Settlers of Catan and poker

On a recent trip I was introduced to a new board game with which some of you might be familiar -- The Settlers of Catan. Ever since it has pretty much become an obsession for me and my circle of friends. It's one of those games that anyone who plays usually gets hooked on right away. You start dreaming about it!

For those who haven't played it before, Catan is a little like a cross between Monopoly and Risk. The objective of the game is to secure 10 victory points which come from settlements, building cities, constructing the longest road or biggest army, and so on. In order get these points you have to trade with other players or place your resources on the board in ways that allow you to obtain them on your own.

It might seem simple, and in fact Catan isn't hard to learn how to play. But the more you play it, the more you realize how complicated the strategy can be. And that's just one of several ways the game is like poker, which also is easy to learn, but also a game that the more you play, the more you realize there is a lot more to it than when you first started.


For example, Catan helps you understand people better, which translates well into live poker. My poker background was primarily online, which meant I used to have difficulty when playing live and someone would talk to me or perhaps would be giving off tells. In Catan you have to engage your opponents in conversation and ask questions of them, which helps you learn more about how people think and the strategies they are following when making decisions.

Another similarity between Settlers of Catan and poker has to do with the way the board is always changing. Every time you play the board is laid out differently and you get different resources with which to work depending on what role you decide upon. But because the board changes, the placement of your tiles change, too.

That's like poker in a number of ways -- your hole cards are always changing, the community cards change, stack sizes change. So you have to adapt while also seeing how others adapt to the changes, too.

Position is important in Catan as well, just like in poker. You might be the first player to make a placement, and so you're at a disadvantage not knowing what your opponents will do. Or you get to act later and see what your opponent has done before you have to act.

It is the kind of game that those who master it can potentially win every time they play. In fact they have Catan tournaments across the world in which top players compete. But there is a luck factor involved as well with how the board gets drawn out and the dice rolls. That, too, is similar to poker, insofar as skillful play usually gets rewarded, but there is a chance factor, too, that can affect the outcome.

It's a game that your mind is always processing as well. I know that if I lose a game of Catan and don't play as well as I think I should have, I go back over what I did and try to think about the decisions and whether or not I could have won if I had played differently. Again, that's like poker such as when I bust from a tournament and look back to decide whether I might have misplayed a hand or if I could have done something differently. And if I've made a mistake, is it something I can correct going forward and avoid in the future?

A game of Catan usually lasts from 45 minutes up to two hours. But as you get better at the game, the pace gets faster. When first starting out, everyone plays a very straightforward game. But as the players progress and learn the strategy, your plan for getting victory points has to be somewhat hidden from your opponents so they won't get in your way and attack you when they realize what you're trying to do.

So that changes, too, again kind of like how poker evolves the more you play.

I think being a poker player has definitely allowed me to learn and progress in Settlers of Catan game more quickly than those who aren't poker players or who don't play other games. But as all of these similarities suggest, I think people who like Settlers of Catan can probably make the transition to poker, too, since they're already building some of the same skills.

It's really nerdy to say, but I think there's little I love more than sitting around with good friends, a glass of red wine and a few nibbles, and playing a fun board game. There are few things in life that give me more enjoyment.

So I'm looking forward to the next poker tournament, but in the meantime I'm going to relax with friends over my new favorite board game -- and work on my poker skills at the same time!

Celina Lin is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Celina Lin
@PokerStars in Celina Lin