First released in North America in 1995, Settlers of Catan remains the most popular European board game with over 9 million copies sold worldwide. After a dozen years and hundreds of plays, Settlers of Catan remains one of the best games I've played.
The board is modular and is made up of hex pieces that are randomly placed into a set pattern, which is surrounded by hexes representing water. This is the island of Catan, and it is awaiting the players to see who can make use of its many resources, including wheat, sheep, wood, brick and stone.
Players each start by placing two houses at the intersection of two or three hexes. Each hex has a marker with a number from 2 to 12 placed on it. At the beginning of each player's turn, they roll two dice. Whatever number is rolled "produces" for players who have houses on them. So if a six is rolled, two sixes on the board supply a resource for everyone who has built on either tile and whatever resource type the hex represents. Resources can be used to buy additional roads, build more houses or even increase a house to a city, which now collects two goods. They also can be traded for pick-a-cards, which are never bad.
Things you build in the game are worth victory points. One each for houses and two each for a city. The longest road is worth two points. There are also points available via the pick-a-cards. The player who first reaches 10 victory points is the winner.
Settlers of Catan has much to recommend it. The dice add a fun craps element. When your number gets rolled and you collect resource cards, it's fun. Because the board is built new each time, every game is different. My wife says women like it because there is "shopping" and resources can be traded among the players.
Settlers has spawned numerous expansions and additional games in the Catan line. Many are good, all are longer and more complicated, and I recommend you try the original first. Additionally, if you haven't played before, I strongly recommend using the board and player set-up in the rules.
Designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games, three- to four-player game, 90-minute playing time, for ages 10 and up, $38.