Catan – Review

Type: Area Control (with some “Euro” mechanics)

Time to play: 1hr – 1hr 15 mins (Teaching: 15-20 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Catan is a tight civilisation building game where you compete for limited resources and limited space. The game is based on a simple resource collection mechanic where a dice is rolled on each players turn and that determines which resources are paid out and to who. To get more resources, you will need to build roads, towns and cities to spread your presence on the board.

So, what do I think of this. I am a big fan, and it falls into the category of “Intro Games” – games suitable for players who haven’t played many other games / have a low tolerance for 20 page rulebooks! The game is a classic because of it’s tight map that restricts the number of each resource and the probability of each resource. In fact the best games are where players really have to manage their trading, and take risks on low probability outcomes.

However, that’s where my appreciation for the game stops short of calling it a “must have”. It’s a great game but the fact that it’s rate a 7.35 and outside the board game geek top 100 is probably fair.

Firstly, the number of dice rolls in Catan is not quite enough to smooth out the luck of this game. Rolling two 6 side dice gives you the outcome from 2-12, of which the 5-9 outcomes are probably well distributed in any given games but if you are forced out to an 11 or even a 4, the randomness of this game is going to effect you.

Secondly, and what compounds the issue with the randomness – the robber! It’s a great little mechanic that steals cards from other players, but it also blocks the resource being produced. This particularly compounds the issue of being on a lower probability number as the only way to get stone or another good in the late game and you find yourself forced to wait and wait and wait……… before you can take another turn

Lastly, and probably the biggest impact on the game; there aren’t that many ways to win. Looking at the fact you only have 4 cities (worth 2 points) and you need 10 points to win, that means you need at least 6 towns / cities to win from the map. This is extremely rare. If you have played it you know that this is because you can use “Longest Road” or “Largest Army” to gain 2 extra victory points. However, this balance means you have to basically compete for one of these conditions.

There are also some victory point cards available but as these are in the same deck of cards (at random) as the cards for the army, they actually tilt the game play more in favour of the “Largest Army” strategy rather than providing balance.

So if you like a tight game with a high element of luck and which can be played in a relatively short amount of time between experienced players then this is a great choice. If you are all willing to always pull back the player in the lead (yes you really don’t want to have 1 more point than everyone else until the end!), then this could be relatively balanced. However, it’s relative and the only way to catch back up with the leader is to block them, not trade with them or set the robber on them – you rely on the other players to help hold them back.

Last notes;

  • If you are introducing others to gaming then this is usually well received – short and luck based
  • If you want a short game with a good variation of winners – this game is easy to learn and you can hold back an early winner as a group
  • If you don’t like luck or “take that” mechanisms – this isn’t going to be a keeper!

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