Oil Springs of Catan – an Inconvenient Scenario

Oil Springs of Catan is an expansion for “Settlers of Catan”.
This blog assumes that you are familiar with “Settlers of Catan”.

“Oil Springs of Catan” reads like a scary “end of times” brochure in which global warming causes the sea to boil and steam the human race alive, like lobsters.  Ok, maybe the rules don’t have those kinds of graphic details, but losing a powerful, resource generating, “8” is pretty much the same thing.  And that is exactly what will happen if you don’t destroy that oil immediately!

Oil Springs of Catan forces players into some tough economic and environmental situations via the introduction of oil.  The sticky, environment polluting substance is very powerful and thus a very tempting resource that springs forward from the ground when it’s number is rolled.  You can also wage your own wars over the vicious goo, using soldiers to steal oil from players, rather than resources.

This is the reference card for oil.  The top illustrates that you can turn in one oil for two resources.  The bottom illustrates the cost of a metropolis.

This is the reference card for oil. The top illustrates that you can turn in one oil for two resources. The bottom illustrates the cost of a metropolis.

So, what good is oil?  Well, there are three basic things that you can do with it.  You can trade in one glob of oil for two copies of any one resource, or you can trade in oil to upgrade a city to a metropolis, or you can destroy the oil in order to protect the planet.  While getting resources is an obvious advantage, destroying oil seems less advisable.  However, the designers thought ahead in an effort to make this more attractive.  For every three globs of oil you destroy you receive one victory point.  Also, like the “Largest Army” bonus you can achieve the “Environmental Champion” bonus by destroying three globs of oil.

The dooms day track.  The numbers in the bottom left corner are marked off every time a glob of oil is used.  The big circles are used to mark off how many disasters have happened.

The doomsday track. The numbers in the bottom left corner are marked off every time a glob of oil is used. The big circles are used to mark off how many disasters have happened.

But what about the hell fire and destruction?  Well, every time you use a glob of oil to make resources or a metropolis a counter is moved further along on a doomsday track. When the counter reaches the end of the track a disaster occurs.  Disasters come in two flavors:  A.) destroy a number on the board  or B.) destroy all coastal towns.  Destroying coastal towns is like having a hurricane.  It stinks to lose your town, but you can rebuild. Losing a number on the board is more akin to an oil spill.  That land is ruined and will be barren of resources for the rest of the game.  “Not so bad” you say?  Well, once a given number of these disasters occurs, the game immediately ends.  The world is destroyed and we all perish.

So what was our experience with the game?  The first half really didn’t see much oil being produced.  An occasional glob, here and there, would become available.   Mostly, on the whole the first half really played just like the regular game.

The second half started seeing a lot more oil.  People had expanded out to the other oil producing numbers and suddenly the game started to change.  My players and I were largely irresponsible with our new resource and found ourselves trading it in for resources and building huge infrastructures.  It was great!  And then the catastrophes started happening.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

First they came for the number nine Sheep, but I didn’t worry, because I wasn’t on the number nine sheep.

Then they came for the number three Bricks, but I didn’t worry, because who really cares about threes?

But then they came for my number eight wheat,  and there was no wheat left for me.

Champion of the Environment token.

Champion of the Environment token.

It was horrible.  The crops were destroyed left and right as our greedy nature first caused the problem, and then the destruction of our natural way of producing goods perpetuated it.   In the end a lone player squeaked out a win before total annihilation did us all in, but we were standing on the cliff staring into abandon when it occurred.

In the end, we found this to be a very interesting expansion.  The choices it offered players were intriguing, and timely due to current events.  I would have liked to see oil play a bigger role in the early game, but ultimately I think we didn’t see that because of dice rolls, rather than any flaws in the mechanics.  Ultimately, we had fun, and this put an interesting spin on an old favorite.

Does this game sound interesting?  Want to read the full rules?  Just click here!

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 at 1:32 pm and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Resource Management Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. Great blog on Catan: Oil Springs. Thanks (from the co-author!). One comment to give a bit of clarification on the mechanism behind “sequestering” oil. We definitely do not intend to convey that we encourage players to ‘destroy’ the oil to become a champion of the environment, but to recognize that sometimes it can be better to leave some oil in the ground, even if that entails sacrificing some growth–both at the individual level and of course, collectively. There are increasing examples of governments, wrestling with this type of trade off, like Ecuador offering not to drill in their forests in exchange for development aid (so for dollars instead of victory points). http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/10/11/can-ecuador-trade-oil-for-forests/ And part of the goal of the scenario is to challenge players to see if they can collectively constrain themselves from destroying the island of Catan, even when tempted by growing bigger faster, and even as different players face different individual needs (some are leading, some are further behind). That challenge helps demonstrate just how difficult these negotiations are and will continue to be in the real world.


  2. Hardik says:

    I think the issue here is with the idea that just because tihgns have been done one way that they always should be done that way.We re touching on a new concept, one where a physical object can be printed at someone”s home. The immediate thought is that such a concept is bad for existing businesses that create and sell products. And it might well be, but does that mean it should stop? Nobody cries for the buggy and buggywhip manufacturers that lost their jobs when cars came along after all, instead we have a whole new group of people profiting off vehicles.Some simple examples of how tihgns will progress can be found in online music without DRM. Let”s say for example that I make a 3d drawing of game parts, and I post that online for $1. People download it, and print it and play it, some of them print it and resell it, but saying that there is no way I could ever possibly make a profit doing that implies that the future will be bad for anything not based on our current system, and we don t know that.What we do know however is that protections will always be broken, ideas will always be stolen, copies will always be made. It”s past time we accept that and work with it, not fight against it. Worrying about Klaus”s fortune is thinking in the past, not in the future.Also, let”s look at the Settlers board game legally. #1 You cannot copyright the concept, ideas or rules of a game. #2 the pieces in the game are simple basic pieces without ornamentation to copyright, (One could argue the they have much LESS than the Thingiverse replacements), #3 it isn t patented. Given this what law does the copy violate exactly?

  3. Mohamed says:

    This is a complex issue, but trlditionalay speaking, there is no way to protect a game: You cannot copyright or trademark a rules system or the physical structure of a product. Try to create a card game that no one can copy. Settlers of Catan has been a long standing example of the fragile nature of games: anyone can make their own Catan board, the pieces are hexes, you can t copyright shapes. you cannot stop a game from using wool or wheat or ore or lumber or brick.The company that now owns Catan has cajoled and threatened other companies for making similar games, specifically Island Settlers for Android. They sent cease and desist letters to the man who coded it, after the game had been available for over a year, threatening legal action if he didn t remove it from the app store and the world wide web. He did comply, but only out of compassion for the original creator, since he did receive legal advice stating that as long as he did not use the word Catan to describe his game and did not use any copyrighted artwork, the company would have no legal right to pursue. No longer than a week after he removed his game from the app market (it was a free download btw) did the official Settlers of Catan arrive on the scene at $3.99. Obviously having taken several months to complete, but quite a bit clunkier than the indy fan game.It is a strange world we live in and identifying the victim is never easy.

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