When Seafarers of Catan was published in 1997, it was the first major Settlers of Catan expansion to be released. Seafarers adds the elements of sea travel and exploration to the original game. It is a great improvement, and is rumored to be closer to what Klaus Teuber had been aiming for while designing Settlers of Catan. He seems to be particularly interested in ocean exploration as he also created a game named Entdecker based around that theme. To play this expansion you must already own the original game. Also, if you want to play with five or six players you will need to buy both the original game's 5-6 player expansion and the Seafarers of Catan 5-6 player expansion.
Seafarers of Catan box cover.
When you first sit down to play this expansion, the biggest change you will notice is that to play a game you must now pick a specific scenario from the rule book. Gone are the days where you can freely set up the board using the basic instructions from the original game. Instead, each scenario tells you how many players it is for, how to set it up (where to put what tiles and what number tokens they should have on them), any extra rules, and how many victory points it takes to win. The second major thing you will notice is the addition of a new item which you can build: ships. Each ship costs a lumber and a sheep (for the sails) and is placed in a similar manner to roads, except that one of the two tiles it touches must be an ocean tile. Ships can be used to extend your roads for "Longest Trade Route" (which replaces "Longest Road" and is worth 2 victory points) and can be moved around under certain circumstances. Another major change you will notice is the addition of a new piece: the pirate. From now on, when a seven is rolled, you can either move him or the robber. The pirate can only be placed on ocean tiles. Any ships next to him cannot be moved and no more ships may be placed next to where he is positioned. Also, when placing the pirate (much like the robber) you may steal one resource from a player who owns an adjacent ship. The last major change in this expansion is the addition of Gold River tiles. These are encountered when exploring and are usually very far away from starting settlements and have low numbered tiles on them. The reason for this is they give you one resource of your choice when you have a settlement next to them and they produce.
Depending on which version of Seafarers that you purchase, you will find 11 or 12 scenarios in the rule book. Also, the 5-6 player expansion includes additional scenarios designed to handle more players. Most of these scenarios can be played in conjunction with Cities and Knights of Catan, the other major expansion to the game, and all are worth at least trying once. For your first game try out the "New Shores" scenario to get the hang of the new rules. My personal favorite of all the scenarios is "Fog Island" (called "Oceans" in the third edition), where you get to explore a vast span of ocean. If you own the fourth edition of the expansion then I also recommend trying Pirate Island. Many people have also written their own scenarios. If you have created any scenarios on your own, I'd love to hear about them on the forums.
If you've played Settlers of Catan for a while and enjoy it then I highly recommend buying this expansion. It keeps the lighthearted feel of the original game intact and adds some fun new features. If you are looking for a more intense, strategy-laden version of Settlers then try Cities and Knights of Catan. For a really fun (if a tad lengthy) game, play with both of the expansions together. You can usually find Seafarers of Catan for around $35 through amazon.com , though its retail value is $40.