My wife and I were introduced to the goodness that is Settlers of Catan a year or so ago by a good friend. It's now a staple of our circle of gaming friends. We've even evangelized it; we introduced my parents to it over the 2001 Thanksgiving holiday, and they promptly went out and purchased their own copy for Christmas and are teaching it to their friends. It looks like my wife's parents are also going to be buying it.
Mostly, we play straight Settlers and Starfarers, with the occasional Settlers card game for fun. We do have the 5-6 player exansion for the basic game, and will be checking into the expansion for Starfarers. We have friends who own the Seafarers and Cities & Knights expansion sets (as well as the corresponding 5-6 player expansions for those) but don't really play those too much. As of yet, we have none of the historical expansion packs.
If you don't know what Settlers of Catan (and its spinoffs and expansion
sets) is, here's a link to the site of the US manufacturer:
Mayfair Games' Settlers of Catan page
We've played enough to realize that the basic setup of Settlers is subtly unbalanced, such that given players of equal ability, a given color is at a slight but noticeable disadvantage (this seems to be true of all the Catan games). While this can be overcome, it's usually the result of really bad streaks of luck with the dice, which is an unsatisfying way to win.
With that in mind, I set out to design a layout that not only provides a fairly balanced field, but also is aesthetically pleasing (an important psychological consideration in fostering a feeling of balance). The random method usually results in clumps of hexes of the same type, which usually ends up in one player dominating that resource. The layout below prevents that and provides a simple to remember yet pleasing field for beginners and experts alike. This is our favored layout for teaching new players the basics of the game.
Figure 1: The Ganger Layout
Please take note of the location of the port corners on the port hexes.
The only thing not indicated on this map is the number tokens; lay those out as directed in the rules (start at a corner and spiral your way in towards the center in alphabetical order, skipping the desert). From there, the players then place their settlements and roads per the advanced rules.
If you use this layout and like it, why don't you drop me some feedback? You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.
Thanks! I hope to have more material here soon, including variants, tips, and material for other Catan games.....