Best Catan Expansions: A Buying Guide

This Catan Expansion Buying Guide is based on the fantastic comment by IanReese in the Which Settlers of Catan expansions can be played with each other? thread. I've rewritten a bit of it. If there's anything I should change, please leave a comment.

Catan Expansions vs Extensions

One important thing to note is the difference between expansion and extensions for Catan. This Generally Expansions add new game elements, while extensions add more pieces.

How all these work together is a bit complicated. This guide focuses on Expansions. However, if you just want to figure out what packs you’ll need, the thread below has a cool chart to help you decide what expansions and extensions to buy.

Seafarers Expansion: A Great First Expansion

Often the most recommended first expansion. It adds the fewest new rules and they mostly follow the same patterns as the original game.

  • New land and water tiles
  • Shipping lanes, which work as roads do, but on water
  • A new tile type, gold, which grants a resource of your choosing
  • A pirate piece that can halt the building of shipping lanes
  • Victory point threshold is increased from 10 to 14 points

I’d say there’s also a bit more structure in setup. With the original game you can essentially shuffle all the hex tiles and place them down. With Seafarers it’s harder to do that and get an interesting game. There are a handful of setups that are recommended.

All-in all, this is probably the best Catan expansion for most people. It’s easy to learn and adds a good bit more replayability.

Catan Seafarers Expansion

The best first expansion for most players

The Seafarers expansion adds new islands, shipping lanes, pirates and a new tile type. It adds a few more elements to the original game, without changing play significantly.

Cities & Knights Expansion: For Those Who Want More Depth

The Cities & Knights adds a significant amount of complexity to the base game including armies, technologies, commodities. If you wish Catan had a bit more depth, Cities & Knights is the expansion for you.

  • Commodity cards (coins, paper and cloth) that can be used to improve your cities
  • Progress cards (trade, politics and science) that replace development cards
  • An event die that determines if barbarians move closer or a progress card is handed out
  • A barbarian ship that moves towards Catan
  • Knights pieces that that can be upgraded and used to defend against barbarian attacks
  • Metropolis pieces that are placed on cities that add victory points and have some other advantages

Note: the extra rules will likely make turns take much longer. It can get boring if you’re playing with friends and it takes 10 minutes to complete a turn.

Catan Cities & Knights Expansion

The best Catan expansion for those who want more depth and complexity

Cities & Knights makes Catan feel very similar to the Civilization game series. It adds commodity and progress cards to the game, barbarians, knight pieces and upgradable cities. This is the expansion for those who love Catan, but wish it had a bit more depth.

Traders & Barbarians Expansion: Less Variation, but More Structured Scenarios

This expansion along with Explorers & Pirates are a good bit different than the original two expansions. These offer a collection of scenarios that can be altered or combined to create a ton of different ways to play.

This box includes 5 scenarios:

  • The Fishermen of Catan adds sea tiles that can be converted into fishing grounds. As a resource fish can be spent in some unique ways.
  • The Rivers of Catan adds a few river hex tiles. Building along the river grants additional victory points.
  • The Great Caravans adds wool and grain as commodities and camel routes that provide additional resource points.
  • Barbarian Invasion adds invading barbarians, which must be fended off with new knight pieces.
  • Traders and Barbarians is the flagship scenario in this expansion (hence the name). Players have a caravan and wagons to move commodities between hex tiles. Successful deliveries result in victory points. This scenario contains new tiles including: a castle, glass and marble.

There are some smaller variants such as Harbormaster, Catan Event Cards and 2-player Catan. These variants can be added to just about any Catan expansion.

Catan Traders & Barbarians Expansion

A collection of scenarios that can be mixed and matched with other expansions

Traders & Barbarians adds 5 scenarios and a handful of smaller variants, such as Harbormaster, to the original game.


Explorers & Pirates Expansion: A Collection of Scenarios that Build on Each Other

Explorers & Pirates is the newest of the Catan expansions. Like Traders & Barbarians this expansion is a collection of smaller scenarios that can be mixed and matched. These focus on new game mechanics that are built around exploring.

Here are the scenarios included in Explorers and Pirates:

  • In Land Ho! players must send expeditions to discover two new islands. Ships must ferry settlers to these new islands in order to colonize them.
  • Pirate Lairs! adds pirates that interact with your trading ships. Discovering their pirate lairs to earn gold and victory points.
  • In Fish for Catan! players are rewarded with victory points for returning fish to the main island and capturing pirate lairs.
  • Spices for Catan! has players seek out fish and spices from foreign islands. When seeking these commodities players can uncover faster sailing or the ability to fend off pirates.
  • Explorers & Pirates combines all the above scenarios into a single game. This creates the largest game board and pushes the threshold to 17 victory points.

Each expansion contains a scenario that builds on the next one. It gives you the opportunity to learn how to play the full expansion while playing the game. By the time you get to the Explorers & Pirates scenario, you have a good idea of what strategies to use.

Of all the expansions I’d say Explorers & Pirates offers the biggest change in gameplay from the original Catan.

Catan Explorers & Pirates Expansion

A collection of scenarios that build on each other

Published in 2013, Explorers & Pirates is the newest Catan expansion. It includes a collection of scenarios with mechanics that build on one another. An excellent expansion for those that enjoyed Traders & Barbarians.

Before you Buy…

One suggestion I would make before purchasing any of these expansions—download Catan Universe and purchase the expansion you’re considering. Universe is a digital version of the game and much cheaper than the board game. You can purchase all the expansions in Catan Universe for about $20 and play them across any number of devices.

That way you can get a better feel for gameplay before spending $50 or more on a single expansion.


  • Catan, BoardGameGeek, Retrieved 6/5/2019

  • Lewdawg, Catan Expansion Buying Guide, reddit, Retrieved 6/5/2019

  • r/boardgames, reddit, Retrieved 6/5/2019

  • Board Game Overview,, Retrieved 6/5/2019


Glad my comment was helpful!

If anyone reading this guide has any questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

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My boyfriend and I have a few friends we play with regularly. We own both seafarers and cities and knights. Those that know that game seafarers is an absolute must. It adds some additional variation to the game without making it more complicated. That is the version we play the most.

As for cities and knights, I enjoy the mechanics, but turns take absolutely forever. There is so much more that needs to be considered every turn it starts to get pretty boring. If anyone has some suggestions for speeding up or improving gameplay, I’d love to hear it!

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Thanks for the response Katie! That mirrors my own experience with the game.