You're bored on a Saturday afternoon, which obviously means you need to defeat every one of your loved ones at Settlers of CATAN. COVID-19 may have put your annual in-person CATAN tournament with your college besties on hold, but luckily (or unluckily, depending on how bad you are at trading ore), it's still possible to play Settlers of CATAN online using Zoom.
Online versions of board and role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons and Monopoly, have rocketed in popularity in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic forces people to isolate away from their usual gaming tables. To play CATAN online, all you really need is an internet connection, somebody with a Zoom account, and players equally desperate for Victory points.
While CATAN's most famous in its offline board form, the makers have created an online version, CATAN Universe that's free to play, with add-ons available for purchase. It's available for Mac, PC, on Steam, and via the Apple App store. The base game you'll know from your game nights is free for up to three players. You can also customize your player avatars and alter levels of difficulty to suit your group's experience level.
When you first register, you're given 100 gold pieces and two scrolls, which can be put towards expansion packs or special features, including "Seafarers" or the two-player variation "Rivals for CATAN." Earning scrolls also lets you try expansions before you buy them; you can purchase them with scrolls for 24 hours, then decide if you want to actually own them. There are free tutorials on CATAN Universe too, in case Aunt Jean wants to learn to play for the first time.
Juliana Kaplan, reviewing CATAN Universe's gameplay for Business Insider in June, found that while logging in and setting up a game with your friends can be time-consuming, it's a relatively smooth and intuitive online interface. You simply drag and drop your roads and cities, though there's no 'undo' button if you happen to drop them in the wrong place.
But there are drawbacks. For one, CATAN Universe is set up for three human players; if you want to play with more, you'll have to purchase the full game for $3.99. For another, taking too long on your turn — over 90 seconds — will get you kicked out of the game and replaced by an AI player. The AI opponents can be a cool part of the online CATAN experience — you can play against them in a duel scenario if you like — but they can also step on your fun.
The biggest issue with CATAN Universe, however, is that it doesn't have video capability built in, as some other online game platforms do. It has an in-game chat function, but if you want to see your opponent's face when you pull off something spectacular, that might not be enough for you. Set up a Zoom chat or some other video chat function, and pin it to the top of your screen to maximize the experience if that's your jam. Now go hoard all the sheep you can.