Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.— Dwight Eisenhower.
Begin anywhere.— John Cage.
The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong answer.— Cunningham’s Law
The roots of education are bitter, but the fruits are sweet.— Attributed to Aristotle.
Catan, formerly known as The Settlers of Catan, is a game designed by Klaus Teuber and released in 1995. This year marks its 25th anniversary, a good time to resume playing. It’s one of the classic Eurogames and has become a franchise with many extensions and related games. At the time of writing, it sits within the top 100 games in the family category at BGG (so do Azul and SushiGo). There are only 6 other games published before 2000 that are in the top 100, which speaks to the importance of the game as a classic.
I had only played once or twice before. It didn’t make an impression on me at the time, it was just fine. However, since I joined the board game club I’ve had renewed enthusiasm to try new games or old ones with an open mind. When I learned that the people at the club decided to organize a local Catan tournament I was delighted. I didn’t know such things existed. Sure, there are tournaments for e-sports that host hundreds of thousands of people, but, for board games? I thought that was something of a family thing, a private entertainment. It turns out I was quite wrong, there is a fair excitement about Catan through the world with national, European, American, and world championships. You can even watch finals on YouTube. Let that sink in for a moment: watch other people playing board games on YouTube. Yes. I know. It’s a lot of fun!
Now that I’ve played it more, I came to appreciate its characteristics:
- Theme. You’re one of the new settlers of an island that produces materials and your goal is to become the patron of the island.
- How you win. By getting 10 points. This requires creating new settlements, cities, or roads, for which you need materials in different quantities: wood, grain, brick, sheep, stone.
- How materials are distributed. By rolling dice. The board is made of hexagonal tiles that represent the materials. Each round, the rolled number indicates which tiles produce. All participants whose properties touch the producing tiles get new materials.
For a board game to stay relevant after so many years, it has to have something that creates a different experience each time you play. For Catan this is the board positioning. The tiles of the board are placed randomly and so are the numbers on top of them: participants have to adapt to different scenarios. Granted, there are a few well-known tips&tricks you can learn but your chances of winning greatly depend on your starting position — if your properties are adjacent to an uneven set of resources or to low-probability tiles, your development is going to be much slower than other player’s. You don’t want that.
So, essentially, this game is about racing to build properties that enable you to get more materials you use to create more properties so you can acquire even more materials to build properties. And it’s not a level playing field: your starting position greatly influences your chances of winning. There’s no denying it’s got an expansive capitalist kind of mentality. It shouldn’t come as a surprise what some people say:
Catan is the board game of entrepreneurship.— Reid Hoffman, of Linkedin fame.
Who am I to disagree with a $2 billion net worth entrepreneur, right? So I thought I’d give the tournament a try. So far, I was lucky enough to classify for the final. Not a bad beginning!
High performing teams do routine things in an outstanding manner, routinely.— Ann Dunwoody, USA’s first female 4-star general. At the A8C GM 2018.
Have the courage to use your own understanding.— Kant, What is enlightment?
The artwork doesn’t dissapoint. The board materials are very well designed and look durable — nice touch: it includes a linen bag for the tiles that goes well with the Moorish aesthetics.
I tend to think that card games are more newbies-friendly than board games due to lower setup time, simpler rules and quicker turns. However, Azul has that same feeling, perhaps infused by the lack of a central board -everyone has their own- and the fact that most of your time/energy is focused on completing your own geometrical figures, rather than strategizing to block your opponents.
I’ve only played once so far, in a group of four (kids and adults). I’ve found the mechanics abstract and was surprised how the kids managed to beat the grown-ups — it was them who asked to play! I’ve got the feeling that this is the kind of game that I’d enjoy having in my collection.
It was created by Stefan Alexander, an electrical engineer working on wearables for whom board games design is a side gig. The rules are simple, but the emergent complexity makes each game different. It consists on creating your bird collection, and you win when you’ve got either birds from 7 different species or two species with 3 specimen each.
I wouldn’t say it has the same rhythm than Sushi Go! although it shares some characteristics: there are few and simple rules so it’s easily approachable to newbies, the theme and artwork engages people from different backgrounds, all the information you need is contained in the cards, and you win by keeping track of cards and probabilities (something most people are familiar with).
Highly recommended filler for after-dinner infusions.
Sushi Go! is the prototype of a party game for everyone: easy to learn, prone to quick turns with almost no time to think, and a theme that pleases most people (who doesn’t like food?).
It’s a game that takes the core mechanics to the essentials, making it accessible to everyone. The artwork conveys playfulness while also communicating the score system — nice touch, look at how many items have the tempura and sashimi cards and compare to the score. The packaging is easy to travel with: it’s compact, with no spare parts once you open it, and it fits on anyone’s bag. Last, but not least, it has some parallels with real-life: the pick & pass rhythm mimics the sushi trains, and desserts are eaten at the end.
I’d say this is a game that shines with 4 people, although it’s playable by 2 to 5. It goes well with any age, and I’ve tried it with people ranging from 8 to 60 years old.
SushiGo! is my current recommendation as a filler game for dinners with friends & family that are newbies to board games.