I’m always looking for new ways to spice up The Settlers of Catan, and got the idea for ‘fog of war’ from the real-time strategy computer games of my youth, such as StarCraft and Warcraft II.
The idea behind fog of war is simple. When the game starts, the map is hidden to the players. As they progress through the game, the map reveals itself. This can make exploration a lot more fun and spontaneous! It also minimizes the effects of settlement placement during set-up, as it essentially randomizes what hexes people build on.
To start, lay out all of the hex pieces face down (for this example I’m playing the standard Catan game, but this variant would work with other scenarios and expansions as well). Keep the frame pieces off for now. This will make it easier to flip the pieces over. After laying out the hexes, then put the number tokens on as normal, leaving one hex blank for the desert.
Next, everybody places their settlements and roads blindly, same rules as normal. No hexes are flipped yet. People are basically placing their settlements based on what numbers they like, how close they want their settlements to be, and whether they want to be on a port or not.
Flipping the tiles
After set-up is complete, flip all the tiles over! If you wanted to play true fog of war rules, you’d only flip tiles that have a settlement or road touching them (my friends have never wanted to play this way). Although with 4-6 people playing, chances are almost all the tiles will be touched by something, so it’s a moot point.
One concern with this set-up, though, is what to do about the desert? More than likely, the desert hex will have a number on top of it: by normal Catan rules, that’s not possible. How we’ve always played is this: when you flip the desert over, if it has a number on it, the number token simply transfers to the one hex without a number token.
In this example above, blue built on the blank hex, knowing that the odds were favorable that the blank hex was NOT the desert.
We keep flipping over tiles and find that the desert is underneath orange’s six spot! Tough luck for orange. Now the six moves to blue’s blank tile, which reveals to be:
A mountain! Now blue ended up with two sixes on one settlement! This is the part of fog of war that I enjoy the most: seeing where the desert is and which number gets moved. Sometimes it’s a six or eight that gets moved, other times it’s the less desirable 2 or 12.
Once when we played fog of war with 6 people, one guy built one settlement on two blank tiles (with 5-6 players there are two deserts), hoping to get something good, but ended up getting both deserts!
I didn’t include ports in these pictures, but there are a couple things you could do about them. You could loosely set the frame pieces around the hexes, either face up or face down. Or you could use the smaller port tiles instead and place them face down around the edge of the board. That’s usually what we do. Then when people have finished placing their settlements, you flip over all the ports.
Using third-party frames
There are now a variety of third-party frames and boards for Catan. These frames or boards keep the tiles locked in place so they don’t slide around during gameplay.
I use hexels, and placing the hexes in the hexels face down gets tedious trying to flip them back over. I set the hexes on top of the hexels, but turn them slightly so they don’t fit in the frames, like this:
The triangle shapes that appear between the hexes are the intersections. Place settlements on the triangles, following the normal set-up rules.
Then after everybody has placed, flip and turn the hexes and put them in the frames as normal.
Give this variant a shot and let me know what you think! While writing this post I did a little research on fog of war and see that other people have independently created their own version of it. This website lists some great alternate rules and has some slight variations for fog of war compared to my variant.
For example, one variant is to even flip the number tiles over so nobody knows what they are going to get!