Publisher: Kosmos / Mayfair
A great introduction to the German game genre
It was Settlers that got me interested in German games. We were in a games shop and had this weird-named game called The Settlers of Catan recommended by the sales person. It looked interesting enough, so we thought we'd take a gamble. Pretty surprising since Settlers isn't really a two-player game, and that's usually how many players there are at our table. (It works all right with two players if each takes two colours, although it still is really a three-to-four player game.) It was an instant hit, and we ended up carrying the game with us everywhere we went for the next two weeks, playing it in hotel rooms and airports.
The pieces are well-constructed and pretty to look at. The map of 37 hexagons is lots of fun to put together and the randomness of laying out the board adds replayability to the game.
The most important phase of the game is selecting a starting place for your two initial settlements. This can make or break your game as much as unlucky dice rolls can starve you of resources.
Trading is important in this game - the players who win despite bad luck are usually those who are better able to trade, either with each other or with the bank.
One feature of this game that I love is that once something has been placed on the board, it stays there - so other players vindictive can't destroy your little budding empire. Because of this, there are few if any battles in Settlers. The focus is definitely on trade.
My one complaint is that the red and orange pieces are very difficult to tell apart, which make four-player games awkward until you get some paint and make the two colours easier to differentiate. (The Seafarers expansion solves this.)
Now we have a respectable collection of German games. I recommend Settlers, it's a great game and will always be a favourite of mine. (And for two players, I also recommend the Settlers Card Game.)
Settlers of Catan: Seafarers
The Settlers of Catan go sailing in this expansion for three or four players. Fifteen ships that are played very much like roads (costing one lumber - for the hull - and one wool - for the sails) allow players to form shipping routes between islands. The biggest advantage ships have over roads is (apart from the fact that roads can't cross water) that ships can move after you have placed them on the board - useful for cutting someone off from an important island. The pirate ship, an aquatic analogy of the robber, makes life difficult for the seafarers.
The game comes with a number of preset board layouts which allow players to start right away. There are also some scenarios that allow for a pretty much random layout that gets discovered as players near the hex tiles. One new resource in this expansion is gold, which, when its number is rolled, produces for players who have settlements by it one of whatever resource they want.
If you liked the basic Settlers game, you will probably like the Seafarers of Catan too.