knights feels like it should have been included in the base game, Seafarers feels like the real expansion you’re looking for. Mighty waves crash onto Catan shores here, fundamentally shifting your play experience, strategy and dialect (many’s the time we’ve been caught carryin’ on in pirate talk, ye mateys)!

Buy Seafarers on Amazon

There’s also a Seafarers extension for five to six players. Grab the official Seafarers five-to-six player extension here.

That’s A Wrap!

Our top four picks of the Best Catan Expansions include games for casual or beginner players, intermediate and advanced players.

The thing is, there are only four legit The Settlers of Catan expansions. Wait, what? 

The Settlers of Catan has a long history of creating expansions, five-to-six player extensions, spin-offs, scenarios and variants. 

I know, I know- you were excited about turning Catan into your personal final frontier, complete with a brand-new galaxy to explore. Not happenin’ with the official expansions- you’ll need to buy your choice of three whole different games, spinoffs all. 

Starship Catan – A two-player spin-off that just applies the principles of two-player Catan to space. It’s out of print, so your best bet is to scour eBay for it. 

CATAN: Starfarers (2nd Edition) – A variant of Catan set in outer space. This game is nearly universally loved. 

Star Trek Catan – This is the game to get if you’re a fan of anything Star Trek. There’s a Federation Space Map expansion you can get for this one, making it even more of a rabbit hole. 

There are also a good amount of small expansions for the two-player version of Catan, otherwise known as Rivals for Catan. We recommend the Deluxe version of that game, which includes three distinct eras, giving you more bang for the buck. There are two expansions available for Rivals for Catan (Age of Enlightenment and Age of Darkness, respectively). 

And there’s the whole line of Catan Histories, which include everything from the Rise of the Inkas to Merchants of Europe to the Settlers of America

Wherever you choose to explore, you’re in good hands with just one of the best Catan expansions. There’s no need to be completionist- there’s simply too much fun to be had right here in the realm of the original. If you don’t have the base game yet or want to give it as a thoughtful gift, we heartily recommend the Catan 25th Anniversary Edition!

Header Photo Credit: Thanks, Catan Studio! cc

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