is the newest game in Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan
series. This one is intended for kids aged 6 & up and their familes.
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Summary of the Components
Catan Junior comes in a square box that contains: 1 two-panel map; 1 die; plastic pirate lairs and pirate ships for the players; and a pile of cardboard tiles, including resources and building cost sheets.
Quality: The cardboard is all thick and linen-textured, while the plastic is all nicely detailed. Beyond that the board is even double-sided, to better support different numbers of players. Everything is really top-notch. 5 out of 5.
Durability: This is a component element that I don't usually talk about, but I think it's important for a game with kids. Mayfair thoughtfully exchanged components that could be damaged (like cards) with components that can't be (namely, cardboard tiles). This should go a long ways to helping this kid's game last. 5 out of 5.
Beauty: The plastic bits are terrific, while the map and cardboard bits generally have nice and colorful artwork on them. My only complaint is the gold resource, which I find rather shapeless. Nonetheless, it's the only exception to a generally very attractive game. 5 out of 5.
Usability: The Settlers of Catan pretty much invented usability, and Catan Junior follows that trend. It's easy to see what resources are produced by what hexes and what they can be used to build. The special "Coco" tiles similar have clear iconography telling you what they provide. 5 out of 5.
Theming: Theoretically, Catan Junior is a game of swashbuckling and pirating. There's some support for that in-game, with skull island, a ghost captain, gold, and cutlasses. The result is evocative — but I wouldn't call the theme particularly strong. 4 out of 5.
Overall, Catan Junior is well-produced, durable, beautiful, and easy to use. I've given it a full "5" out of "5" for Style.
Summary of Gameplay
The object of Catan Junior is to build all 7 of your pirate's lairs.
Setup: Each player places two pirate's lairs and one ship in specified locations on the hex-gridded board. Each player gets a couple of resources, while one of each resource is placed in the market for trade.
Rolling the Die: Each turn begins with the active player rolling a die. This tells which hexes produce resources. Players that have adjacent pirate's lairs then collect wood, goats, gold, molasses, or cutlasses, as shown on the hexes.
The Ghost Captain. On a roll of "6" the active player instead gets to move the ghost captain. The space he lands on won't produce while he's there. The player also gets to take 2 of the resource that the hex usually produces from the bank.
Trading: A player can trade in two different ways during his turn.
He can trade no more than once with the market. This is a set of five resources sitting out. He just swaps a resource from his hand with a resource in the market.
Alternatively, he can trade two of any one good for one of any other good with the bank. He can do this as much as he wants.
(Advanced players can trade with each other, per the normal Settlers of Catan rules, but I personally found the basic trading reals both adequate and appropriate for the game.)
Building: After getting some resources from a die roll and some from trading, a player will likely want to build stuff.
The main thing you'll be building are ships (for a goat and a wood) and pirate's lairs (for a goat, a wood, a molasses, and a cutlass). They're placed sequentially: ships go on hex sides, then lairs go on hex corners. So, whenever you build a ship the next thing you must build on that line is a castle, and whenever you build a castle, you must build a ship next (but you may have two options for where to do so).
Coco Cards. You can also buy Coco cards for a cutlass, a molasses, and a gold. These randomly let you either: move the ghost captain; build a ship or lair; or take resources. Whoever has the most Coco cards gets to place a lair on skull island, putting him that much closer to winning.
Ending the Game: The game ends as soon as someone places their last lair, and that player wins the game.
Relations to Other Games
Catan Junior is, of course, a spin-off of The Settlers of Catan. It generally is a cut-down, simplified, and quicker version of the game, a topic I'll return to.
It should not be confused with the extremely simple, The Kids of Catan, which is for an even younger age demographic.
The Game Design
Generally, Catan Junior sticks with the strength of The Settlers of Catan. You produce resources, you trade them to get just the right combinations, and then you combine them to move yourself toward victory. It's a proven design for a strategy game that works — and it works well.
I find the trading aspect of Catan Junior very interesting, as it eliminates trading among the players while still both allowing you to trade for what you need and keeping it constrained enough that you can just barely eke out those necessities, and then only with a little luck. It's a very elegant design.
The other aspect that impresses me with Catan Junior is how well it minimizes choices to create a game that will be more accessible to kids. This shows up all over the game — such as in alternating placement of ships and lairs and the need to instantly play a Coco card when you draw it. At the same time, this simplification is built so carefully into the infrastructure of the game that you wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking.
I'll offer the caveat that I haven't played Catan Junior with children. Nonetheless, it strikes me as a game that will work very well for the young demographic: it's simple to play, it's fast, it narrows decisions, and it has hard-to-damage components. Adults probably won't go out of their way to play this game on their own, because of some of those same factors. However, it's enjoyable enough that most will be happy to play it with their kids — and the design even gives those tykes a fair chance of winning.
On this basis, I've given Catan Junior a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Catan Junior is a great game for kids and their families that takes the core mechanics of The Settlers of Catan — such as resource management and trading — and simplifies them such that youngsters will have an easy time playing.