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Why I’m Not a Huge Fan of Catan

May 31, 2013

There isn’t any particular thing wrong with Settler’s of Catan. Some people say it’s too random, too reliant on dice. They have a point, that in comparison to other “high strategy” euro games, Catan is prone to one player getting lucky and one player rolling crap. Subsequent versions actually attempt to fix the problem with the “gold” rule where you get something every roll at least. Honestly, that’s not too much of a problem, there is plenty of room for a “lite” strategy game. There are quite a few games that work within this framework. Some of my favorites, like 7 Wonders, King of Tokyo, and Ticket to Ride.

My general problem with Catan is that it is light enough so that people think it’s a good game to be social around, but not so light that a distracted player can make decisions quickly. This is not a problem for every group, nor a problem every time, but if you’ve ever played a 3 hour game of Catan then I think you know what I’m talking about.

Games are very much a social activity, and of course I love to chat while playing a game, but if I’m playing a heavy game like Agricola or Arkham Horror, the attention has to be on the game first, social interactions second. Those games are long enough without spending 5 minutes trying to figure out who’s turn it is. There is a lot going on in those games and you need to make sure you have a decent idea what is going on at all times so that you can make informed decisions.

If you want to be social, there are plenty of games where this is not a problem. I mentioned 7 Wonders, because even if you lose concentration to chat, your only decision is that you need to play 1 card. Likewise, King of Tokyo where you just roll the dice. There are even games that encourage social interactions, anything with a traitor mechanic, Saboteur, The Reaistance, BSG. . .

Catan is fairly simple, but it has an incredibly large set of options you can choose from. Build, not build, get dev cards, go for ports, etc etc etc. At any point, a Catan player will have many options, and likely there will only be a few good ones.

A player who is paying attention will be able to keep track of their good options, and make decisions quickly. A player who isn’t paying attention will weigh every option, and will only start to do so the second their turn starts. Not a problem, necessarily, but it does turn a relatively light and quick game into a long, grueling endeavor.

If we’re being fair though, this is a problem for quite a few games, but with Catan being ubiquitous for “gateway” game, a lot of people are exposed to Catan in a setting where they want to be social more than they want to play a game.

Since this is the case I definitely recommend introducing people to board games with something a little lighter, a little quicker, and just as engaging and easy to absorb. It’s all about choosing the right game for the right occasion, which is a lot more of an art than you think. Play your games right, and you might avoid the terror of 3 hour Catan.



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