If you're not familiar with the Settlers of Catan board game, the level of involvement Catan requires may be a little off-putting at first. There are tiles with pictures, numbers and dots; several different types of game pieces; two different sets of cards; and dice all being used at once throughout the game. It may appear complex (and even chaotic) at first, but learning the basic gameplay proves to be surprisingly easy.
The game board is made up of hexagonal tiles, each representing one of five resources: lumber, wool, brick, grain, and ore. Each player begins with two roads and two settlements to place anywhere on the board as a starting point. Each tile also has a number, and any time that number is rolled on the dice, any settlements or cities bordering that tile receive a corresponding resource card, which can be used to buy more cities and so forth. Players receive victory points for building each additional settlement and city, and the first player to accumulate ten victory points wins.
That's the basic idea of the gameplay, but there are many other strategic factors involved, like bartering with other players for resources to make mutually beneficial deals, as well as using "development cards" to perform special actions, like stealing from other players or temporarily monopolizing a resource.
Of course, the enjoyment level of board game style games like Catan is always determined by the friends you play with. If you have friends who enjoy playing Catan, then you'll have fun with it, too. With that said, there's nothing worse than that lonely feeling when you want to play a multiplayer-centric game and have no one to play with. Fortunately, Catan is designed to ease that pain, at least a little bit, with 13 different AI personalities to play against. Each character is named after a historical figure (ranging from Lincoln to Cleopatra), and has his or her own strategies and tendencies. For example, Tokugawa might tend to focus heavily on roads, while Shaka hoards ore and tends to use development cards more.
To win in single player on the harder difficulty modes, you'll have to keep each character's habits in mind, which adds an extra layer of strategy and interest to a game that would otherwise be useless as a single player title. The AI characters also respond like real people in that, if you have too big of a lead, the AI will refuse to trade resources with you, and will be more likely to use their development cards to steal from you. If you're behind, they'll be more willing to exchange in mutually beneficial trades.
If you're willing to put a little effort into learning the rules and nuances of Catan, you'll be rewarded with potentially endless amounts of strategic board game bliss. Although the AI opponents are remarkably interesting to play with, your Catan experience will hinge on getting your real friends to play with you. If you and your friends don't enjoy real tabletop strategy games, you might want to pass on Catan. But if you're in any way intrigued, its definitely worth a try.