Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

On the Table: Settlers of Catan

The inaugural game of my son’s first board game purchase!

So my son was flush with birthday money last week and was asking to be allowed to spend it on Settlers. His mom and me were somewhat skeptical about this: was he just trying to make his gamer dad happy with the only readily available board game that he was aware of…? A couple days after he mentioned the idea, I asked him what game he wanted to play next like I often do… and he immediately shot back with, “Catan! Catan!” So I let it be known that this was a legitimate request. The guy went out of bought it at the next opportunity and even made me play during my lunch break as soon as he walked in the door with it!

I crushed him in that first game we played and I wondered if this was going to be a chance for him to learn some better tactics for the table top. I was surprised when his little sister started asking to be allowed to join in, though. (She has steered clear of gaming ever since we switched to playing lots of Ogre, Commands & Colors: Ancients, and Illuminati.) With her at the table accepting whatever wacky trades he was offering, he was easily able to turn the tables on me the in our rematch. I couldn’t bear to manipulate my own daughter into handing me an advantage, so I just let them work out their own deals with out interfering. I’m tempted to say that that puts my character in a good light as compared to the sort of gamer that turns into Mephistopheles whenever there’s new blood about, but really… I just enjoy watching how people engage games in their own way.

This whole thing with trading seemed to capture my daughter’s imagination. She’s figured out that she can make up for a mediocre position on the board as long as she can convince people to let her have whatever she’s lacking. I like that all of this has emerged without me having to pontificate or whine, either. Serious game designers like to slam Catan for various deficiencies, but I think you have to admit that it’s a good turn of events to have casual gamers interacting this much when it comes to spontaneous trades. It really does address that void in my life created by all those games of Monopoly I played as a child.

I do like how all of the elements of the game mesh together, though. You need roads and a little bit of everything in order to build new settlements. Cities require slightly more specialized resources to build… but you can’t win the game without getting at least one settlement out there after starting. For maximum efficiency, you’ll want to have lots of cards at once… but if the robber hits you when you have more than seven, losing half of them can be disastrous. Development cards can be good insurance against getting hit with the robber, though it’s difficult to cut back on investing directly into your economy unless there’s no other way to get rid of cards from an overly large hand. The random set up means that the various risks surrounding each of these factors are slightly different in each play.

Ah well, you can do a lot worse than this game. I think I was about done with it after the twentieth play or so, but if my kids dig it I’m happy to break it out. If my son’s got a real thing for a particular game, I think it’s always a good idea go along with it. He’s willing to reciprocate and try something else after we play what he wants three or four times, so it’s well worth the time.

One other thing I noticed about this is that he has not learned this game from the rules. That is entirely opposite from what I went through gaming as a kid where I had would buy scads of games and then agonize over them, learn them wrong, and then have a devil of a time finding opponents. My shelf is so well stocked, he may never never feel the need to go out and get something I don’t already know about. Though if I took him to a convention and we ended up at different tables for a while, who knows what could happen…!

At any rate, this game has finally come to my house and good things are happening. I think I’ll enjoy watching where this leads…. I’d actually sort of like to get an expansion, but I think this is about what the children can handle at the moment– we’re back to working on figuring out how to get along together as much as anything else at this point. (Still… that one with the little wagons moving stuff around the board beckons me…!)


4 responses to “On the Table: Settlers of Catan

  1. freddyboomboom May 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Settlers of America was a fun game when I played it at PAX, but it’s actually a separate game, not an expansion to Settlers of Catan. I believe that’s what you are referring to…

    I have the Seafarers of Catan expansion, and it’s gotten little play. It can make for interesting variations, though.

    What I like about Settlers of Catan, is that I don’t have to be super serious strategist to win sometimes. Pretty much all my board gamer friends play in super serious strategist mode all the time, where I’m not really like that. I like to play the game and see where it goes, rather than try to make it go a certain direction when the dice never seems to let me get where I plan to go. :)

    I really like that you get your kids into playing games with you. I want to do that when my daughter grows up, and I’ve done that with my nephew when he visits.

    • jeffro May 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      My kids may not actually have the “gamer gene.” But they know they can get my instant undivided attention if they break out an rpg or board game. Nothing else is as important to me when that’s going on and they know it… but you can do a massive amount of gaming with your kids even if it’s once a week or so. It’s not as hard to keep it going if you start them early enough.

  2. Pingback: Federation Commander: The Kids Love It! | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  3. Brian Renninger May 21, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    If the game is getting a little stale, I recommend the Cities and Knights expansion. It adds quite bit more strategy while still remaining remarkably balanced.

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